A number of misleading myths permeate the literature of risk and crisis communication. Are different types of disasters and crises really unique and different? Is panic a common response to disasters? Does the public heed warnings of disaster? Is a single warning message sufficient in most cases? Is the source of information a key variable? Are public risk assessments accurate? What is the relationship between the frequency of prior messages and compliance? What effect does ethnicity and socioeconomic status have on risk and crisis communication efforts? What is the role of communication with the family and children in disaster communication? Are there generalizable principles or maxims that can guide policy and practice in preparing for and responding to crises? This chapter provides a concise critical and analytic review of the literatures on risk and crisis communication in an attempt to dispel the myths, and formulate the maxims, by which communication functions in these contexts
In the fall of 2001, anthrax-contaminated letters were sent to the media and congressional representatives, with direct symptomatic effects on 68 persons, resulting in 5 known deaths (Kerkvliet, 2004). “More than 10,000 persons potentially exposed to anthrax in Connecticut, Florida, New Jersey, New York City, and Washington DC were recommended to take postexposure antibiotic prophylaxis” (Fowler et al., 2005, p. 601). The decontamination of the Hart building and the postal plants in Brentwood and Hamilton required many months and over $125 million, yet “the amount of anthrax involved in the contamination of each of these facilities was probably <1 g” (Webb, 2003, p. 4356). According to some estimates, “the costs associated with a real or perceived B. anthracis bioterror attack have been estimated at more than $26 billion per 100,000 persons exposed” (Fowler et al., 2005, p. 601).