Communication in Emergencies

Article excerpt

In their Commentary "Ethical Perspectives for Public and Environmental Health," Lambert et al. (2003) paraphrased a 1990 editorial that I coauthored with Lester Lave (Morgan and Lave 1990) to create a straw man against which to contrast their proposal that emergency communication should foster understanding and autonomy.

Our text (Morgan and Lave 1990) that Lambert et al. (2003) referenced reads,

   There is wide, if not universal, agreement that
   attempts to manipulate behavior are appropriate
   when people are faced with large, immediate dangers.
   Officials are expected to issue explicit orders
   for action to people living in the path of a hurricane's
   storm surge or downwind of the spreading
   chlorine plume from a tank car accident, rather
   than just provide neutral messages for participants
   to weigh. Indeed, in such circumstances, if
   risk communications cannot get people to move
   out of harm's way, more intrusive measures, such
   as police, may be used.

Lambert et al. (2003) wrote,

   In contrast, by embracing the concept of fostering
   autonomy, the public can formulate and
   share the imperative. The right to know means
   that people need to understand the reason behind
   evacuation, verbal injunctions, or barricades.
   Manipulation and coercion may save some lives,
   but they certainly do not foster understanding.

My colleagues and I are strong proponents of providing people with full understanding so that they can make independent informed decisions. Our recent book, Risk Communication (Morgan et al. …