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Risk Communication Strategies for the Very Worst of Cases

Report cover: Risk Communication Strategies
Monica Schoch-Spana, Christopher Hurtado, Diane Meyer, Kirsten Moore-Sheeley, Sanjana Ravi, Michael Snyder
Date posted:
March 04, 2019
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In 2017-18, the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security conducted a multiphase research project to help inform the development of a strategic approach for communicating about global catastrophic biological risks (GCBRs). In brief, we define a GCBR as a biological development that could adversely affect the human species as a whole or radically change the course of human civilization—for instance, a severe pandemic involving a naturally occurring or deliberately engineered pathogen. GCBRs are an emerging concern among a discrete set of scientists and organizations located principally in Europe and the United States. To conceive and implement activities necessary to prevent or respond to biological threats of a global scale will require effective communication of the issue’s importance—internationally—to a range of people with knowledge, influence, and control of resources.

First, we sought to elicit the attitudes and assumptions that influential individuals in science, policy, and practice communities now hold regarding GCBRs. Knowing major ideas in common, diverging points of view, and the rationale behind them can enable issue advocates to define GCBR in meaningful terms and to spur and strengthen commitment to risk reduction.

Second, we analyzed other times in history when it became necessary to alert policymakers, practitioners, and the public to the possibility of a globally catastrophic, potentially existential threat, in order to understand how others have communicated about such dire problems without shutting down the conversation and with successful engagement of public attention and action. Following these analyses, the Center developed a set of considerations and suggestions for individuals and institutions interested in championing the issue of GCBRs more effectively.



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