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Biodefense--If Risk Communication Is the Answer, What Is the Question?

Monica Schoch-Spana
Date posted:
September 15, 2004
Publication type:

Natural Hazards Observer 2004;29(1):1-3

Natural Hazards Research and Applications Information Center, Institute of Behavioral Science, University of Colorado
Available on publisher's website
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'How will the public react to a biological attack?' is a fundamental question underpinning U.S. policy and practice pertaining to terrorism preparedness and response. In recent years, widely divergent approaches to the issue of mass response to bioterrorism have emerged. When catastrophic terrorism was a serious but postulated danger, officials often considered public reactions to a biological event as part of the crisis to be contained (e.g., the "worried well" would pour into hospitals, hindering health care workers' ability to treat real victims). The complex realities of September 11, 2001, and the anthrax letter attacks that same year, however, have helped refine the understanding of the public not simply as a problem to be managed, but as a constituency to be served-anxious people in need of good information about the danger and what to do about it.

This essay advances a third approach, encouraging authorities to place the challenge of public communication within a broader understanding of the governance dilemmas that bioterrorism poses for the U.S.

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