(DB wk 9) Risk Communication and Psychosocial Impacts In your Module 5 folder, you have 3 articles i


(DB wk 9) Risk Communication and Psychosocial Impacts In your Module 5 folder, you have 3 articles in the folder marked Additional Readings: Risk Communication. The crux of this body of reading has to do with the vital importance of Risk Communication when it comes to disaster communication. Please read at least three of these articles and highlight significant points in the Discussion Board below. If you are interested, do some further research to build on your readings. In your post, please answer the following: 1. From your reading, what is an example of how psychological distress either WAS mitigated or COULD HAVE been better mitigated via the use of effective risk communication from public officials?2. Name a success of risk communication, if you can locate one, and alternatively, name a failure of effective risk communication (and why it was deemed a failure). 3. What lessons about effective risk communication will you carry forward in your career in emergency management?4. Please note any other lessons that you would want to make sure to share with current and future colleaguesAPA StyleKindly, answer all discussion questions clearly and completely.


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Research in Human Ecology
Miscommunication during the Anthrax Attacks:
How Events Reveal Organizational Failures
Karen M. O’Neill1
Jeffrey M. Calia
Caron Chess
Department of Human Ecology
Rutgers University
New Brunswick, NJ
Lee Clarke
Department of Sociology
Rutgers University
Piscataway, NJ
This study of the anthrax attacks of 2001 treats risk communication as a series of events that can be analyzed to discern the strengths and weaknesses of organizations charged
with responding to emergencies. To investigate how organizational practices shape risk communication, we use a
method developed primarily for comparative-historical case
studies called event-structure analysis. We analyze events
leading to false media reports of anthrax infections in one
New Jersey town soon after an infection by a potentially
lethal strain of anthrax was confirmed in a nearby postal facility. This analytic method highlights the failures of organizations to institutionalize public health practices, which allowed contingent events to determine risk messages and responses.
Keywords: risk communication, event-structure analysis, organizations, institutions, bioterrorism
The risk communication field has drawn heavily on case
studies to derive suggestions for practice and directions for
research. Some of the field’s seminal works are in the form
of case studies. For example, one of the earliest works in the
field Environmental Hazards: Communicating Risks as a
Social Hazard (Krimsky and Plough 1988) is comprised of
case studies that explore communication between government agencies and communities. Wynne (1989) illustrated,
through a case study of farming after Chernobyl, problems
resulting from scientific experts’ failure to consider indigeHuman Ecology Review, Vol. 14, No. 2, 2007
© Society for Human Ecology
nous knowledge. The National Academy of Sciences report
Understanding Risk: Informing Decisions in a Democratic
Society illustrates, through an appendix of case studies, failures in risk communication and the promise of integrating
risk analysis and deliberation (Stern and Fineberg 1995).
More recently, scholars used case studies to develop the concept of the social amplification of risk (Pidgeon et al. 2003),
the idea that communication practices and other social variables may amplify or attenuate societal responses to risk.
Although interactions among actors are often clearest in
the narratives of case studies, researchers have only recently
used case studies to analyze how organizational dynamics
affect the ways that actors communicate about risk. In this
paper, we apply a systematic method for analyzing case studies that can identify how organizational factors and institutional expectations affect communication. Our aims are to
introduce a method that can be applied to a broad range of
questions about risk communication and to show how organizations enact, or fail to enact, institutional expectations about
risk communication as they confront a particular risk. Our
analysis of institutions contributes to the study of organizations and risk by showing how expectations about proper organizational behavior emerge as organizations interact.
Our focus on improving methods in this field is important because while the risk communication field has been advanced by case studies, the studies themselves are not notable
for their methodological rigor. Some case studies include
sections about the selection of interviewees or the interviewing process, but they skimp on explaining the methods used
for data analysis. In fact, it is not unusual for risk communication case studies to fail to include any information about
analytic methods. Although the social sciences include dif-
O’Neill, et al.
ferent kinds of case studies (e.g., Ragin and Becker 1992)
and different approaches for analyzing qualitative data (e.g.,
Miles and Huberman 1994), risk communication case studies
have not drawn from the full range of available analytic methods. In short, risk communication case studies are rich, but
the methods sections, if not the methods themselves, are
In an effort to improve risk communication case study
methodology, this paper applies a systematic form of data
analysis, event-structure analysis, to failed risk communication about anthrax. To our knowledge, there are no other
studies that analyze risk communication as a series of events,
which is the approach taken in event-structure analysis. Advocates of systematic social science approaches to history
argue that narratives of case studies—such as those typically
written about risk communication—are limited in their power
to explain events (McCullagh 1978; Tilly 1981, 8; Griffin
1993), particularly when the narrative is complicated or when
the sources report inconsistent details. A narrative serves as
rich raw material for explanation (Thompson 1978, 199), but
more “information and insight” is needed, as well as a
method that makes the analyst’s assumptions and generalizations explicit (Griffin 1993). Event-structure analysis allows
the researcher to systematically assess the time order and
causal connections between events in an episode to discover
which circumstances and events were critical in determining
outcomes (Griffin 1993; Hawthorn 1991). Our goal was to
see if applying event-structure analysis, by using the software
program ETHNO, improved our understanding of a specific
risk communication problem: an erroneous televised report
on Cable News Network (CNN) about two workers from an
Eatontown, New Jersey postal facility having become “ill”
from anthrax. Our study asks whether ETHNO improves our
deconstruction of the events of this small but revealing
episode during the anthrax attacks so we can better understand the organizational dynamics behind this flawed risk
The following sections outline research on the organizational and institutional factors that affect risk communication
and explain how event-structure analysis can be used to analyze these factors. We describe the events in New Jersey
leading to the false reports and then outline the purposes and
processes of applying event-structure analysis, showing how
this method allowed us to reconsider and then systematically
test our hypotheses for outcomes. We conclude by discussing
the specific implications of our findings and the potential
usefulness of event-structure analysis for the risk communication field.
Risk Communication and Organizations
While the meaning of the term “risk communication” is
debated among practitioners (e.g., Lundgreen and McMakin
1998) and academics, an oft-cited definition is offered by the
National Research Council’s report: “Risk communication is
an interactive process of exchange of information and opinion among individuals, groups, and institutions. It involves
multiple messages about the nature of risk and other messages, not strictly about risk” (National Research Council
1989, 21). Event-structure analysis is a method that examines these processes of interaction step by step to reveal the
constraints these actors face.
The NRC definition mentions the interactions of groups
as well as individuals, but because of risk communication’s
roots in psychological theory, studies in this field often focus
on the individual level of analysis. Such studies have particularly failed to explore in detail organizations that are the
sources of messages, including the processes that affect organizations, and thereby messages. Thus, many influences on
the purposes, timing, form, and content of the message are
left relatively unstudied.
Organizational theory is one of the most appropriate
frameworks for explaining risk communication, allowing us
to consider what is communicated, when, and by whom
(Chess et al. 1992; Chess et al. 1995; Chess 2001). Our general claim is that organizations, as social actors, are crucial
players in risk-dramas. In an important book on organizations
and how environmental problems are defined, Beamish
(2002) demonstrates this point. He explores how configurations of interests shape what issues and problems are paid attention to and which are ignored. Our social and cultural systems are organized to turn their faces toward the sudden and
dramatic—the anthrax crisis is an obvious example—but that
is insufficient, Beamish argues, to explain why organizations
attend, or fail to attend, to environmental “problems.”
Beamish finds that deeply embedded, often unexamined organizational routines bear the greatest weight in explaining
how and why organizations define some issues as “important” while neglecting others. In other words, it is the particular configurations of organizational factors rather than the
inherent magnitude of risk that commands resources and attention. Thus, organizations fundamentally shape what people come to regard as an environmental problem.
Organizational theory further suggests that expectations
about the ways organizations should function greatly influence how they do function, and these expectations will affect
how organizations define environmental problems. Any organization is influenced by a variety of social networks that
extend from the outside in, and those networks sustain a variety of institutional norms that may even be contradictory
(Meyer and Scott 1992). Organizations may attempt to manipulate the institutional environment by introducing innova-
Human Ecology Review, Vol. 14, No. 2, 2007
O’Neill, et al.
tions, but researchers have generally argued that conforming
to institutional expectations is more typical (e.g., DiMaggio
and Powell 1983; Meyer and Rowan 1977).
An organization is treated as legitimate by its own members and by outsiders based in large part on meeting institutional expectations relevant to its field of operations (Meyer
and Rowan 1977). A common approach of managers and
consultants in many fields is to define legitimacy narrowly
and technically as something achieved through proper structures and procedures. Institutional theory suggests that a
much more complex definition of legitimacy is needed to explain the way routines and rules for behavior emerge (Lister
2003). Scott (2001), for example, suggests that legitimacy is
provisionally produced by conforming to rules and laws,
broader social values or norms, and cognitive expectations
that are taken for granted.
Perceptions of legitimacy matter because they affect the
organization’s ability to attract external resources and to get
members to comply with organizational procedures. Failing
to follow institutionalized expectations could therefore
threaten an organization’s survival (Massey 2004; Stryker
2000). Risk communication in particular can be seen as one
way that organizations respond to changing conditions and
unexpected events in the institutional or physical environment as they attempt to manage perceptions of their legitimacy (Dowling and Pfeffer 1975). In this view, risk communication efforts are, in part, efforts to demonstrate that an
organization is meeting institutionalized expectations about
managing risk.
Tracing the way institutions influence organizations is
often difficult. Many institutional practices are not formally
codified into certification processes, laws, or organizational
policies, and even when practices are codified, actors must
interpret these requirements to suit the circumstances. Narrative accounts that are typically written for risk communication case studies cannot readily identify the moment-by-moment acts intended to meet such expectations. We propose
using event-structure analysis as a tool for identifying how
institutionalized expectations are assessed and enacted during
a risk communication episode. In analyzing the actions of organizations as they attempt to meet institutional expectations,
event-structure analysis allows us to appreciate that authority
and legitimacy are at stake during crucial moments of interaction.
During the anthrax attacks of 2001, organizational dynamics very much affected risk communication (Bresnitz and
DiFerdinando 2003; Chess and Clarke in press; Mebane et al.
2003; Robinson and Newstetter 2003; Tengelsen et al. 2002;
Vanderford 2003; Riederer-Trainor et al. 2005). In the fall of
2001 in New Jersey, organizations jockeyed for authority
through complex and often tense interactions among different
Human Ecology Review, Vol. 14, No. 2, 2007
levels of government (local, county, state, and federal) and
different kinds of agencies (law, health, and emergency response). We apply event-structure analysis to trace organizations’ interactions with each other and with other audiences;
to discern ways actors asserted specific institutional expectations about protocols for diagnosis and for public notification; and to identify the emergence of judgments about
actors’ success or failure in meeting institutionalized expectations. Observations about this case yield general lessons
about organizational responses to unprecedented threats.
This case study focuses on Eatontown, a borough of
14,000 in suburban New Jersey, where two workers at the
USPS Monmouth Processing and Distribution Center (PDC)
were briefly hospitalized and reported as being “ill” from anthrax soon after an individual in nearby Hamilton had been
confirmed as being infected with anthrax (see Chess et al.
Our research team set out to conduct several case studies
of local communication about anthrax in New Jersey, including locations that were not contaminated with B. anthracis as
well one that was. Preliminary interviews with health officials suggested different organizational responses. Therefore, we conducted four geographically based case studies
including a) the case of a false report discussed here (Eatontown’s Monmouth PDC facility); b) a case initially labeled
“suspect” by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC)
(Bellmawr); c) one with no contamination (Morristown); and
d) one found to be grossly contaminated (Hamilton).
The present case was selected because of the false media
reports we saw as evidence of a risk communication problem.
Although several of our interviewees blamed the reports on
the actions of one individual, our preliminary hypothesis was
that interactions among organizations were likely one of the
sources of this problem.
Because of our interest in dialogue among organizations
as well as organizations’ communication with various
publics, we sought to interview key actors on the state and
local level. Local newspaper coverage informed our initial
selection of interviewees, who were asked to recommend
other organizations and individuals. While we expected to
interview law enforcement and public health personnel,
snowball sampling led us to interviewees in a broader range
of organizations. Data about the Monmouth PDC case are
derived from 19 interviews with public health professionals,
emergency responders, doctors, law enforcement officers,
elected leaders, and other decision makers.
A standard interview protocol raised basic issues about
risk communication including sources of information, audi-
O’Neill, et al.
ences, and messages. Because of our interest in organizational legitimacy, we focused on how decisions were made
about what and when to communicate. Such questions also
helped us understand dynamics within and among organizations. Asking organizations how they received information,
and from whom, enabled us to track the potential sources
of miscommunication. Further probing about informational
concerns also provided a way to assess how organizational
representatives viewed each others’ credibility in general and
information about anthrax in particular.
Because early interviews suggested that a meeting at the
Monmouth PDC shaped later communication, we also asked
more detailed questions about that event: who attended and
why, what information was transmitted, and how meeting
attendees perceived that information. Media coverage and
agency documents provided additional data. All quotes and
information, unless otherwise noted, were obtained in interviews. To ensure confidentiality, we use ambiguous references to interviewees’ gender.
Prior to using ETHNO we did more traditional content
analysis, coding data by topic and by kind of organization.
We also developed a chronology of events, based on newspaper reports and interviews. By virtue of the interviewing and
coding, the meeting at the Monmouth PDC (described following) seemed central to understanding communication
problems. The goal of using ETHNO was to test the two hypotheses that we had now developed, that the meeting was the
source of the miscommunication problems and that organizational dynamics played a role in miscommunication. After
outlining the basic narrative, we then describe the purposes
and techniques of event-structure analysis in more detail and
show how we applied ETHNO to analyze the following narrative.
The Basic Narrative of the
October 29th Meeting
Officials in New Jersey were still assisting in recovery
efforts from the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New
York City when they found out that the anthrax-contaminated letter to newscaster Tom Brokaw had passed through the
Hamilton, New Jersey postal facility. They were now faced
with a second unexpected attack involving scientific uncertainty and unclear lines of authority.
On October 18, 2001, the postal facility in Hamilton was
closed and workers were advised to take antibiotics after a
worker there was confirmed as having an anthrax infection
(Bresnitz and DiFerdinando 2003). The USPS’s Monmouth
Processing and Distribution Center (PDC) in Eatontown—
which employs over 700 employees to sort mail for two ZIP
codes—is about 30 miles from Hamilton, and the two plants
October 4:
October 16:
October 18:
Announcement of first case of inhalation anthrax
U.S. Senate Office Building closed
First New Jersey case confirmed: Trenton and Hamilton
postal facilities closed
October 21:
First death of postal worker, Washington, D.C.
October 28:
New Jersey: Inhalational anthrax case confirmed
October 29:
Monmouth PDC meeting
October 31:
New York state: Fourth death from inhalation anthrax
November 31: Connecticut: Fifth death from anthrax
Source for national events: GAO. 2003. Better Guidance Is Needed to
Ensure Appropriate Response to Anthrax Contamination. Washington, DC:
Government Accountability Office, Report No.: GAO-04-239.
Figure 1. Timeline of Events near the Monmouth PDC in Relation to National
routinely exchanged mail and equipment (Diamond 2001a;
Diamond et al. 2001). Two weeks earlier, the first known recipient of an anthrax-contaminated letter had died in Florida
(see Figure 1). The facility closure in Hamilton heightened
Monmouth PDC workers’ concerns about their own risk for
anthrax, and they demanded to have the Monmouth PDC facility tested (Diamond 2001a; 2001b).
One hospital in the Eatontown area began offering nasal
swabs to screen for anthrax in people who thought they might
be infected. Television footage showing media workers and
Senate staff members from contaminated facilities in line for
swabbing had given the impression that nasal swabbing was
the test for diagnosing anthrax infections (Bresnitz and
DiFerdinando 2003). On October 29, 2001, two Monmouth
PDC postal workers who had visited the hospital learned that
their nasal swabs were positive for Bacillus. They were hospitalized and put on antibiotics. According to federal and
state guidelines at the time, such preliminary screening indicates the presence of Bacillus bacteria—but not necessarily
Bacillus anthracis. A number of different respiratory illnesses can produce a positive swab. Thus, these results and the
clinical symptoms (without the substantiation of abnormal Xrays or other supporting evidence) did not meet federal or
state criteria for suspected or potential ant …
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