public, mass media, administrators, health-care professionals, private organizations, administrators or elected officials, and therefore must be tailored to the needs of each. It may also be necessary to use different channels to reach these various audiences. Moreover, the complexity and uncertainty of the scientific issues can mean that literacy and numeracy of audiences are especially important considerations if they are to understand and act on the messages.

The third element of risk communication is creating the message and preparing the messenger. Based on the science, purpose, audience and situation, emergency management professionals must decide on the main message to communicate. In risk communication, it could be that there's little reason for concern, a great need for concern or that the potential risk is unknown. Planning is essential in developing and using consistent messages. It's important to recognize, however, that the risk-communication message may have to change over time because of the situation's uncertainty and the possibility that new information will be uncovered.

Much of the success of effective risk communication about food-safety defense is predicated on the amount of work and detailed thinking that goes into planning and preparation before the crisis occurs. The more questions that can be asked and answered during this stage, the better the outcome will be. This is especially true regarding high-visibility issues, such as food-safety defense. Planning questions can be framed as elements to make a food-safety defense risk communication plan easy to use, flexible and easily adaptable for evolving situations. The following are some sample questions developed by Booz Allen Hamilton's Food Safety Workgroup:

What do we want our risk communication to accomplish?

o Increase collaboration with industry/growers to create a "cascading" communication affect with suppliers (grocery, wholesalers, food service) to increase message consistency and accuracy.

o Proactively engage print, broadcast and electronic media by providing stories and amplifying messages through effective partnerships.

o Harness and integrate the power of online media such as blogs, webcasts and other electronic media into one risk-communication plan.

o Train representatives in the delivery of key messages.

o Increase communication and information flow with manufacturers, distributors and retailers about sourcing, containing and limiting distribution of the product (food).

o Communicate at the point of sale to get the prevention and mitigation message to consumers at time of purchase decision.

What's an optimal combination of strategies?

o Establish a public-facing Web site as a portal for accessing information, messages, materials, etc.

o Assess which communication channels are most viable based on geography, type of product, type of consumer and so forth.

o Gather and use historic data from previous recall efforts. When was it done well? Are there examples of when, how and why the public and food-supply chain reacted favorably or unfavorably (following guidance) to a recall?

How can we assess progress and impact?

o Conduct formative research and benchmark against best practice in risk communication.

o Communicate lessons learned by monitoring media response; evaluating effectiveness of messenger, message and means; assessing risk-communication gaps and strengths; and making real-time adjustments when needed.

o Monitor blogs and other electronic media: Which has the highest traffic and the most chatter (both positive and negative)?

o Analyze media placement and coverage and its implications for the overall risk-communication strategy.

What's the real or perceived benefit if we execute our plan?

o Improve communication to strengthen reputation/credibility with consumers, industry, retailers, Congress, partners and other key stakeholder groups.

o Establish communications presence in the market as the go-to source for information, updates and ongoing guidance.

o Use short- and long-term metrics to show impacts on building ownership of the process with the target partner groups and progress on the food-protection plan.

Tim Tinker & Vincent Covello  |  Contributing Writers
Tim L. Tinker, a senior associate of Booz Allen Hamilton and a crisis and risk communications expert, is co-director of Booz Allen Hamilton's Center of Excellence for Risk and Crisis Communications. Vincent T. Covello is director of the Center for Risk Communication. The authors can be reached at tinker.timothy@bah.com and vincentcovello@ix.netcom.com.