As I’ve observed in my own life, telling an upset or fearful person to calm down doesn’t usually have the effect we’re looking for. In environmental risk communication, where the risks are often very legitimate but the mechanisms behind those risks can be technically complex, the way organizations choose to interact with the public can have serious consequences. The Sandman formula distills the complicated and very human way we perceive risk like this:
RISK= HAZARD + OUTRAGE
Schools & childcare facilities can hit significant communicational snags as they look for and discover lead in their plumbing systems. Lead is one of the most widely studied hazardous substances of all time, which means the hazards are well understood. The outrage is somewhat widespread because the public broadly sees clean water as a basic human right and high profile water crises in cities like Washington D.C. and Flint, MI implanted the issue of lead in drinking water into our collective consciousness. When a building used by young children often protectively looks for and discovers lead, the outrage becomes localized. Just take a look at my google search results below to see some examples:
A proactive communications strategy that addresses the following key questions and enables the public to readily access information about the outlets their child may be drinking from will go a long way in fostering trust and preventing panic:
In our second episode of Confluence we spoke with Ken Stark from Metro Nashville Public Schools. Metro Nashville Public Schools has been proactively looking for and removing lead sources in its plumbing system since 2016. Over the past four years, Ken and his team have given a lot of thought to how to communicate about lead risks with their community. Full disclosure, Ken is a 120Water client and we are working with MNPS to help his team get helpful information to parents and community members quickly and transparently. You can listen to the episode here.