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Communicating with the Public About CBRN Threats: State of the Art


Tuesday 21st September 2010
The RAF Club, 128 Piccadilly, London

How would EU citizens respond to a terrorist attack involving a Chemical, Biological, Radiological or Nuclear (CBRN) threat? Current emergency response plans require that the public comply with official recommendations and engage with public health interventions in order to minimise the medical, social and economic impacts of an incident. Effective communication strategies will be crucial to these efforts, but to be successful they must take into account existing levels of knowledge, risk perceptions and beliefs, information needs and the likely behavioural responses of the general public.

The PIRATE project partners hosted a one day workshop which brought together researchers, communicators and policy makers to discuss current international research that sheds light on questions surrounding likely public responses CBRN terrorist incidents. The outcomes of the PIRATE project were also disseminated.

The workshop flyer and agenda are available to download.

The PIRATE Project Overview

Dr Richard Amlôt, Health Protection Agency

Amlôt leads the Behavioural Science Team in the Emergency Response Department (ERD) at the Health Protection Agency. The team delivers research projects in the areas of psychological and behavioural responses to emergencies with a particular focus on CBRN incidents; risk communication; the evaluation of emergency preparedness exercises and operational research concerning mass casualty decontamination. These projects are funded by the Home Office, Department of Health, EU DG SANCO and EU DG JLS, and involve a range of collaborators including; the Institute of Psychiatry and Department of War Studies at King’s College London (KCL), CRSSA (France), Faculty of Military Health Sciences (Czech Republic), FOI (Sweden) and the University of Stuttgart (Germany). Key outcomes of this work will be used to inform the emergency preparedness and response activities of the Health Protection Agency and its partners. Dr Amlôt is also an honorary Research Fellow at King’s College London.

Smallpox Scenario – Participant Responses

Fiona Mowbray, Health Protection Agency

Fiona Mowbray is a Research Assistant in the Behavioural Science Research Team of the Emergency Response Department at the Health Protection Agency. Since completing her MSc in Global Public Health Policy at the University of Edinburgh, she has been working for the past year and a half on the European Commission funded Public Information and Responses After Terrorist Events (PIRATE) project. In her role within the Behavioural Science Research Team she has also assisted with research in other areas including mass decontamination and exercise evaluation.

Dr James Rubin, King’s College London

James has been a researcher at the Institute of Psychiatry since 1999 and was awarded his PhD in psychology as applied to medicine in 2003 for his work on psychological factors affecting recovery from surgery. His research interests have since expanded to encompass the causes and treatment of the various modern illnesses that afflict Western societies, such electrosensitivity and multiple chemical sensitivity, and the psychological impact of terrorism or major public health incidents. James is in charge of the day to day running of the Mobile Phone Research Unit at Kings College London and is also the co-ordinator for a programme of research into potential public reactions to chemical, biological or radiological terrorism. He currently holds a National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Career Development Fellowship, which will allow him to study public reactions to any future major incidents which occur in the UK. He has previously studied how the general public reacted to the 7 July London bombings, the polonium 210 incident, and the outbreak of swine flu , and has won awards for his work in this area.

Radiological Exposure Device (RED): Approach and Key Questions

Dr Brooke Rogers, King’s College London

Dr. Brooke Rogers is a Lecturer in Risk and Terror in the Department of War Studies, and a Director of the MA in Terrorism, Security and Society at King’s College London. Dr. Rogers is a social psychologist by training, specialising in the study of social groups, group interaction, attitude formation and change, and belief systems. Specifically, she is interested in public and expert perceptions of risk and risk communication, and has applied these concepts to several areas. Her current terrorism research follows two key themes: 1) Responding to Terrorism; and 2) Violent radicalisation. Dr. Rogers holds honorary associations with a number of organisations including the Royal Society’s advisory committee on the Scientific Aspects of International Security, the Health Protection Agency (HPA), the US based Global Futures Partnership and its Global Futures Forum, the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), and has membership on the newly created Community Resilience Programme Steering Group for the Cabinet Office. She lectures on NATO courses in four countries, and has held advisory positions with a number of government organisations on an international level. She also enjoys membership on the editorial board for the journal, Mental Health, Religion and Culture.

Red Scenario – Participant Responses

Julia Pearce, King’s College London

Julia Pearce is a Research Associate in the Department of War Studies at King’s College, London. She has been working for the past year on the PIRATE project and has also recently commenced work on a European Union Public Health Programme funded project, ‘the Public Health Response to Chemical Incident Emergencies (CIE) Toolkit’. After completing her MSc in Social Psychology with Distinction at the LSE, Julia was employed as a Graduate Teaching Assistant at London Metropolitan University where she completed her PhD research entitled 'Asylum in the UK: A Social Psychological understanding of a Moral Panic'. This thesis critically investigated the concept of ‘moral panic’ in relation to the UK response to asylum seekers and considered how social psychological theory could be used to understand the cause, content, spread and impact of a moral panic response. During this period she was also an examiner for the Elements of Social and Applied Psychology course for the University of London External Programme at LSE and was External Moderator on the Interpersonal Communication Skills Cert at Birkbeck College, University of London.

Improving CBRN Risk Communication: Research, Programs and Initiatives in the United States

Dr Steven M Becker, University of Alabama at Birmingham

Steven M. Becker, Ph.D. is a leading expert on the emergency planning, community response and risk communication aspects of disasters and terrorism. He has served as principal investigator for a variety of major studies of people’s perceptions, information needs and communication preferences related to CBRNE threats, including the first U.S. study of the views of hospital emergency department clinicians regarding dirty bombs (RDDs) and another study of the public’s concerns, information needs and views of protective actions related to nuclear detonation events (INDs). He was also a PI on the CDC’s multi-year, multi-site “Pre-Event Message Development Project,” which examined people’s concerns and information needs related to chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear threats. In addition to his scholarly work, Dr. Becker has had extensive on-the-ground experience at the sites of disasters and emergencies around the world. This includes the 1999 criticality incident in Tokaimura, Japan and the massive foot-and-mouth disease outbreak in 2001 in the United Kingdom. He has also done follow-up work in Ukraine and Belarus on the continuing effects of the Chernobyl disaster. In recent years, Dr. Becker has served as a subject matter expert for a variety of agencies and organizations. He served as a member of NCRP Scientific Committee 46-14 and was a co-author of the landmark report No. 138: Management of Terrorist Events Involving Radioactive Material. Dr. Becker is currently Vice Chair of the Department of Environmental Health Sciences, and Director of the Disaster and Emergency Communication Research Unit, at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, USA. He received the Ralph E. Powe Award from Oak Ridge Associated Universities in 1999, was named a Visiting Scholar by the Japan Emergency Medical Foundation and National Hospital Tokyo Disaster Medical Center in 2001, and was named a Dozor Visiting Scholar, Faculty of Health Sciences (Disaster and Emergency Medicine), Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, in 2008. In 2005, he was elected to the Congressionally-chartered National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements, and in 2010 he was named a G. William Morgan Lecturer by the Health Physics Society.

Addressing the Challenges of CBRNE - Recent and current research in Australia

Dr Melanie Taylor, University of Western Sydney

Mel is a Senior Research Fellow in the Disaster Response and Resilience Research Group of the School of Medicine at the University of Western Sydney. Mel is an Occupational Psychologist working in the area of protective behaviours and emerging threats. She has a specific interest in risk perception, protection motivation, and preparedness and response in the context of low probability / high uncertainty and high impact events; such as CBR terrorism, agroterrorism, emerging infectious diseases and zoonoses. Since moving to Australia in 2006 she has studied population compliance with health protective behaviours in the context of pandemic influenza, horse owner biosecurity response and the mental health impacts of equine influenza, public response to the and public preparedness for all hazards. Before moving to Australia Mel had a twenty year career in Human Factors research for the UK Ministry of Defence.

Public Communication of CBRN Risk in Canada: Research, Training and Tools to Enable Preparedness

Dr Louise Lemyre, University of Ottawa

Dr Louise Lemyre is a Professor of Psychology, and the McLaughlin Research Chair on Psychosocial Risk at the Institute of Population Health of the University of Ottawa, and Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences of the Royal Society of Canada. She leads a research unit 'GAP-Santé' involved in quantitative and qualitative methodologies and the development of tools for a systemic contextual evaluation and cognitive appraisal of the social environment, especially with respect to risk, stress, anticipation, resilience, organizational learning and governance. Her interdisciplinary projects inform the psychosocial aspects of terrorism, emergency preparedness and psychosocial management of risk. She is the founding leader of the Psychosocial Science Cluster of the Center for Security Science of Canada, a consortium of 21 federal departments, engaging local authorities, private sector and NGOs.

The Web of Communications - The Health Communicators Network in the EU

Peter Graham, UK Department of Health

Peter Graham is the Senior Press Officer for Public Health at the UK Department of Health. He is responsible for all public health issues, including emergency preparedness and infectious diseases. His team were responsible for England’s sustained media response to the 2009/10 ‘flu pandemic. Peter represents the UK’s communications function in health security matters as an active member of two international groups – the EU-wide Health Security Committee Communicators Network, and the Global Health Security Initiative’s communicators network. These groups bring communicators together to share information, propagate good practice, and improve the international response to health security issues.