My philosophy on communicating emergency preparedness information with diverse populations

Since this my first blog post, I thought it would be fitting to talk about my philosophy on communicating emergency preparedness information.  Where I want to focus is on diverse populations.  Many who perform risk communication for public health have a charge from the CDC to reach out to diverse populations (CDC, 2011).  One type of diverse population is those who are immigrants or refugees from other countries making the United States their home.  There are many who feel that those who come to the US from another country should be following the American culture without any assistance.  However, in public health it is our job to make sure everyone’s health is protected.  Every day, many in public health are reaching out to their communities of immigrants and refugees to learn more, with mixed success.

How can public health be successful in reaching these groups and ensuring emergency preparedness messages are understood and implemented?  First we have to understand how a group thinks.  That’s not an easy thing to do if you are not familiar with the culture and do not have access.  First you need to connect with an agency that works with the population you wish to work with.  In Michigan, one of the largest groups of refugees and immigrants are those from the Middle East.  ACCESS is one such agency that specializes in working with this group.  Once you make a connection with an agency or more than one, check to see if emergency preparedness is already something they cover.  No use reinventing the wheel.

If not, the next task is to figure out the best way to communicate with the group.  I feel the place to start is asking about the most common hazards in your area.  Why start there?  First you get a baseline of understanding, but also a baseline for perception.  Dr. Peter Sandman notes that the perception of the hazard (known as outrage) is just as important as the hazard itself (Sandman, 1988).  Hence why his equation Risk = Hazard + Outrage was created.   When you understand the perception of the hazard you view as common by the population you want to reach.  You may find that a hazard that’s a big deal to you, may not be to the population.

But understanding the population’s hazard perception is one part of the puzzle.  The other is the cultural factors that influence them.  If the immigrant population is Western (namely cultures that are more aligned with our own), there are many models that will work for them.  However, if the population is non-Western, the health education paradigm changes.  I believe along with Dr. Sandman’s risk equation another model should be used to understand the culture, the PEN-3 model.  The PEN-3 model was created by a Penn State researcher (yes, I see the connection) to better understand the cultural factors that influence non-Western health education (Airhihenbuwa, 1990).

So you may be thinking how you can tie these together.  The answer is, I’ve already done that.  If you want to learn about hazard perception and the cultural factors that influence them, I have a survey instrument that combines the Risk equation and the PEN-3 model.  Once you perform the interviews or online assessment, you can tailor your education strategy.  If this is something you are interesting in using, please feel free to contact me.

One thing to keep in mind is in public health we tend to want to only provide information. However, working with a refugee or immigrant group they may have information that you can learn from them.  When I used the tool myself I learned that the Iraqi immigrant group could teach us more about power outages because they experienced them every day in Iraq.   Learning from the groups we want to inform can build bridges and foster relationship that will last a long time.  The point is lives will be saved because the information will get to the intended recipient in a culturally sensitive way.