The EPA’s 7 Cardinal Rules of Risk Communication

by Vincent Covello, PhD

  1. Accept and involve the public as a partner. The ultimate goal of the communication strategy is to produce an informed public, not to defuse public concerns or replace actions.
  2. Plan carefully and evaluate the outcome of the communication efforts. Different goals, audiences and media require different actions.
  3. Listen to the public’s concerns. People often care more about trust, credibility, competence, fairness and empathy than about statistics and details.
  4. Be honest, frank and open. Trust and credibility are difficult to obtain; once lost, they are almost impossible to regain.
  5. Work with other credible sources. Conflicts and disagreements among organizations make communication with the public much more difficult.
  6. Meet the needs of the media. The media are usually more interested in politics than in risk, in simplicity than in complexity, and in danger than in safety.
  7. Speak clearly and with compassion. Never let efforts prevent acknowledgement of the tragedy of an illness, injury or death. People can understand risk information, but they may still not agree. Some people will not be satisfied.