NCDC208: Biosecurity Communications Research and Practices
Statement of Issues and JustificationBiosecurity is a growing concern in the Midwest and the entire United States. Introduced pathogens, contaminants, and disease threaten the security of the U.S. food production and processing system. Federal officials have almost guaranteed the strike of terrorists, and one of the vulnerable areas for this strike is in food production. While these significant concerns loom on the horizon, government, academia, and industry prepare security measures, rapid detection methods, containment strategies, and remediation plans. Much of the success of these efforts will depend on the effectiveness of institutional communications and the receptiveness of the audiences to these communications. Strong strategic communications efforts can help manage risk and reduce risk by providing quality information in an accessible manner.
Research is needed to detennine the institutional communications practices that should be used in on a regular basis regarding biosecurity and biohazards and during crisis events. These situational variables should be crossed with a variable regarding the nature of the introduction of the biohazard, either accidentally or intentionally introduced. An intentional introduction of the biohazard could solicit far stronger reaction and rage.
From existing and new research into these areas, a set of "best communications practices" could be developed. These practices can be used to guide land-grant university communications professionals and administrators in addressing firstresponders, influential community partners, consumers, producers, and others. These practices are more important now than ever because consumer trust of government information sources has declined. This diminished credibility can increase over time and is not solely related to a single event. For example, the Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy incident in Great Britain and the government's lack of communications and inaccuracy of information about it greatly affected the British public's reception of information regarding Foot and Mouth Disease. Distrust of government information sources is due partly to the confusing and sometimes conflicting information about biohazards as well as delayed responses. Because of this distrust, the actual potential for harm from a biohazard can increase if audiences are not receptive to messages from land-grant institutions.
The concept of this NCDC was presented to the communications heads who were attending the National Extension Technology Committee meeting at Purdue in fall 2004. It was also presented to communications researchers at the 2004 Annual Meeting of the Association for Communications Excellence. There is strong interest among both these groups to address biosecurity communications and build stronger connections between communications research at land-grant institutions and communications practices. Most often applied communications researchers and professionals at land-grants are housed in separate departments, creating challenges to link research to practice.
In addition to me, three others have agreed to serve on an NCDC to develop this proposal further: Chris Sigurdson, department head of Agricultural Communications Service at Purdue University; Kirk Heinze, Ph.D., director of Communications and Technology Services at Michigan State University; and Mark Tucker, Ph.D., associate professor of agricultural communications in the Department of Human and Community Resource Development at The Ohio State University. As both a researcher and communications head, I am active in biosecurity communications on my campus and have recently been invited to join a DHS center's initiative in risk communications. This group prepared to work on this NCDC represents both communications researchers and heads and have been advocates for building linkages between research and practice to further improve communications with land-grant stakeholders, consumers, and producers. Land-grant communicators will playa pivotal role in biosecurity communications, and the work proposed here can provide them tools to increase their effectiveness and efficiency.
Written by Kristina Boone Interim Head and Associate Professor, KSU
Back to Top