Rx for Risk Communication

by Steven D. Perry, Senior Environmental Scientist; Blasland, Bouck & Lee, Inc., 6723 Towpath Road, Box 66, Syracuse, NY 13214-0066,

Serial Information: Civil Engineering—ASCE, 1996, Vol. 66, Issue 8, Pg. 61-63

Document Type: Feature article


When American adults are asked what they fear most, a majority rank public speaking ahead of death, divorce and unemployment. This news may not surprise many environmental project managers, who are often required to stand in front of an apprehensive public audience and explain the intricacies of risk assessment, remedial engineering and statistical inference. The stakes in such forums are high. If project managers do well, valuable trust and credibility is built within the community. If they fail to communicate effectively, they risk disaster as tempers flare, trust is lost and public misperceptions about site risks and decision making increase. Environmental project managers who keep in mind some practical pros and cons of public communication—being proactive, proficient and pro-people while avoiding confrontational, confusing and contrived approaches—can increase trust, build sound community relations and reduce frustration and costly delays caused by negative public opinion.

Subject Headings: Managers | Risk management | Environmental issues | Public health and safety | Employment | Remediation | Statistics | Decision making

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