RISK AND CRISIS COMMUNICATION NARRATIVES IN RESPONSE TO RAPIDLY EMERGING DISEASES
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Risk and crisis communication narratives in response to rapidly emerging diseases

 

The uncertainty inherent in crises can create a narrative space that is often filled by multiple interpretations about both what is happening and what steps should be taken to resolve the crisis. As more information becomes known, these competing crisis narratives gradually merge into a dominant narrative about the crisis, lessons learned from it, and recommendations for the future. This case study examines the swine industry’s response to the Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus (PEDv) outbreak. The virus spread rapidly throughout the industry and, in a matter of months, had killed approximately 10% of the U.S. swine population. This analysis examines the crisis communication that ensued during that time. More specifically, 13 specialists representing the National Pork Board, American Association of Swine Veterinarians, veterinarians highly active in treating PEDv, university extension agents, and academic researchers were interviewed for this study. A narrative analysis of the interview content revealed that communication efforts made by swine industry leaders successfully shifted the PEDv story from that of competing narratives to a dominant narrative that helped resolve the crisis efficiently. This success is attributed, in part, to effective use of all available industry resources for both conducting research and sharing information rapidly through pre-established communication networks and widely read resources. Results of this narrative analysis reveal a key recommendation that maybe generalizable to similar crisis events. That is, an effective crisis narrative should focus not only on what protective actions to take, but also on a clear explanation regarding the nature of the crisis. Moreover, such explanations must be translated intelligibly to diverse non-scientific publics and provide a compelling rationale for why the recommended actions are vital.

Keywords: Crisis communication, risk communication, narrative, plurality, convergence

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