Effective responder communication improves efficiency and psychological outcomes in a mass decontamination field experiment: implications for public behaviour in the event of a chemical incident

Holly Carter, John Drury, Richard Amlôt, G James Rubin, Richard Williams

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

42 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

The risk of incidents involving mass decontamination in response to a chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear release has increased in recent years, due to technological advances, and the willingness of terrorists to use unconventional weapons. Planning for such incidents has focused on the technical issues involved, rather than on psychosocial concerns. This paper presents a novel experimental study, examining the effect of three different responder communication strategies on public experiences and behaviour during a mass decontamination field experiment. Specifically, the research examined the impact of social identity processes on the relationship between effective responder communication, and relevant outcome variables (e.g. public compliance, public anxiety, and co-operative public behaviour). All participants (n = 111) were asked to visualise that they had been involved in an incident involving mass decontamination, before undergoing the decontamination process, and receiving one of three different communication strategies: 1) 'Theory-based communication': Health-focused explanations about decontamination, and sufficient practical information; 2) 'Standard practice communication': No health-focused explanations about decontamination, sufficient practical information; 3) 'Brief communication': No health-focused explanations about decontamination, insufficient practical information. Four types of data were collected: timings of the decontamination process; observational data; and quantitative and qualitative self-report data. The communication strategy which resulted in the most efficient progression of participants through the decontamination process, as well as the fewest observations of non-compliance and confusion, was that which included both health-focused explanations about decontamination and sufficient practical information. Further, this strategy resulted in increased perceptions of responder legitimacy and increased identification with responders, which in turn resulted in higher levels of expected compliance during a real incident, and increased willingness to help other members of the public. This study shows that an understanding of the social identity approach facilitates the development of effective responder communication strategies for incidents involving mass decontamination.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere89846
Pages (from-to)N/A
Number of pages12
JournalPLoS ONE
Volume9
Issue number3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 4 Mar 2014

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