The Impact of Communication Materials on Public Responses to a Radiological Dispersal Device (RDD) Attack

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16 Citations (Scopus)


It is a common assumption that, in the event of a Chemical, Biological, Radiological or Nuclear (CBRN) attack, a well-prepared and informed public is more likely to follow official recommendations regarding the appropriate safety measures to take. We present findings from a UK study investigating the ability of crisis communication to influence perceptions of risk and behavioral intentions in the general public in response to CBRN terrorism. We conducted a focus group study involving a scenario presented via mock news broadcasts, to explore levels of public knowledge, information needs and intended behavioural reactions to an attack involving an overt radiological dispersal device (RDD) or dirty bomb. We used the findings from these focus groups to design messages for the public which could be presented in a short leaflet. We then tested the effects of the leaflet on reactions to the same scenario in 8 further focus groups. The impact of the new messages on levels of knowledge, information needs and intended compliance with official recommendations was assessed. The provision of information increased the perceived credibility of official messages and increased reported levels of intended compliance with advice to: return to normal/stop sheltering; attend a facility for assessment and treatment; return to a previously contaminated area after decontamination of the environment has taken place. Should a real attack with an RDD occur, having pre-tested messages available to address common concerns and information needs should facilitate the public health response to the attack.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)49-58
Number of pages9
JournalBiosecurity And Bioterrorism-Biodefense Strategy Practice And Science
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2013


  • Risk communication
  • Public health preparedness/response
  • Consequence management
  • CBRN
  • Psychological Impact
  • Citizen Engagement
  • Terrorism


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