Public Health Center Hosts Three-Day Risk Communication Workshop

11 May 2022

From Hugh Cox

The Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center (NMCPHC) hosted a three-day public health risk communication and media workshop at the Naval Medical Center Portsmouth May 3-5.The workshop focused on how to plan and execute communications to internal and external stakeholders on any issue public health issue that impacts their mission, both crisis
The Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center (NMCPHC) hosted a three-day public health risk communication and media workshop at the Naval Medical Center Portsmouth May 3-5.

The workshop focused on how to plan and execute communications to internal and external stakeholders on any issue public health issue that impacts their mission, both crisis and non-crisis.

Attendees were diverse and included personnel from the State Department, U.S. Air Force, U.S. Coast Guard, Navy Environmental and Preventive Medicine Unit Two, Naval Medical Center Portsmouth, Air Force Headquarters Air Combat Command, and other area medical commands.

Under the current DoD Defense Health Agency (DHA) initiative, the medical services are collaborating to see where efficiencies in delivery of risk communication products and services can be identified. Dr. Paul Gillooly, NMCPHC Environmental Programs, was chair of the recent DoD DHA Risk Communication Working Group. “Even though our group has identified a significant shortfall in risk communication experts and training across each service, as a group we decided to open up a limited number of seats in the formal training we do offer to the other services to better leverage those training opportunities worldwide,” said Gillooly.
Professional specialties attending were broad and diverse, and included Public Health Officers, Occupational Safety and Health Specialists, Industrial Hygienists, Epidemiologists, Public Affairs, Toxicologists, Microbiologist, Environmental Health, and Bioenvironmental Engineers.
Gillooly was part of a training team that included Mr. Bill Stover, NMCPHC Environmental Programs, and Sandy Martinez CEO of Fulton Communications, who specialize in communications consulting and training with decades of experience.

"At the end of the day, whether it is a local food-borne illness outbreak, a global infectious disease outbreak such as COVID-19, or a safe drinking water issue, it all boils down to health," said Gillooly. "People want to know whether they have been exposed, what their risk is, how does it affect their health, their families' health, and will that exposure cause illness and disease later in life."

"We know from experience and research that people have a broad concept of risk that is different from the experts but is both complex and incorporates considerations such as uncertainty, controllability, trust, equity, catastrophic potential and risk to future generations into their personal risk equation," added Gillooly.

To effectively communicate both one on one and in writing using key messages to a larger audience of stakeholders, risk communicators must be acutely aware of these risk perception factors and how people decide something is a risk and how bad that risk is to them personally.

"Otherwise we run the risk of escalating instead of de-escalating a health risk issue," said Gillooly.
The training was well-received by attendees, including Anna Klineberg, Medical Risk Communications Specialist at the State Department Bureau of Medical Services (MED). “This training allowed me to take a step back and look at the fundamentals of risk communication,” said Klineberg. “Being able to recognize various communication arenas and cater our communication effectively to different stakeholders is crucial to emergency preparedness and public health as a whole. I would strongly recommend this course for anyone involved in risk communication.”
According to HSC Iredell Wyatt, from the USCG Base Portsmouth, he expressed his belief in the value of the broad applicability of this training. “This course was extremely beneficial for me in my line of work,” said Wyatt. “The communication techniques we learned will absolutely play a huge role, not only in my professional life, but in my personal life moving forward. The instructors were very helpful and ran practical scenarios that prepared us for many situations we may encounter during risk communication.”
From Jessica Sullivan’s perspective, a NMCPHC Preventive Medicine Management Analyst, the skills taught in this workshop are foundational in public health, and transferrable to every field. “COVID-19 forced every industry to communicate public health information,” said Sullivan. “We are all now sensitized to the value of good risk communication, and how challenging it can be to execute. Because of this training, I feel more prepared to put forward clear, appropriate messages and to responds to high emotion situations.”
Capt. Kumar, Air Force Public Health Officer, Joint Base Langley-Eustis who has been working COVID-19 pandemic issues was quick to point out. “Smooth, guided, and effective flow of information from lab bench to bedside is an art which has always been a challenge for the experts to practice especially during a crisis,” said Kumar. “Most recently we witnessed those challenges during the early stages of this COVID-19 pandemic. The risk communication course at NMCPHC successfully trained us to understand, analyze and develop tolls to be able to communicate risk in an effective manner especially during a crisis.”

Sandy Martinez of Fulton Communications summed it up by stating "Our goal is to build a network of Navy environment, safety and health scientists who can on a daily basis develop strategies to help ensure people get the information they need, when they need it, and in a format they can easily understand. This will help build and maintain trust and credibility, resolve conflict and ensure the long-term success of our Navy organizational goals."
Gillooly added that “Due to the increasing amount of disinformation being pushed by some social media platforms, and the increasing distrust of government institutions and experts that comes with that, the curriculum was expanded to examine these issues and increase awareness of what scientist can do to understand and counteract this recent trend.”

In addition to conducting this workshop, NMCPHC is also available to conduct Executive Risk Communication Briefs and Site and Topic-Specific Training for Environment, Safety and Health Projects.

The Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center (NMCPHC) develops and shapes public health for the U.S. Navy and Marines Corps through health surveillance, epidemiology and analysis, disease and injury prevention, and public health consultation. Learn more by going to www.nmcphc.med.navy.mil. Follow NMCPHC on social media at https://www.facebook.com/NavyAndMarineCorpsPublicHealthCenter http://twitter.com/nmcphc and https://www.instagram.com/nmcphc/
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