Seminars 3 and 4

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A growing literature on the public’s understanding of risk (eg Fischhoff 2005b) is forming a basis for a behavioural response to Major Catastrophic Incidents yet, in practice, the reliance seems to be on experts being prepared to respond and the public being merely sensitised to the possibility. While most cities have plans for public’s evacuation, Alexander (2005) notes there is remarkably little published work and few practical and useful models on this topic for interested EMAs. Also, little advanced research appears to underpin the practice of preparing the public – one only needs to review the UK Government’s advice (www.preparingforemergencies.gov.uk) to see that public preparedness is less advanced that it could be. In this vein, O’Brien & Read (2005) note a worrying absence in the UK of bottom-up (public) promotion of preparedness and so there is a concern that the public are not sufficiently engaged. Even the media used to communicate risk and appropriate response in the UK could be freshened and more involving (we think back to the innovation and how memorable were some of the public awareness campaign adverts of the 1960s/70s for children safely crossing the road or not talking to strangers).
 
A research literature on public preparedness is slowly developing, for example on public response during catastrophic medical events (Schoch-Spana et al 2007) and mass contamination (Dombroski & FischBeck 2006) and a key text on public preparedness by Coppola (2007) contains many practical checklists and ideas for public preparedness which have arisen from research. However, a lack of engagement on this topic between researchers and practitioners in the UK is concerning, for example, Fischhoff (2005a) and Quarantelli (2001) agree that basic EMA errors are avoidable as officials often prepare the public for an orderly/calm evacuation despite the strong research evidence that mass panic is unlikely. To date little research has been carried out into the work which prepares the UK’s public for emergencies and, critically, there is no measure or benchmark for analysts to gauge their public’s levels of preparedness.
 
Seminar 3 will draw together the models which might be applied to public preparedness to evaluate and strengthen their utility in a UK context in alignment with current theory. Seminar 4 will move towards their application, further extension and the identification of potential new avenues for research and practice.