The Los Angeles Times has an opinion piece (you might need a log-in ID) in Sunday’s paper that worries about a potential ‘trust-deficit’ between the federal government and the general public if a pandemic flu outbreak were to occur. The author of the piece, Madeline Drexler, argues for honest, sober communication about the pandemic flu by the federal government, starting today, to prepare the nation for the potential risks:
Second, the Bush team must straightforwardly warn Americans about how bad a novel strain of flu could be. The president’s statement at an October news conference â€” “rest assured that we’re doing everything we can” â€” was patronizingly dishonest.
Skilled risk communication is frank, said Monica Schoch-Spana, a medical anthropologist and senior fellow at the Center for Biosecurity at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. “It’s resetting a baseline expectation: that people get sick and can die from flu, and in extraordinary outbreaks that can happen at a large scale.”
In crises, great communicators help citizens steel themselves for suffering, while also protecting them. “But we first have to admit that something tragic will happen,” Schoch-Spana said.
I actually think the CDC has been doing a good job of communicating about risks and preparedness in the two months since the release of the Pandemic Flu strategy, as I’ve noted previously. But the editorial is correct in stating that senior leadership in the federal government – the Secretaries of HHS and Homeland Security, and the President – are going to be the ones addressing the media if an outbreak occurs, and they need to be building public trust on this issue now – not waiting until an outbreak occurs – by speaking frequently and honestly about potential risks.
The piece also notes:
To truly earn the public’s trust, national officials should issue regular progress reports on the nuts and bolts of protecting us (and the rest of the world) against a lethal flu virus. The issue should be kept front and center, just as our leaders manage to keep the terrorism threat front and center.
The recommendation for regular progress reports is critical, and something that Congress should insist upon.
Read the whole piece here.