Initial Publication Date: October 9, 2017

Communicate about Risk and Resilience

Concepts on this page were derived from faculty discussions at the workshop, Teaching about Risk and Resilience workshop, held in May 2014.

Jump down to: Disciplinary and Cultural Perspectives | Strategies for Preparation and Building Resilience, including Drills / Media and Social Media / Scenarios and Forecasting

Effective communication is crucial in understanding risk, coordinating response, planning for, and mitigating future hazards. Our communities are made up of a variety of stakeholders, each with expertise and perspectives informed by their experience, education, and profession; and each with a valuable lens for viewing risk perception and response. Moreover, communities have unique cultures and values, which add another dimension to how we conceive of and deal with risk.

Working Across the Divide: The value of disciplinary and cultural perspectives

Understanding and responding to risk requires input from many disciplines, both in and out of the sciences: scientists bring knowledge of the factors that contribute to extreme events and the history of their occurrence; engineers are able to design better buildings and structures using their understanding of probabilities; emergency workers are equipped to assist communities during and after events occur; policy-makers contribute to planning and response to risks that exist in their jurisdiction. Thus, it is vital that communities collaborate across these disciplinary divides to coordinate plans in both preparing for, and responding to, hazards and risks that exist. Interdisciplinary teaching is a natural tool for introducing students to these concepts and for building a culture of collaboration.

Cultures and values are also important considerations when considering planning for and responding to risk. There is no 'one solution' for all, and a community's history, culture, and values should be considered when considering risk planning and response. The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) provides a number of documents and teaching resources devoted to disaster and risk reduction as well as considerations for cultural diversity, and more, as part of their Education for Sustainable Development websites.

Living in a Risky World: Strategies for preparation and building resilience

The classroom not only offers an opportunity to learn about how others deal with preparedness, but is also a place to build your students preparedness skills. From low-tech practice and drills to high tech modeling and forecasting, there are many strategies for preparing students for the risks we face around us.

Utilize practice and drills to prepare for natural hazards

What actions do you take to protect yourself in an earthquake? A tornado? A flood? While we may have learned how to respond to natural hazards like these when we were in elementary school, we may have forgotten or even more alarming, we may have picked up a misconception about how to react. An effective way to remember how to respond in the event of an emergency is to continue to practice -- encourage schools and workplaces to run drills, have a response plan written up and posted, have a communication plan in place. Hazards can sneak up on us and having knowledge of how to react and having plans in place can increase our chances of survival and resilience.

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Use the media and social media

Advances in technology have led to the ability to share information around the world faster and in greater volume than ever before. These connections not only allow us to learn from what's happening in other parts of the world, but have also helped with learning about how to be resilient in a changing world. The media has brought global attention to natural hazards occurring in regions around the globe as well as environmental justice issues related to sustainability, risks, and hazards.

Using information from the media in the classroom can help to illustrate hazards and sustainability issues both within the community as well as those that extend outside of the local community (e.g. teaching about hurricanes in Iowa). Sharing images, video, and written media can also put these issues into a broader societal context that demonstrates the magnitude of the impact on real people in ways that students are better able to relate to. Media resources can also be used to study the 'bigger picture' related to emergency response and sustainability by looking at the influences of things like policy, emergency response planning and preparedness, communication, potential media bias, and more.

Social media

Social media is another engaging tool to promote communication about risk and resilience. In the event of a crisis, communities can use widely available social media tools to share information coming in from many different sources. This use of social media can also build community during crises - offering both information and assistance within the community. In using social media as an outlet for information, caution should be taken to avoid panic and spreading misinformation. Taking social media into the classroom, exploring blogs can help provide a detailed narrative behind how sustainability issues and hazards affect real people. Parsing Twitter feeds and Facebook posts can also provide insight into how communication systems can aid or hinder disaster response, psychological impacts of natural disasters, and societal and agency response.

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Prepare for the future: Scenarios and forecasting

While resilience is often thought of as returning to status quo, the environment we live in is in constant flux. Especially in the context of a changing climate and growing population with finite natural resources, forward thinking is a key to sustainability. Scenario-building and forecasting are two different methods that offer a glimpse into the future and can help policy-makers, scientists, businesses, and citizens prepare for the changes and challenges we may face.

Learning about forecasting and using scenarios for planning not only allows students to envision the future, but also provides an understanding of the modeling process and how to evaluate predictions, what factors may or may not impact our future, and what we can do to mitigate potential problems. By participating in modeling activities, students can also learn about limitations to the models we have available and explore the complex interplay of systems acting within sustainability issues.

Scenarios in the Classroom

Several sites host scenarios that can be explored in the classroom or lab setting. Students can also create their own scenarios using activities such as this: Research project to consider how projected climate change will impact a region of interest to the student by Susan Kaspari. Students can model IPCC scenarios using the interactive Climate Wizard tool or take a deeper look into IPCC scenarios and simulations. See other activity collections that utilize modeling, some of which also involve scenario building and exploration.

Other ideas include having students or analyze reports such as the IPCC Emission Scenarios document. Students could also experiment with models such as done in Earth Exploration Toolbook: Envisioning Climate Change Using a Global Climate Model or The Climate Challenge: Our Choices Simulator.

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