Natural Hazards

, Volume 65, Issue 1, pp 683–705 | Cite as

Best practices in risk and crisis communication: Implications for natural hazards management

  • Toddi A. Steelman
  • Sarah McCaffrey
Original Paper


As societies evolve, often the most appropriate response to the hazard must also evolve. However, such shifts in appropriate response to a hazard, whether at the individual or at the societal level, are rarely straightforward: Closing the gap between desired practice and current practice requires effective communication. Although there is a significant literature on how to encourage adaptation before an event and how to communicate during an event, there is less work tying the two together or on how to communicate shifts in larger scale societal response to a natural hazard. In this article, we bring together the best practices and theoretical literature from risk communication and crisis communication and empirical literature on wildfire communication to derive the key characteristics associated with best communication practices. We then use this framework on three case studies of wildfires in California, Montana, and Wyoming, each of which used a different strategy for managing the fire, to understand whether approaching communication more holistically can lead to more desired natural hazard management outcomes. Our working hypothesis was as follows: effective communication before and during a fire would be associated with acceptance of more flexible fire management strategies. The findings indicate how a type of desired management change (more flexible fire management) is associated with more effective communication practices before and during the event.


Crisis communication Risk communication Wildfire Disaster Emergency management Wildfire policy 



This work was funded by the Joint Fire Science Program grant number 8-1-2 4-01 and the USFS Northern Research Station. We would like to thank all the interviewees who participated in the research project and our research assistants Chris Ketchie and Kathryn Reis. Two anonymous reviewers also provided very constructive insight that helped improve the article greatly.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Environment and SustainabilityUniversity of SaskatchewanSaskatoonCanada
  2. 2.US Forest Service Northern Research StationEvanstonUSA

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