Risk Communication and Social Vulnerability

Guidance for Practitioners

What is the Challenge?

For more than three decades, social scientists have sought to understand how to best communicate information about disaster risk to diverse members of the public, building a substantial body of research literature around this topic. This growing knowledge base has informed best practice guidance that applies across diverse fields within the hazards and disaster arena. Yet this research does not always make it into the hands of practitioners who could apply these lessons in their community outreach and engagement efforts. This means that core principles of risk communication are not always adopted and socially vulnerable populations—those that face disproportionate disaster risk due to a variety of historical, social, economic, and political conditions—may not receive practical and actionable communications about disaster risk. This project is designed to close this research to practice gap and to empower a new generation of risk communication leaders.

Project Overview and Deliverables


To meet this challenge, our Natural Hazards Center research team partnered with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Institute for Water Resources. In this multi-year partnership, our team synthesized the state of knowledge on risk communication with a particular focus on the needs of vulnerable populations. We used that as the foundation to then develop resources and training sessions to help translate that understanding into practice. The deliverables for each year of this project build on one another and are described below.


Please click on the images on this page to download the Worksheets, Guide, and Annotated Bibliography.

Three deliverables are now available from this project. The first, an annotated bibliography, summarizes academic research and practical guidance on the topic of hazards and disaster risk communication, with a particular focus on socially vulnerable populations. It features a range of risk communication lessons that apply across the disaster lifecycle.

The second deliverable is a practitioner-oriented guide that synthesizes insights from the annotated bibliography and other published literature into three overarching principles. They include:

  1. Communicate Through Familiar and Trusted Messengers;
  2. Provide Clear, Actionable Information; and
  3. Tailor Messages and Information Pathways for Target Audiences.

This guide highlights how general risk communication principles can be thoughtfully applied to groups that are often marginalized, overlooked, or difficult to reach. It incorporates practice-oriented tips and a series of examples that reflect how related concerns have been documented or analyzed by researchers at each stage of the disaster life cycle, including preparedness, response, recovery, and mitigation.

The third deliverable, which builds on the guide, is a worksheet booklet that breaks each of the core principles down into three steps with questions and considerations to guide users in applying the principles to their own work. The worksheets also include exercises to be conducted before and after implementing the core principles to help characterize the community and reflect on the risk communication process.

Next Steps

The Natural Hazards Center team developed a fourth set of deliverables, a series of training courses for practitioners titled, “Risk Communication and Social Vulnerability." In these courses practitioners explore the concepts covered in the Principles of Risk Communication materials and apply these ideas to real-world contexts with a specific emphasis on including socially vulnerable populations. In Spring of 2022, we successfully held a virtual six-session training course for U.S. Army Corps of Engineers employees. In Spring of 2023, we will be leading an intensive two-day in-person training and another virtual six-session training course with a new set of students. These trainings are intended to provide continued support for practitioners and develop a process for translating risk communication research into practice.

The application window is now closed for the “Risk Communication and Social Vulnerability” Virtual Training Course (March 2 - May 11, 2023). See the Course Information page for details.

Learn More

To learn more about these resources, you can click on the two recorded presentations available below.

This webinar provides a summary of the Risk Communication Worksheets as part of the joint Silver Jackets and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers “Bridging the Equity Gap: Flood Resilience for the Whole Community" webinar series.

This webinar provides an overview of the Risk Communication Principles Guide and Annotated Bibliography. This presentation includes case studies of these principles in practice.

Project Team

Project Research Lead: Carson MacPherson-Krutsky, Natural Hazards Center (carson.m-k@colorado.edu)

Former Project Research Lead: Nnenia Campbell, Natural Hazards Center

Principal Investigator: Lori Peek, Natural Hazards Center and Department of Sociology, University of Colorado Boulder (Lori.Peek@colorado.edu)

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Program Manager: Stephanie Bray

Sponsor: This project is made possible with supplemental support from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Office of Homeland Security to the National Science Foundation (NSF Award #1635593).