The Stories We Tell: Creative Strategies for Understanding and Communicating Disaster Risk
Stories are powerful. They convey important messages across generations in simple, memorable ways. When told well, stories shape our values and inspire us. When grounded in science, they can inform our actions when danger looms.
As disasters unfold in rapid succession worldwide, people are looking for narratives that can help them understand these crises and find solutions. At this year’s 49th Annual Natural Hazards Workshop, we will take stock of advances in the hazards and disaster field as we share strategies for creatively communicating about risk.
The study of risk and risk communication has long been a focus in our community, and we have learned an enormous amount about how humans behave under extreme duress. But we are now confronted with an extraordinary array of challenges posed by the rapidly changing climate, decaying built environments, increasing economic inequality, and widening social divisions.
The proliferation of new platforms for communicating risk makes it possible to quickly share data and complex information about these shifting circumstances. Technological advancements, however, have also allowed misinformation to spread at increasing speed. Public distrust of science and government officials further complicates the matter. As many recent examples demonstrate, even when the evidence is sound, messages can be disputed, distorted, or disregarded altogether.
These risk communication challenges are real and urgent. In response, hazards and disaster professionals and our partners have developed new strategies to convey imminent threats, as well as longer-term—even existential—risks to society. Emergency management agencies and artists are working together to help people in eroding coastal areas envision disaster-resilient futures. Indigenous and earth scientists are collaborating to strengthen knowledge systems while addressing socio-environmental problems. Researchers who study racial inequities in disaster response and recovery are collaborating with professional communicators to press for policy change. Comedy shows now communicate climate science, pop music provokes preparedness, and games encourage players to think seriously about managing risk.
These actions, when viewed as a whole, can shape public discourse and galvanize action to reduce disaster harm and suffering. To better understand novel efforts in risk and risk communication, the 2024 Natural Hazards Workshop will feature thematic sessions that explore questions such as:
What have we learned about shifting risks from wildfires, floods, hurricanes, tornados, earthquakes, drought, heat, and other natural hazards?
What steps are institutions and decision-makers taking to ensure that diverse members of the public receive, trust, and can act on risk information?
How are hazards and disaster professionals responding to the spread of misinformation?
What new partnerships have been formed to improve disaster risk research and clarify best practices for equitable risk communication?
What creative, multi-directional approaches are being used to communicate about different phases of the disaster cycle?
Are hazard-specific alerts and warnings—as well as broader risk communication campaigns—reaching intended audiences, creating desired behavioral responses, and ultimately reducing disaster impacts?
In addition to thematic sessions, we will also host panels and networking events that highlight progress in natural hazards research, practice, and policy. As we prepare to build the program, we’ll be inviting you to submit ideas related to both the Workshop theme, as well as other hazards and disasters topics. Please make sure your information is up to date, so you’ll receive a notice when we open the Workshop submission form on October 31, 2023. Individual contributions and full panel ideas must be submitted by January 26, 2024, so please mark your calendars now.
One of our core beliefs at the Natural Hazards Center is that every participant has valuable expertise to share. We also know that everyone has an important story to tell. The Natural Hazards Center team is thrilled at the prospect of learning from each of you at the upcoming Workshop, which will be held Sunday, July 14 through Wednesday, July 17, 2024. Thank you for saving the dates and for all that you do.
Please take care of yourself and others,
Lori Peek, Director
Natural Hazards Center