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Lerbinger (1997) referred to risk as the 'probability that death, injury, illness, property damage… will stem from a hazard' (p. 267). In this chapter, the term crisis is used as a synonym for hazard. Seymour and Moore (2000) defined risk as 'the sensitive task of dealing with a latent or slowly advancing crisis before it breaks in full force' (p. 17). Fearn-Banks (1996) saw risk communication as 'an ongoing program of informing and educating various publics about issues that can affect… [them]' (p. 13).
Simply put, risks often are precursors to crises. A lack of, or inadequate, risk management may lead to a crisis with grave consequences. It is wiser to avoid a crisis, which requires that we pay attention to risk management. Effective risk communication underpins robust risk management. In essence, effective risk communication is often the best way to avert a crisis.
The importance of risk communication has received international recognition at the highest levels. Coordinating risk communication was one of three 'key policy areas for immediate attention' identified by the international meeting of health ministers held in Ottawa in October 2005 (Ottawa 2005). The ministers' communiqué was reinforced a couple of months later at the East Asia Summit when the Heads of State of ASEAN, Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand included in their declaration a statement (East Asia Summit 2005) calling for '[E]nhancing capacity building in coping with pandemic influenza, including establishing information sharing protocols among countries and multilateral organizations to ensure effective, timely and meaningful communication before or during a pandemic influenza outbreak.' The World Health Organization (WHO) recently published its third complementary strategy for Avian Flu aimed at 'rapidly detecting, and potentially stopping—or containing—an emerging pandemic virus near the start of the pandemic' (WHO 2006a).
Different types of media have been used for communicating risks to small and large audiences. However, there is a paucity of published literature on the use of new media for risk communication. In this chapter, we discuss the use of ICTs for effective risk communication vis-à-vis natural disasters and public health emergencies. We discuss risk communication vis-à-vis long-term planning before a crisis strikes, shorter term planning much closer to a predicted crisis, and during and in the immediate aftermath of a crisis. We then conclude by offering some recommendations on how ICTs can be better harnessed for more effective risk communication in the Asia Pacific region.