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Communicating Effectively With Vulnerable Populations During Water Contamination Events

Journal of Water and Health

January 1, 2008

Water contamination events are a public health concern worldwide with significant potential to impact the global community. When communicating with the public during these crisis situations, it is vital to consider the multiple audiences who receive the messages. Before developing or delivering messages to a particular community, it is essential to be familiar with the community's characteristics, needs, concerns, and who is considered credible to that community.

Vulnerable populations are those with difficulties in comprehension or accessibility that may limit their full understanding of risks and may mitigate the effectiveness of public health strategies. Vulnerable populations include, but are not limited to, the urban/rural poor, those who are mentally ill, intellectually disabled, medically vulnerable, at the extremes of age (children and the elderly), racial/ethnic minorities, and those with low literacy or limited English proficiency.

A water contamination event poses a unique opportunity to work with diverse populations to effectively convey important health messages. Each population needs to receive appropriate public health messages. Becoming familiar with vulnerable populations and their needs prior to a water contamination event will help in identifying barriers and developing and refining effective messages in such a crisis. In water contamination crises, our publics’ health depends on effective, targeted crisis communication.