Emergency risk communication and sensemaking during smoke events: a survey of practitioners

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3 Citations (Scopus)


Emergency risk communication (ERC) for smoke emitted from major fires continues to challenge governments. During these events, practitioners (including scientific, communication, and emergency response government staff) are tasked with quickly making sense of the public health risks and the communication options available. Practitioners’ sensemaking—the process of creating meaning from information about an unfolding emergency—is key to effective ERC. This article identifies the factors that ERC practitioners consider the most important to their sensemaking for smoke events. A survey of practitioners (n = 86) was conducted to elicit their views on the level of importance of 22 different factors (individual, organizational, and contextual) on their sensemaking. The results indicate that the majority of the factors tested are very important to practitioners. This finding likely reflects the multidimensional nature of emergency smoke events and provides evidence as to why practitioners are challenged when trying to make sense of emergency situations. Despite multiple factors being considered very important to practitioners, the time-limited nature of emergencies means that practitioners will inevitability be forced to prioritize in their sensemaking efforts. Our results also provide insight into practitioners’ prioritization of different information sources. Specifically, practitioners prioritize their own knowledge and the knowledge of other practitioners. The two most important factors were information from other incident management stakeholders and the practitioners’ past experience. Other information, including community-based and academic knowledge, appear to be of lower priority for practitioners. Based on the study results, recommendations for practice and future research are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)358-371
Number of pages14
JournalRisk Analysis
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2023


  • communication practice
  • emergency risk communication
  • government
  • sensemaking
  • survey

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