SOCIAL CONSTRUCTION OF RISK ROLES, RISK PERCEPTIONS, AND EMERGENCY RESPONSE PROCEDURES:
AN ETHNOGRAPHIC CASE STUDY OF TWO NEAR NEIGHBOR CHEMICAL MANUFACTURING COMMUNITIES
MICHAEL J. PALENCHAR
A DISSERTATION TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY
UNIVERSITY OF FLORDA
MICHAEL J. PALENCHAR
Completing a dissertation is not possible without the guidance and assistance from an eclectic range of people. A special thank you goes to Dr. Linda C. Hon, my advisor, for her support, encouragement, and guidance throughout my stay at the University of Florida and specifically the dissertation process. I would also like to acknowledge my committee members, Dr. Kathy Fitzpatrick, Dr. Debbie M. Treise, Dr. Richard J. Lutz and Dr. Marilyn S. Roberts, for their support, assistance and sticking with me through the extra year for completion. A special thank you goes to Jody Hedge for her friendship and assistance throughout my stay in the program.
I am especially grateful to the residents of Deer Park and Galena Park, Texas, who participated in this research project. This dissertation is not so much about them but because of them and their willingness to invite me into their homes and businesses, their narratives and their lives. My hope is that this study will one day make a difference in the lives of residents who face increased health and safety risks related to living near chemical manufacturing, storage, and transportation facilities.
Finally, I would like to thank my parents, John and Consuelo Palenchar. To my mother for her strength and unquestionable support, and to my father, who passed away right before I entered the doctoral program and who always pushed all four of his sons to reach higher levels of education I hope they both enjoy this gift.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Setting the Stage...........................................................................................................1
Statement of Purpose....................................................................................................7
2 BACKGROUND AND LITERATURE REVIEW
Risk Analysis, Perceptions and Communication........................................................10
Evolution of Risk Communication.............................................................................12
Risk Communication Orientations.............................................................................22
Risk Communication Challenges................................................................................26
Risk Communication Process Variables.....................................................................31
Social Construction of Reality....................................................................................47
Social Risk Perspectives.............................................................................................52
Narrative Theory and Rhetorical Enactment..............................................................57
Community Right to Know.........................................................................................65
Assumptions and Worldviews....................................................................................85
Data Collection Method..............................................................................................93
Feasability and Emergent Design...............................................................................98
Summary of Data Collection and Information Pool...................................................99
Limitations of this Study..........................................................................................107
4 SITUATING THE RESEARCH
Community Context of Harris County, Texas..........................................................109
Community Context of Deer Park, Texas.................................................................113
Deer Park's Story: One Day of Risk.........................................................................118
Community Context of Galena Park, Texas.............................................................137
Galena Park's Story: One Day of Risk......................................................................140
5 RESULTS, ANALYSIS, AND DISCUSSION
Community Residents' Perceptions of Risk Roles....................................................154
Risk Communication Process Variables...................................................................170
Community Risk Perceptions of SARA Title II and Responsible Care...................190
Similarities and Differences.....................................................................................207
6 SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS
Lessons for Risk Communication and Public Relations Practitioners.....................218
Implications for Further Research............................................................................220
A INTERVIEW QUESTION GUIDE....................................................................223
B FOCUS GROUP QUESTION GUIDE...............................................................226
C UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA INSTITUATIONAL REVIEW BOARD
INFORMED CONSENT RELEASE.................................................................229
D SAMPLE INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT...........................................................230
E SAMPLE FOCUS GROUP TRANSCRIPT.......................................................242
F SAMPLE FIELD NOTES..................................................................................259
Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy
SOCIAL CONSTRUCTION OF RISK ROLES, RISK PERCEPTIONS, AND EMERGENCY RESPONSE PROCEDURES:
AN ETHNOGRAPHIC CASE STUDY OF TWO NEAR NEIGHBOR CHEMICAL MANUFACTURING COMMUNITIES
Michael J. Palenchar
Chair: Linda C. Hon
Major Department: Mass Communication
Social perspectives on risk communication are gaining ground in a field that has
been historically dominated by actuarial, economic, and psychological approaches.
Through qualitative research methods, the purpose of this study was to examine how
residents perceive and socially construct their risk roles related to living near chemical
manufacturing facilities, explicating and expanding on taxonomy of risk roles. The study
also examined and refined previously identified risk communication process variables
and residents' perceptions of community-right-to-know provisions and community
emergency response measures. Based on 193 days of observation-participation while
living in two communities as part of an ethnographic case study, which included 15 focus
groups and 27 in-depth interviews, results of this study suggest that residents perceive
their risk roles in more specific categories than previous research identified, and that
residents' sense of risk and knowledge of emergency response measures are socially
constructed with emphasis on harms and benefits, control, uncertainty, and trust. This
study also suggests that sense of risk may increase with the use of sophisticated risk
communication campaigns in response to community-right-to-know public policies,
elevating the diligence of community residents, and that part of the community's social
construction of risk includes justification for living in the community. Also, effective
risk communication campaigns were demonstrated to have a positive effect on support
for industry. This analysis adds depth to the risk communication literature and suggests
that public relations practitioners can and should attempt to understand risk discourse
content as well as the communication processes and risk perceptions socially constructed
by key publics.
CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION
Setting the Stage
Industrialization has been a two-edged sword. Since the latter half of the 19th century, as a result of the American Industrial Revolution, large industrial combines have served to create jobs, spawn small support and ancillary businesses, as well as create and innovate products and services that continually reshape lifestyles. Industrial combines have shifted wealth into the hands of a few, created new social classes, increased population and urbanization, formed at times poor working conditions and labor unrest, as well as fostered products, working conditions, neighborhoods, and natural environments that have at times taken advantage of and at the least strained people's risk tolerance. Partly as a result of the advent and development of industrialization and manufacturing, governments, arts, literature, music, architecture, and man's way of looking at life, to name a few, have changed dramatically.
Among this progression, industrial refining, and specifically chemical manufacturing facilities, is one of the most significant and controversial inventions of human beings. Manufacturing facilities coordinate human and environmental resources to achieve notable and safe, and at times insignificant and hazardous, objectives. These facilities create constructive and responsible, as well as destructive and irresponsible, products and services.
Life hazards, and the collective management of those hazards, are a part of everyday existence in a modern, industrialized society. Media reports concerning hazardous materials, air and water pollutants, carcinogenic elements in our food supply, and a host of other risks bombard our attention on a daily basis. Iconic incidents such as Bhopal and Mayak internationally, and Three Mile Island and Hanford nationally, will always remind people of the dangers involved with the production, use, storage, and transportation of hazardous materials. These life hazards reflect the increasing size and complexity of modern science, technology, and industrial and chemical manufacturing.
Advances in science lead to an increase of fields that require risk management and risk communication initiatives. Biogenetics, travel, petrochemical and other specialty chemical manufacturing, to name a few, all require risk assessment and associated political and social discussions of risk communication procedures. New developments such as nanotechnology, alternate energy sources, virtual surgery and advanced space travel only increase the importance of sophisticated risk management and risk communication processes.
With the continuous expansion of products and services, however, comes the challenge of efficient production embedded in the strategic management of health, safety, and environmental risks related to manufacturing. In essence, the production and consumption of risks have become equally as if not more important than the production and consumption of goods and services (Beck, 1992).
Indeed, as Mary Douglas (1992) has argued, society is organized for the collective
management of risk, which can be more functional through responsible advocacy in open contest. In this context, discussions center on communication and responsible advocacy.
Well beyond any communication model that might adequately rest on what has often been called sharing information, the sides and there are many engage in a marketplace of opinion through advocacy. Individuals and organizations make claims, and support and refute those claims in numerous manners. A variety of innovative communication processes have come to the forefront as companies, governmental and non-governmental organizations, and residents have engaged in dialogue intended to examine, weigh, and mitigate risks associated with work conditions, industrial processes near residential areas, and product design and use.
Community residents who live near these manufacturing facilities have legitimate reasons to be concerned for their own and others' health, safety, and environmental quality; especially since there are no absolute standards. Alarm, anger, and outrage can result when people believe they are exposed to technologies that distress and even harm them, whether they live and labor near the risk or encounter it while using or consuming a product.
A primary motivator of community involvement and activism is people's desire to be safe and healthy coupled with their vigilance for problems of that sort which need remedying. They are sensitive to the fairness and equality of risk distribution. They do not like to bear risks that only benefit others. When organizations are seen as abusing the privileges given to them by their constituencies and other publics who affect and are affected by them, individual and community responses and governmental controls and regulations can and should sanction the capacity of organizations to continue to operate. "The emergence of the powerful consumer and the critical public is not coincidental but a symptom of the emergence of the risk society" (Jones, 2002, p. 49).
Safety, fairness, equality, and aesthetics are among the numerous motivators people use when deciding whether a problem exists that affects them and deserves their attention, including the option of making personal responses or collaboratively seeking collective solutions by engaging in public policy struggles. These motivators, among others, have been at the forefront of the public debates regarding risks over the past three decades. Translated into consideration of the benefits and harms of technologies, these motivators play a major role in the discipline called risk communication (Singer & Endreny, 1987).
Public relations, crisis managmenet, and risk management professionals in key manufacturing industries recognized more than 20 years ago that traditional assymetrical community relations and public education programs have a limited ability to forge effective, mutually beneficial relationships with members of the community in which manufacturing facilities operate. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) established risk communication as a means to open, responsible, informed, and reasonable scientific and value-laden discussion of risks associated with personal health and safety practices involved in living and working in proximity to harmful activities and toxic substances (National Research Council, 1989). Defined this way, risk management, including communication, is successful to the extent that people who fear that they may be or are demonstrably harmed by a risk can become more knowledgeable about and confident that sufficient control is imposed by the sources of the risk and by government or other external sources that are responsible for monitoring the risk generators.
Up to this point, a majority of the risk communication research has focused on a finite set of variables within linear relationships, and has not expanded the scientific
discovery to a public's sense of risk perceptions based on their interactive, social symbolic construction of reality. Some risk communication studies and prescriptions take an atheoretical approach that features an all-knowing source, with scientific or managerial credentials, who offers advice on risks to lay audiences. Covello, Sandman and Slovic (1988) designed one such treatise to assist the communication efforts of chemical plant managers. The manual advised risk communicators to relate to their audiences in dress and demeanor, to feature understandable risk comparisons, and to be attentive and personable. Such prescriptions, while important, do not address issues of conflict and negotiation, or see risk from the perspective of concerned members of the community who often believe they have reason not to trust any statement regarding risks.
In this equation, control first needs to be responsibly exerted by industry in the public interest. To the extent that such control is not proactively achieved, health, safety and environmental concerns will remain at the forefront of media and public policy discussions; community residents will continue to bear the risks of living near manufacturing facilities, outcries from community activists will continue to be fueled, and the credibility of the industry will be challenged. This is the crux of responsible advocacy the engagement of concerned and interested parties.
This engagement is primarily communicative and as such language is indispensable. Through language, people interpret, create, share, and re-interpret perceptions of reality, including risk. With words, people internalize and externalize thoughts (Burke, 1961). Through language, people share and manage their sense of reality through social interactions. This sharing provides the foundation for cooperative behavior through social reality, which is the perception and understanding of what each
person has constructed of others' perceived experiences (P. Berger & Luckmannn, 1966). In this manner, language not only helps contact, develop, and maintain social interactions, but it also plays a key role in the cognitive processes people use to describe, define, identify with, and evaluate one another and their own lives, both individually and collectively (C. Berger & Bradac, 1982).
Social symbolic interaction orientation focuses on meaning that evolves from intrapersonal and interpersonal transactions. From this orientation, meaning builds up and develops over time as individuals interact with themselves and others, comparing their interpretations with others' perspectives, and reflecting upon their similar and varied perceptions. Awareness, knowledge, attitudes, behavioral intentions, and responses to risk discourse are based ultimately on both the symbolic interaction of social construction and on attempted maintenance of familiar social identities; more complex and comprehensive than the dominant idea that (objectively existent) risks are perceived and valued according to a person's pre-existent and discrete values or interests.
Risks thus are embedded within and shaped by social relations and the continual tacit negotiation of our social identities (Wynne, 1992). Such an orientation toward risk communication adds value to organizations by increasing their sensitivity regarding how stakeholders create and manage interpretative frames related to issues that define, affect, and ultimately support or oppose organizational activities, such as supporting or imposing limits on business activities that can either be beneficial or harmful.
Strategic and ethical risk communication entails science and information within dialogic advocacy, the framing and interpretation of facts, values, and policy. Does ethical communication end with and become defined by science and public policy that
which is legally required or is there a higher standard to be borne by the good company/industry behaving and communicating well? In the scope and purpose of mandated community-right-to-know legislation, people are supposed to be alerted to the potentiality of a risk occurring that could affect their health, safety, or environment. Thus, responsible risk communication calls for strategic, continual, expert, honest, and ultimately effective communication about risks and the best way of responding to prevent or mitigate the risk, all framed within socially constructed risk perceptions.
Statement of Purpose
Prior to analysis, this research reviews the legacy of today's philosophy of mandated and industry initiated community-right-to-know policies, and risk communication research and response measures. These points of analysis began to change dramatically in the mid-1980s following iconic manufacturing crises such as in Union Carbide's MIC release in Bhopal and Three Mile Island's nuclear generating facility accident that awakened a complacent public, alerted the media to risks, and fueled the arguments of many community activists.
The purpose of this dissertation is four-fold. The first purpose is to better understand through their own stories how near neighbor community residents perceive and socially construct their risk roles related to living near chemical manufacturing, storage, and transport facilities, explicating and expanding on Palmlund's (1992) taxonomy of risk roles. Second, this study seeks to examine and refine, from community residents' perspectives, four well-established risk communication process variables that have been introduced by numerous scholars including Covello and Sandman.
The third purpose is to examine community residents' awareness and understanding of two significant federally mandated and industry initiated risk communication public policies and risk management protocols. The fourth purpose is to identify a few key points of comparison of the two community residents' risk perceptions based on the level of previous and present risk communication campaigns and community-right-to-know initiatives. Within this analysis are strategic and ethical challenges for risk communication practitioners, scholars, and students. These include but are not limited to ascertaining the degree to which a risk exists, learning to manage that risk within tolerable limits, ascertaining those limits, understanding the perceptions of risk bearers through dialogue, adjusting policy and operational standards as warranted, and communicating with key publics about those risks by framing the discussion from their own unique perspectives.
This dissertation seeks to expand risk communication research in the direction of qualitative research methodologies as an important best research practice to understanding community risk perceptions, which should be able to help ground risk communication research as a community infrastructural, multiple stakeholder perspective that includes but does not limit the eye of analysis to organization-centric (e.g., corporate) perspectives. Such an approach can help public relations and risk communication practitioners develop models and strategies to create open, effective, and dialogic risk communication protocols that will benefit community residents and other personal stakeholders and stakeseekers, the corporations and industry, associated health and environmental agencies, local governments and other regulatory agencies, and risk management and emergency response personnel. A commitment is vital since public
relations practice and scholarship should be interested in the processes of the practice and the ability of practitioners to listen, respond, take stands, and seek collaborative decisions in light of the risk perspectives expressed by their publics.
CHAPTER 2 BACKGROUND AND LITERATURE REVIEW
Risk Analysis, Perceptions and Communication
The Superfund Amendment Reauthorization Act of 1986 (SARA), Title III,
Section 313, requires companies to provide public information concerning chemical
emissions; in so doing this act gave a new scope and purpose to risk communication
Since passage of that law, much academic and professional research has explored the
underpinnings of risk communication, and many tenets, taxonomies, models, and theories
have been developed to explain and help implement risk communication strategies. Risk
communication is grounded in various academic and applied orientations. These include
an actuarial approach utilizing statistical predictions, a toxological and epidemiological
approach including ecotoxicology, an engineering approach including probabilistic risk
assessments, an economic approach including risk-benefit comparisons, a psychological
approach including psychometric analysis, and cultural and social theories of risk (Renn,
The literature distinguishes two types of risk communication. One form centers
on an individual whose medical history and/or personal health practice puts him or her at
risk. This category of risk communication and the appropriate risk responses it seeks
start with experts who determine health/safety related risks and suggest ways in which
people can alter their awareness, knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors to lead a more
healthy and less risky lifestyle. Typical strategies include informing and persuading
targeted audiences to adopt attitudes and take actions that reduce their risk or the risk of persons close to them. Typical tactics of this version of risk communication can include recommended diet guidelines, safe sex education materials, and buckle up for safety public education campaigns.
The assumption is that people often tend to underestimate the level of risk associated with their behavior. Once they realize that level of risk and know what to do to reduce it by changing awareness, knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors, they will do so at the recommendation of risk management experts, such as physicians and public health officers. Such a statement captures the essence of that form of risk communication even if it over simplifies the challenge. In this case, risk communication is used to inform such
people of the risks they take and to suggest preventative measures they can follow to reduce the risks to their health and safety.
The second kind of risk communication typically involves large organizations, such as chemical manufacturing facilities or nuclear waste remediation facilities, whose activities can pose a risk to community residents. Companies and governmental agencies attempt to share information provided through credible sources to interested stakeholders. Activism may result when stakeholders band together to pressure companies and governmental agencies into improved performance that reduces risk. The paradigm is to address and often allay the apprehensions and provide information to people who under-estimate or over-estimate the degree to which they are at risk because of what an industrial interest or governmental agency does or says.
The assumption is that people in key communities need to understand the levels of risks that they suffer from working or living in proximity to them. They can take
measures that would reduce their risks; they need to understand the prevailing risk and
collectively take actions so that it is reduced to or does not exceed tolerable levels. It is
this latter type of risk communication that is the focus of this dissertation.
Overall, risk communication is a new and emerging area of public health
communication research, and is one of the fastest growing parts of public health
education literature (Covello, von Winterfeldt, & Slovic, 1987; National Research
Council, 1989). It is both the natural and the manmade hazards in which risk
communication has been the most developed (R. Kasperson & Stallen, 1991).
Evolution of Risk Communication
The history of risk management and risk assessment can be traced back beyond
Greek and Roman times (Covello and Mumpower, 1985). The origins of risk analysis
have been traced to the Babylonians in 3200 BC where myths, metaphors, and rituals
were used to predict risks and to communicate knowledge about avoiding hazards; risk
communication was embedded in folk discourse (Krimsky & Plough, 1988).
Formal risk analysis was developed in the early part of the 20 century by
engineers, epidemiologists, actuaries, and industrial hygienists, among others, who
looked at hazards associated with technology that was rapidly developing from and
during the industrial revolution (Kates and J. Kasperson, 1983). The development of
probability theory during the 17th century in Europe brought explicit formulations of risk
concepts. Federal legislation in the 1970s, including the formation of the EPA, elevated
the role of formal risk assessment. The increasing use of risk analysis in the industry and
the regulatory process created some legitimacy and resources to the study of risk as a
field of science for academicians (Lind, 1987).
Explicit, modern-era interest in risk communication can be traced back to the 1950s and the "Atoms for Peace" campaign. The later development of the anti-nuclear movement in the 1970s helped bring risk communication to the limelight (R. Kasperson & Stallen, 1991). Nevertheless, the study of risk communication as a distinct social phenomenon is relatively new (Krimsky and Plough, 1988). Prior to 1986, there was a limited amount of scholarly research about risk communication. Since then, scores of titles with the term "risk communication" have appeared in journals, magazines, and other published literature, along with conferences, presentations and special sessions in scientific meetings and federal oversight hearings.
If exposure to risk is not new, then why is there a renaissance in risk communication research and communication? According to Fischhoff (1990), "what is new in their [government's] response to the risk of modern technologies is their [stakeholders' and general public's] insistence on having a role in deciding how those risks will be managed" (p. 84).
Another reason for the expansion of risk communication is people's feeling of
entitlement; key publics hold government and busines officials accountable for their
policy decisions and actions (Fischhoff, 1985). Public distrust of government officials is
readily apparent. Officials often operate on the assumption that they and their audiences
share a common framework for evaluating and interpeting risk information (e.g., Covello,
1992; Krimsky & Plough, 1988). This distrust also stems from the fact that prominent government officials often take opposing viewpoints about health, safety, and
environmental risk matters and participate in highly public debates about risk estimations
(Krimsky & Plough, 1988; National Research Council, 1989). Juanillo and Scherer
(1995) noted this decline of the public's confidence in the ability of government and industry to act responsibly in risk assessment and risk management. This lack of confidence has created a public that is no longer the passive receiver of risk information. "Large segments of the public now demand more involvement in debates over risk issues and challenge conclusions and recommendations from scientists and experts" (p. 292).
Covello and Mumpower (1985) and Leiss (1996) have written extensively on the history of risk communication. Several events highlight the development of both the research and practice of risk communication science. Early risk research was conducted throughout numerous branches of the federal government, including the EPA, the Food and Drug Administration, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and the Department of Energy. The focus of funding on social and communication perspectives toward risk was advanced primarily by the EPA, with additional research funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF).
One of the turning points in the study of risk communication was in March 1979 when the U. S. House Committee on Science and Technology requested that the NSF develop the Technology Assessment and Risk Analysis Program for evaluating long-term comparative risks for alternative technological solutions to issues such as energy, materials, environmental quality, food, and drugs (U.S. Congress, 1979). This program strengthened the NSF's attention and focus toward risk analysis and risk communication. The Ethics and Values Studies in Science, Technology and Society (formerly the Ethics and Values in Science, Technology Program) also funded a large number of risk
management and risk communication research projects since the mid-1970s.
Another turning point in the study and practice of risk communication was the founding of the Society for Risk Analysis in 1980. The major aims of this society are to promote knowledge and understanding of risk analysis techniques and their applications, improved communication and integration among risk scholars, and the advancement of all aspects of risk analysis, including risk communication (Golding, 1992).
Along with the Society for Risk Analysis, numerous social science academic centers began to focus on the study of risk. Beginning in 1963 with the Disaster Research Center at the University of Delaware through the development of the Center for Risk Analysis in 1989 at the Harvard School for Public Health to one of the newest risk communication centers at the University of Georgia, these academic programs have focused on risk not only from a risk management perspective, but also from a social and communication perspective.
From a regulatory perspective, risk communication officially began with marketing by the EPA and the organizations it regulates. Beyond systems and regulatory standards, risk communication grew out of risk perception and risk management studies. Risk perception is a social science approach, as well as a mathematical, probabilistic analysis of the coorientation people have in regard to what they perceive to be risks in comparison to the analysis of actual risks that are performed by risk management experts.
Risk perception studies primarily focus on two issues: what are the probabilistic
assessments of risks prepared by risk management experts and what factors influence the way in which different categories of individuals perceive risks? The central worry in risk perception studies is the tendency of laypersons to be inaccurate in their ability to assess properly the likelihood that certain risk events will occur and if they occur, whether they
will lead to negative or positive outcomes. The issue to be managed is how to understand and control risks, as well as gain acceptance for these measures in ways that foster the wisest outcomes in any community of interest (Freudenberg, 1984). As Krimsky (1992)
The field of risk studies grew out of the practical needs of industrialized societies to regulate technology and to protect their citizenry from natural and technological hazards. From its inception the study of risk was positioned at the intersection of academic, governmental, and industrial interests, (p. 8)
In their struggle to control risks, people seek and contest facts, and evaluative premises and conclusions to be derived from those facts and premises. Risk management is the root discipline. It takes a highly positivistic approach to risk calculation and abatement.
As a discipline, risk analysis blends many scientific disciplines such as engineering, toxicology, industrial hygiene, and epidemiology. Principal assumptions and methodologies are derived from actuarial studies. One fundamental incentive of risk management is to use scientific methodologies to calculate the risk exposure accurately that various categories of people suffer because of their lifestyle activities, work practices, and their proximity to sources of risks in their communities. Controversy often surrounds the means for assessing the level of risk in a community or workplace. Conflict centers on methodologies, assumptions, and values about which experts and community members at risk disagree. Starr (1969) proposed that patterns of acceptable risk/benefit compromises can be inferred from historical data on deaths and economic benefits for various technologies. Advocates reason that, over time, society arrives at an "essentially optimum" balance between risks and benefits associated with an activity (p. 1233). Supporters of this "revealed preference" method maintain that data can be used to reveal patterns of risk-benefit tradeoffs acceptable to the public.
As a technical concept, risk is conventionally defined as something that can be given a numerical value by multiplying the probability of an outcome (typically one with negative consequences) by its severity. This expectancy value is used to estimate and compare risks (Hanson, 1989) that are perceived differently depending on the heuristics and biases each person uses to judge them (Tversky & Kahneman, 1986).
Concerned that residents rely on invalid assumptions, Fischhoff, Slovic, Lichtenstein, Read and Combs (1978; Covello, 1983; Slovic, 1987) initiated "expressed preference" research, which involves measuring a wider array of attitudes than benefits to ascertain tolerable risk levels. These researchers found laypeople's risk ratings, unlike those of experts, are not just influenced by fatality estimates but also by their judgments of several qualitative factors. Of particular note, the lay public evaluates an activity or technology as more risky if it is involuntary, unfamiliar, unknown, uncontrollable, controlled by others, unfair, memorable, dreaded, acute, focused in time and space, fatal, delayed, artificial, and undetectable, as well as if individual mitigation is impossible. Researchers have used this approach to explain why the lay public shuns risks such as use of nuclear fuel to generate electrical power, a technology experts find acceptably safe (Otway, Maurer & Thomas, 1978), and why homeowners ignore risks such as radon that scientists rate as hazardous (Sandman, 1986).
As such, there is no single psychology or sociology of risks; risks must be looked at and dealt with in a variety of manners. Each society has its own list of risks that are believed worthy of concern. "Each society highlights some risks and downplays others; and each society institutionalizes means for controlling some risks and not others ... Risks are exaggerated or minimized according to the social, cultural, and moral
acceptability of the underlying activities" (Brehmer, 1987, p. 28). Risks are not necessarily selected and perceived due to their scientific merit, but out of a combination of social and cultural factors, denotative and connotative reasons.
For example, Sandman (1986) and Sandman, Weinstein and Klotz (1987) suggested that the thing best known about risk communication and risk perception is that people and society make risk decisions less in terms of the hazard and more by what they call the outrage factor, which deals with issues of fairness and familiarity. It asks who has the control or trust, are they taking my concerns seriously, and are they listening to me? Sandman (1986) argued that it is well established that individuals are more worried about outrage than hazards. He takes this concept further by stating that social policy is based more on outrage (perceptions) rather than the actual hazards. Once researchers became aware that risk perception was a vital factor in risk management, attention turned from actuarial analysis to the development of lists of factors that appear to be fundamental to risk perception.
Risk communication has progressed beyond a source-oriented approach to a risk perception and a risk management approach. At its birth, risk communication took on a source-oriented, linear approach that privileged the "knowledgeable source" as the key participant in the process. Typical of the theme that characterized the source-oriented era is Covello's (1992) view of risk communication "as the exchange of information among
interested parties about the nature, magnitude, significance, or control of a risk" (p. 359). Risk communication involves "the act of conveying or transmitting information between
interested parties about levels of health or environmental risks; the significance or
meanings of such risks; or decisions, actions, or policies aimed at managing or
controlling such risks" (Davies, Covello & Allen, 1987, p. 112; see also Covello et al., 1987; Covello et al., 1988).
Leiss (1996) called this the technical risk assessment period. In this period, industrial spokespersons were advised to appease or assuage the publics' apprehension by being credible and clear; it featured the role and work of experts who conducted epidemiological studies to ascertain whether risks exist. Typical of this view, the EPA's (1988) "seven cardinal rules of risk communication" advised communicators to tailor their messages to audiences and to use:
[Sjimple, non-technical language. Be sensitive to local norms, such as speech and dress. Use vivid, concrete images that communicate on a personal level. Use examples and anecdotes that make technical risk data come alive. Avoid distant, abstract, unfeeling language about deaths, injuries, and illnesses, (p. 4)
The advice assumes that "if people are sufficiently motivated, they are quite capable of
understanding complex information, even if they may not agree with you" (p. 5).
Part of the technical risk assessment period was the original work done by the
National Research Council (1989) that emphasized the dissemination of information and
featured potential outcomes. It treated risk communication as:
[A]n interactive process of exchange of information and opinion among individuals, groups, and institutions. It involves multiple messages about the nature of risk and other messages, not strictly about risk, that express concerns, opinions, or reactions to risk messages or to legal and institutional arrangements for risk management, (p. 21)
Accordingly, risk communication is "successful only to the extent that it raises the level
of understanding of relevant issues or actions and satisfies those involved that they are
adequately informed within the limits of available knowledge" (p. 21).
Risk communication progressed through a period during which experts advised
organizations that pose health, safety, or environmental risks to assuage employees and
community members' apprehensions by being credible and telling the truth. The truth was to be based on the known likelihood of each risk's occurrence and the magnitude of its effect. The second phase of risk communication featured a more interactive approach: "We see risk communication as the interactive process of exchange of information and opinion among individuals, groups, and institutions" (p. 2). This definition suggests a movement from an asymmetrical approach of communication and decision making toward what J. Grunig (1992) defined as two-way symmetrical communication.
Is being informed the goal of risk communication? That seems to be a limiting sense of the total process. What about the abatement of risks thought to be intolerable? What about the values that guide assessments of when each risk is tolerable? What about the socio-political forces that bring a balance in each community between personal and organizational interests? Questions such as these suggest that factors are missing from this definition, particularly the desire on the part of key publics to control politically intolerable risks their source, their likelihood, or their consequences.
One traditional weakness in this design of risk communication is the assumption that people receive most of what they know about risks and learn to respond to them by watching television, reading a newspaper, listening to radio, or accessing the Internet. A mass-mediated approach to the diffusion of risk information can fail to acknowledge the important role of conversation and interpersonal exchanges with friends and relatives (Gay & Heath, 1995; Heath & Gay, 1997; Juanillo & Scherer, 1995). Operationally risk communication is an interpersonal, organizational, and mass-mediated dialogue.
Previous models of risk communication predict that if people receive credible and clear information regarding scientifically assessed risk levels, they will accept the
conclusions and policy recommendations of risk assessors. These models over-assume the power of information and do not acknowledge the power resources that concerned publics employ to exert political pressure in their effort to impose higher operating standards on the source of the ostensibly intolerable risk. The view assumes that "if people are given the facts their subjective perceptions will begin to align with scientific judgments" (Liu & Smith, 1990, p. 332). That perspective reasons that if laypeople understand the company or government's side of the story, then confidence about risk would increase and complaints would go away (Gaudino, Fritsch & Haynes 1989).
Continuing his summary of the discipline's history, Leiss (1996) identified a third phase, the current version of risk communication that features social relations. Risk communication based on a shared, social relations, community infrastructural approach works to achieve a level of discourse that can treat the content issues of the risk -technical assessment and the quality of the relationships along with the political dynamics of the participants.
Hadden (1989) observed crucial differences between what she defined as the old
and new versions of risk communication. In the old approach "experts tried to persuade
laymen of the validity of their risk assessments or risk decisions." This option is
"impeded by lay risk perception, difficulties in understanding probabilities, and the sheer
technical difficulty of the subject matter" (p. 301). In contrast, the new approach is based
on dialogue and participation. According to Otway (1992):
Risk communication requirements are a political response to popular demands.... The main product of risk communication is not information, but the quality of the social relationship it supports. Risk communication is not an end in itself; it is an enabling agent to facilitate the continual evolution of relationships, (p. 227)
People often decide what levels of risk are acceptable not based on technical data analysis, but rather on a question of value, such as fairness (Krimsky & Plough, 1988). Perceived risk has a structure that differs from the structure of expert judgments about risk (Brehmer, 1987). This and other more recent approaches to risk communication highlight the importance of a dialogic, relationship-building approach to dealing with the concerns and perceptions of community residents and employees.
The new form of risk communication, however, is often impeded by the lack of institutions that are responsive to the needs, interests, and level of understanding of the publics affected by the potential or ostensible risk. Hadden (1989) found that institutional barriers stand in the way of meaningful dialogue in communities where people experience risks that they worry are intolerable. Such barriers result, at least in part, from statutes that do not specify what technical data are crucial and, therefore, should be collected. People often encounter a maze of agencies, do not know where to acquire information, and suffer data dumps that provide huge amounts of information in ways that make it difficult to interpret.
Risk Communication Orientations
A variety of theoretical orientations have guided the study of risk communication, building on different perspectives of risk taxonomies towards orientations and approaches toward risk research. A brief review of the more salient theoretical orientations provides grounding for understanding and categorizing the literature. These include: quantitative laws, static taxonomical frameworks, system models/theories, causal models, process models, functionalist explanations, cognitive explanations, rationale actor concept, social
mobilization theory, organizational theory, neo-Marxist theory, critical theory, and fiinctionalism.
Quantitative laws numerically analyze how to communicate and were one of the early approaches to risk communication. Though quantitative laws failed to withstand the scrutiny of science, a few posit quantitative relationships were advocated. For example, Starr (1969) argued that risk acceptability and benefits can be figured accordingly: the acceptability of risks appears to be roughly proportional to the third power of the benefits.
Static taxonomical frameworks provide a conceptual template that provides structure to a field of study. The taxonomy provides no causal process, but rather provides categorical structures that stimulate inquiry; their value lies in suggested lines of inquiry and distinctions about modes of social behavior. For example, risk can be divided according to the nature of the hazard, medium of exposure, level of exposure, benefits, costs, communication tools, media, regulatory agency, or public policy. Slovic, Fischhoff and Lichtenstein's (1985) risk characteristics remain one of the more lasting taxonomical frameworks.
Krimsky (1992) described three more approaches to social risk studies. Systems models represent the dynamical processes, relationships among parts within actions and reactions. Risk models do not necessarily relate to causal factors underlying the component of systems. Systems models have little predictive power but allow broader systems appreciation of the risk being studied. Kates and J. Kasperson's (1983) model describing how humans adjust to natural hazards provides some understanding of human risk adjustment though with little predictive value. Causal models, on the other hand, are
a set of generalized principles in the form of a law, where risks are either deterministic or probabilistic. The strength of causal models allows for the prediction of events, behaviors or other actions. Process models provide an ordered set of rules or procedures that define an approach to an issue or problem. Process models define a prescriptive approach. The National Research Council (1989) developed a widely accepted process
model for the social management of risk that identified four stages: hazard identification, risk estimation, risk evaluation, and risk management/communication.
One of the more common and particularly useful perspectives of risk communication is cognitive explanations. Categories of human thought or behavior are often used to account for awareness, knowledge, attitudes, beliefs, behavioral intentions, and behaviors. This cognitive or psychometric perspective toward understanding risk has been important to the development of risk communication studies, though it lacks embedment in broader social and cultural contexts.
Rationale actor concept, related more toward economic analysis of social behavior, is social actions that are seen as a result of deliberate actions by social actors to promote their interests (Dawes, 1988). From this concept, individuals and groups experience conflict as perceived risks, which can affect their interests, and each group will mobilize to take action. According to Stallings (1987), individual and group behaviors are governed by strategies to formulate the ideal way to address conflicts that result from the perceived or actual risks.
In a somewhat similar strain of thought, social mobilization perspectives focus their research on two critical aspects of risk resolution circumstances in which individuals and groups are motivated to take action (McCarthy & Zald, 1977) and the
conditions necessary for the social groups to succeed in these actions to mitigate risk. An organizational theory focuses on the routine and structure of tasks and the diffusion of the responsibilities to address the tasks. A large amount of this research has focused on management within organizations in risk reduction and risk communication (e.g. Clarke, 1989; Perrow, 1984).
Neo-Marxist and other critical perspectives focus on the normative aspect of freedom from risks as opposed to an explanation of risk experience (Renn, 1992a). According to Habermas (1984) and Forester (1985), such critical approaches share the objective part of the rationale actor approach but rely on structural analysis for determining institutional interests and social group behavior.
Last, functionalist perspectives look for explanations that can provide an
understanding of parts to the whole, demonstrating how the parts (e.g., individual
community residents) support and affect the whole (e.g., culture of the community). The
role of functional explanation has been described as:
[T]he explanation of anthropological facts at all levels of development by their functions, by the part which they play within the integral system of culture, by the manner in which they are related to each other within the system, and by the manner in which the system is related to the physical surroundings. (Nagel, 1961. p. 52)
For example, Plough and Krimsky (1987) analyzed the different functions of technical rationality (science) compared to cultural rationality (needs of community) in providing insight to risk perception.
Risk Communication Challenges From the brief historical and orientations appraisal, views of risk communication have evolved from at least three separate streams of thought to guide the way risks are calculated, evaluated, perceived and controlled:
a) Scientific positivism, whereby data and methodologies of scientists dominate community efforts to ascertain the degree or risk and subsequent communications about the risk on behalf of the community;
b) Constructivism/relativism, which assumes that everyone's opinion has equal value so that no opinion is better or worse than anyone else's; and
c) Dialogue that through collaborative decision-making, scientific opinion becomes integrated into policies which are vetted by key public's values.
Renn (1992b) observed that a positivistic/objective approach fails to account for cultural differences, whereas the relativism of constructivism leaves the decision-making process "with no anchor for baseline comparison" (p. 179). Relying on the data at hand that they believe to be convincing and that confirms their predilection to support or oppose the source of risk, "social groups in a political arena try to maximize their opportunity to influence the outcome of the collective decision process by mobilizing social resources" (p. 180). If they opt for political activism, rather than a purely scientific approach to risk assessment and abatement, "individuals and organizations can influence the policy process only if they have sufficient resources available to pursue their goals" (p. 181). Activists seek to have rules accepted and promulgated based on their values. In the absence of self-regulation by the ostensible source of risk, people turn to enforcement agencies to enforce the rules. "To be successful in a social arena, it is necessary to mobilize social resources" (p. 184). This is true both for responsible companies seeking community support and for activists working to wield their influence.
Responsible risk communication at first glance appears relatively straightforward. The elementary question seems to be this: how can spokespersons best develop and deliver targeted, data-driven risk messages as well as engage in symmetrical dialogues to reduce or increase key publics' awareness and knowledge of issues related to risk concerns, and ultimately increase key publics' positive health and safety actions?
Risk messages can be confusing because they come from a variety of media sources (can labels, public meetings, newsletters, and media) that involve a multitude of parties and often reflect competing scientific conclusions (Covello, 1992; Covello & Johnson, 1987; Krimsky & Plough, 1988; National Research Council, 1989). Experts and regulatory agencies often operate on the assumption that they and their audiences share a common framework for evaluating and interpreting risk information (Covello, 1992; Krimsky & Plough, 1988). This confusion also stems from the fact that prominent government officials take opposing viewpoints about environmental risk matters and participate in highly public debates about risk estimations (Krimsky & Plough, 1988; National Research Council, 1989).
In this mix of players, technical experts, whether or not they are employed by the industry that produces the risk, can play a vital role in community-based risk assessment because they are a key node in the dissemination and interpretation of technical data,
even though their perceptions of risks may differ from those of the lay public (Heath & Gay, 1997; Palenchar & Heath, 2002; Thomas, Swaton, Fishbein & Otway, 1980). Studying this issue, Thomas et al. (1980) found policy makers more favorably inclined than the lay public toward the use of nuclear energy primarily because policy makers did not link the technology with psychological risk. At the same time, laypersons do not act
irrationally even though they may appear to do so; they tend to use a different rationality
than do risk experts (Wandersman & Hallman, 1993). Fischhoff et al. (1978) found that
laypeople incorporated considerations besides annual fatalities into their estimates of risk.
Oftentimes their risk perceptions were unrelated to their own fatality estimates.
These are just a few of the infinite number of risk communication challenges.
Otway (1992) featured this complexity of risk communication:
Risk communication requirements are a political response to popular demands ... The main product of risk communication is not information, but the quality of the social relationship it supports. Risk communication is not an end in itself; it is an enabling agent to facilitate the continual evolution of relationships, (p. 227)
Public relations is a practitioner and scholarly discipline increasingly devoted to understanding the quality of relationship construction, maintenance, and repair. For this reason, practitioners and scholars have reason to understand variables that affect the risk communication process.
As Fischhoff (1995) has modeled the risk communication process, it can be viewed as developmental: getting the numbers regarding risks correct, putting those numbers into a community at risk, explaining what is meant by them, showing that members of the community have accepted similar risks, showing the benefits of risks, treating the public with respect, and creating partnerships to understand and properly control risks. The strongest component of this progression is the creation of meaningful partnerships that respond to the concerns and needs of community members for information and bringing collective wisdom and judgment to bear on that problem. This
stress on "we" gives a community grounding for two-way symmetrical communication and partnership development (Chess, Salomone, Hance & Saville, 1995).
From this community infrastructural perspective toward risk communication, risk assessors and communicators realize that each key public makes an idiosyncratic response to each risk based on unique decision heuristics. Each public has an inclination to engage in or at least support activism to exert public policy solutions to correct intolerable risk perceptions. Appreciating and working with idiosyncratic responses to risk is also an ethical challenge within responsible advocacy.
Philosophers and scholars have defined ethics as the study of what is right or wrong, fair or unfair, just or unjust. Others have argued that ethics is in essence morality. Within the field of public relations, numerous scholars and practitioners study and advocate various perspectives of viewing or incorporating ethics into the study, pedagogy, and practice of public relations. Fitzpatrick and Gauthier (2001), for example, reviewed previously suggested theories of public relations ethics ranging from attorney-adversary to the two-way symmetrical model, ultimately modeling their own professional responsibility theory of public relations ethics that is based on practitioners' dual obligations to serve client organizations and the public interest. Such models can range from Aristotle's golden mean, to utilitarian considerations and Kantian moral imperatives.
One model that receives considerable attention is the two-way symmetrical model. J. Grunig and White (1992) noted that "public relations should be based on a worldview that incorporates ethics into the process of public relations" (p. 57), while J. Grunig and Hunt (1984) summarized that public relations and social responsibility are interconnected. "Public relations managers should be 'inside the door' of management in
all kinds of organizations where they can provide internal social reports on the
organization's public performance" (p. 59).
Within risk communication, the ethical dilemma may lie within people's struggle
to control risks, seek and responsibly contest facts, evaluate premises, and form
conclusions derived from those facts and premises. The ethical risk communication
dilemma is no different than the management dilemma; the challenge is how to
understand, manage and control risks, as well as gain acceptance for these measures in
ways that foster the wisest outcomes in any community of interests (Freudenberg, 1984).
According to Heath (2001):
Corporate actions are evaluated by key publics. For this reason, corporate social responsibility is value-informed choice making. Ascertaining appropriate ethical responses is a rhetorical problem vital to strategic planning used by excellent organizations that aspire to build and maintain mutually beneficial relationships. Public relations persons enjoy an ideal position to counsel executives on which values fit best with the interests of their markets, audiences and publics, (p. 46)
Responsible advocacy occurs when senior counselors make a case that reflects the
arguments and claims of concerned citizens and employees. This is an internal voice for
Concern centers on organizational strategies that abide by the organization's standards of ethics and resulting behaviors that are perceived and recognized by stakeholders and the market as credible, ethical, and positive. These standards should be
based on genuine attitudes and actions of the organization, rather than an image that is inconsistent with organizational operations. "The character of this market recognition is therefore largely one of social agreement, i.e. one constructed by shared communication" (Spicektt-Jones, Kitchen & Reast, 2003, p. 69). This perspective is consistent with Pearson's (1989b) contribution to public relations ethics that maintaining a
communication relationship with the public is essential and that the quality of those relationships is improved through dialogue.
Risk Communication Process Variables
A review of key risk communication process variables is warranted before examining the specific questions addressed in this study. Risk management, perception and communication research addresses five themes: likelihood specific risks will occur, who will be affected if they occur, magnitude of effect, mitigation of the occurrence, and mitigation of impact. Each of these themes has a technical and a perceptual dimension. Technical dimensions are those that yield to management and engineering decisions that change probabilities. Perceptual dimensions are those that result from feelings and beliefs citizens use to ascertain the likelihood of risks and their potential impact. To address and respond to these coupled issues, industries and governments study risk communication process variables imbedded in prevention and emergency response measures to reduce the likelihood the risk will occur, lessen the likelihood that specific people will be affected, and help those people to take action that can reduce the impact of an event on their health and safety.
Several public relations researchers (e.g., J. Grunig, 1992; Kruckeberg & Stark,
1988) initiated a paradigm discussion of the role that the concept of community could play in the application and study of public relations. A variety of research and best topics practices have outlined the central importance of community and relationship. Within risk communication studies, most of the research regarding the concept of community has
developed from a corporate, scientific or regulatory perspective, such as trying to get community feedback (Braman, 1980), reducing fears by bringing people into the
community relations process (Price, 1994), and involving citizens to increase organizational credibility (Arnstein, 1994).
Recently, examination of the evolving nature of the relationships between an organization and its key publics has emerged as a rich area of public relations scholarship, and specifically the orientation that public relationship can be viewed as the management of relationships between an organization and its stakeholder groups (Ledingham & Bruning, 2000). Several leading public relations researchers (e.g., J. Grunig, L. Grunig, Hon) have focused particular aspects of their research agendas on organization-public relationships from the perspective of related disciplines such as interpersonal communication, organizational communication, and sociopsychology to identify key characteristics of relationships and to identify and develop measures of the quality of long-term organization-public relationships (J. Grunig & L. Grunig, 2001).
Two relationship orientations dominate the examination of public relations outcome variable research and literature: economic and humanistic. The economic orientation views relationships through costs and benefits accrued, while the humanistic orientation highlights the cognitive and emotional structures in relationship management.
Several different typologies of public relationship outcome variables identify trust, mutuality, commitment, and satisfaction as the most essential features (e.g., Bruning & Ledingham, 1998). Hon and J. Grunig's (1999) taxonomy of perceptions of an organization's relationships with key constituencies focuses on six elements: control, trust, satisfaction, commitment, exchange relationship, and communal relationship.
Overall, the relationship management perspective shifts the practice of public relations from the management of public opinion to the management of constructing,
maintaining, and expanding organization-public relationships (Ehling, 1994). According to Bruning & Ledingham (1998), this shift is fundamental for public relations evaluation in determining the influence that organizational activities have on stakeholders' perceptions of the organization-public relationship and determining the outcomes of organizational activities on stakeholders' behaviors.
In a similar research vein within risk communication, numerous scholars have slowly developed a typology of variables. Heath and Abel (1996) introduced an early model that included variables such as uncertainty, trust, information seeking, and cognitive involvement. According to Covello (1992), central factors in risk perception are catastrophic potential, familiarity, understanding, uncertainty, controllability, voluntariness of exposure, effects on children, effects manifestation, effects on future generations, victim identity, dread, trust in institutions, media attention, accident history, equity, benefits, reversibility, personal stake, and origin.
Numerous risk communication process variables have been identified and analyzed. This list includes but is not limited to: cognitive involvement (Chaffee & Roser, 1986; Heath, Liao & W. Douglas, 1993; Petty & Cacioppo, 1979; Rimal, Fogg & Flora, 1995; Syme & Eaton, 1989), first-hand experience (Baird, 1986; Heath, Abel & Dougals, 1996; Heath & Palenchar, 2000), knowledge (Baird, 1986; Covello, 1992; Covello et al., 1987; Heath, Abel & Douglas, 1996; Heath & Palenchar, 2000; Juanillo & Scherer, 1995; Nathan, Heath & W. Douglas, 1992; Otway, 1992), perceived economic benefit (Baird, 1986; Heath, Liao & W. Douglas, 1995; Kunreuther, Easterling,
Desvousges & Slovic, 1990; Nathan et al., 1992) and trust and credibility (Covello, 1992; Heath & Abel, 1996; Renn & Levine, 1991; Slovic, 1992).
For example, catastrophic potential is the product of estimations that substantial environmental damage may occur or that many individuals or animals will be harmed or killed at the same time as a consequence of the risk. Familiarity is a function of the extent to which people routinely encounter the risk. Understanding is the extent that experts or laypersons comprehend the mechanisms that result in the risk or its consequences. Voluntariness of exposure addresses the concern that people have regarding how they become exposed to the risk: whether they opt to be exposed to it rather than if they are forced to suffer its occurrence or consequences against their will. When a risk has harmful effects on children, it is viewed as being less tolerable than if it affects older people. Another concern is how the effects are manifested immediate or delayed. Impact of a risk can be immediate, but uncertainty increases as people attempt to predict its effects on future generations. Risk management experts attempt to reduce uncertainties to probabilities that some persons out of a population will suffer.
Increased media attention can magnify the degree to which people think a risk is in play. Risks are assessed according to accident history, their recurrence and consequences. Equity is an important dimension of risk because minority racial groups and lower socioeconomic levels may experience disproportionately greater risks. Risks are not without benefits; a balancing act of risk assessment is to determine whether the positives associated with the risk overweigh the harms and whether the benefits are clearly recognized. A risk is thought to be less tolerable when its effects are irreversible. If people have a personal stake in a risk, they respond differently than if they do not. As people assess risks they calculate the origin whether natural or the product of human efforts and respond accordingly.
Variations of the typologies of risk communicaton process variables abound. All the preceding variables have been documented as part of the risk communication process. For the purpose of this study, however, the following five risk communication process variables were highlighted in community residents' discussion of risk perceptions and risk management protocals: knowledge, harms/benefits, uncertainty, control, and trust. Knowledge
Knowledge is one of the most problematic variables in this analysis. One underpinning assumption in risk assessment is that experts can obtain scientific knowledge about the degree to which a risk exists, use that knowledge to properly abate the risk, and supply concerned publics with the details of the risk and means for its abatement. The assumption is that once key publics receive technical information they make informed decisions and their concern will lessen. Advocated by the EPA, this focus leads it to require scientific analysis and reporting by thousands of companies and government agencies.
Despite its intuitive logic, there are flaws in relying solely on this approach. For example, people who work in an industry or who live closer to the risk tend to be more knowledgeable (Baird, 1986); knowledge is unevenly spread thoughout a community. A risk management view of risk assessment and communication postulates that knowlede of risks a positivistic approach assuming scientific knowledge is the foundation for allaying apprehensions about risks. Knowledge is a residue of the information people have obtained and decision heuristics they have acquired to process that data. To ask them what they know is to have them report the residue of information, but not to assess how they reason or make decisions with it. The amount of information that a message
contains depends on its impact on the person who considers it; the amount of information is the difference between the degrees of uncertainty the person experiences before and after receiving the message (Krippendorff, 1975). This definition is fundamental to the assumption of information integration theory that a belief is a subjective probability the degree of certainty that a person associates any trait or evaluative attribute with an object, situation, or behavior. This theory has demonstrated that an attitude is the product of positive data integrated with negative data (Ajzen & Fishbein, 1980; Fishbein &
The perplexing aspect of knowledge about sources of risks and the harms they
may create is the absence of compelling evidence that knowledge of technical aspects of
an issue accounts for much of the support or opposition that people express in regard to
it. Baird (1986) found that factual knowledge basic to risk estimates did not predict
tolerance of emissions from a lead smelter. He concluded that people tolerate levels of
risk for reasons that may have little or nothing to do with factual details, formal risk
estimates, or details of risk management proposals. Even though smelter employees
faced the greatest arsenic exposure of all respondents, they were less likely to view the
smelter as a personal health hazard and were more likely to voice confidence they would
not become ill from its emissions. Although those who were less tolerant of the hazard
had more information about it than those more tolerant, knowledge was not a useful
predictor of risk tolerance.
In similar fashion, Nathan et al. (1992) discovered that knowledge about an
alleged source of risk did not differ significantly for respondents who were less risk
tolerant and those who were more tolerant. Likewise, Sandman et al. (1987) discovered
that knowledge did not influence homeowners' degree of distress about indoor radon and willingness to take action to mitigate risk. The researchers found that information was reaching the public, but did not affect residents' decisions to monitor for radon gas, intention to take remedial action, degree of distress about the gas and evaluation of the seriousness of one's own radon level. These studies indicate that much is yet to be learned about the kinds of data people use and the reasoning they apply to assess risks and attribute their causes. These findings are drawn into sharp relief by the fact that the EPA requires chemical companies to supply technical data based on the following assumption: People can understand and make personal decisions if they have basic information about which chemicals are produced and stored in a community, whether a chemical is harmful in the opinion of some authority such as the EPA, and whether that chemical is released into the environment where it comes into contact with people and other living things. Harms and Benefits
Harms and benefits are important aspects of the risk assessment equation. Krimsky (1992) observed that expected utility theory includes a set of decision rules that define rational behavior; people would follow these rules if they had enough time and information to consider the consequences of alternative options. People may infer that they receive benefits (or suffer harms) and then decide whether they suffer risks that are intolerable. Those who think they are harmed do not support the source of risk (Heath et al., 1995).
Although technical knowledge may have little effect on risk tolerance, other types of knowledge, especially perception of benefits, may be relevant to risk tolerance. For
instance, Baird (1986) found judged benefits of the hazard were ranked first among other variables in correlation with risk tolerance. Fischhoff et al. (1978) found a weak but consistent relationship between perceived benefit and acceptable risk level. Gardner and Gould (1989) found benefits played a significant role in the risk acceptability of only two of six risky technologies they tested (and not for industrial chemicals). People tolerate higher risks from activities seen as beneficial, if benefits extend beyond economic to include qualitative variables such as basic needs, safety, security, and pleasure.
Otway et al. (1978) found that economic and technical benefits contributed most to the pro-nuclear respondents' attitudes toward nuclear power. The environmental aspect of nuclear power was seen as positive by the "for" group but was evaluated negatively by the "against" group. Thomas et al. (1980) found policy makers were significantly more favorably inclined than the public toward the use of nuclear energy primarily because they did not link the technology with psychological risk.
Considering questions by citizens during environmental reviews of incinerators, Konheim (1988) argued for a risk-benefit analysis and not just a prediction of upper bound risks. Often-repeated questions at hearings include: What are the risks compared to the benefits of the project? How is the risk calculated? Does the design of the facility make the risk as low as possible? Who in the community bears the burden of the risk? What are the chances of a serious accident? Are the risks identifiable? Can the public influence how the facility is designed and operated? An ideal risk-benefit approach should evaluate alternative risks, examine catastrophic potential and assess ways that
enable those affected to control the risk in meaningful ways.
Several recent studies have shown significant relationships between perceived economic benefit and support for hazardous industries (Heath et al., 1993; Nathan et al., 1992). Flynn, Burns, Mertz and Slovic (1992) suggested that the local community would support hazardous facilities as long as the benefits of the facility outweigh the possible risks. This study of the Yucca Mountain Repository measured economic benefits as the perceptions of positive economic benefits resulting from the citing of the nuclear waste repository. The respondents in the study were well aware of the new jobs and public revenues promised by this project. The hypothesis was that those who felt the repository would bring economic benefits to the area would be more inclined to support its citing. Surprisingly, no statistically significant relationship was found between perceived economic benefit and support for the site. On the other hand, Flynn et al. (1992) discovered that those respondents who felt the citing of the plant would stigmatize Nevada as a nuclear waste dumpsite and thus negatively affect the state's image to potential tourists were significantly opposed to the site. In a study of a plastics plant near two small Texas towns, Heath et al. (1993) found evidence to support Flynn et al.'s (1992) findings. Respondents' support for the local plant was found to correlate positively with the perceived economic benefits of the plant. Additionally, those who perceived economic harm from the facility were significantly more likely to oppose it. Uncertainty
Aristotle (trans. 1932), in discussing enthymene, suggested that people do not have to deliberate upon which is certain: that no human action is inevitable. Rather,
people have to deliberate upon what is uncertain and judgment probabilities. These
uncertainties, and judgments based on them, are necessary elements of all discourse concerning risk. The very nature of risk prohibits absolute definitions and knowledge.
Risks by definition are matters of uncertainty. In this vein, Albrecht (1988) defined uncertainty as the lack of attribution confidence about cause-effect patterns. Publics want to reduce their uncertainties about the subjects under consideration and about the people who are creating those uncertainties. Thus, uncertainty is a measure of confidence regarding the ability to estimate risk and its consequences and the ability to communicate knowledgeably on the facts and issues surrounding any specific risk.
Concerning communication related to complex chemical manufacturing issues, it is understandable that for community residents risk messages can be confusing; they come from a variety of sources that involve multiple parties and often reflect competing scientific conclusions. Experts and regulatory agencies often operate on the assumption that they and their audiences share a common framework for evaluating and interpreting risk information. This confusion also stems from the fact that prominent government officials take different and often opposing viewpoints about environmental, health, and safety risk matters and participate in highly public debates about risk estimations (Covello, 1992; Krimsky & Plough, 1988).
To complicate matters, uncertainty thrives in risk communication issues:
In turbulent times, uncertainty and distrust soar. Highly involved people struggle to control sources of risks that affect their self-interests. Information and knowledge become less relevant to the need to exert control because they are only loosely related to risk tolerance. (Heath, 1995, p. 273)
Otway (1992) suggested that when policy decisions regarding technological risks need to
be made, that is the time when scientific knowledge is often the most uncertain. During
crises or other troubling times, uncertainty is likely to increase. This concept is evident
in the ever-changing color-alert status for terrorist threats used by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Within risk perception and communication discussions, uncertainty also has been related to estimating risk information about technical risks (Covello, 1992; Fischhoff, 1985; R. Kasperson, 1986; Wilson & Crouch, 1987), to assessing the impact of a new or unfamiliar technology (Bord & O'Connor, 1990; Lindell & Earle, 1983) and to calculating the degree in confidence to communicate knowledgeably about risk issues (Heath, Abel & Dougals, 1996; Nathan et al., 1992), to identify a few. Uncertainty motivates information-seeking because it is uncomfortable. Using that principle, uncertainty reduction theory explains the human incentive to seek information (C. Berger &Calabrase, 1975).
Driskill and Goldstein (1986) defined uncertainty "as the perceived lack of information, knowledge, beliefs and feeling necessary for accomplishing organizational tasks" (p. 41). Publics want information to reduce their uncertainties about the subjects under consideration and about the people who are creating those uncertainties. In facing the uncertainty of the future, people use the best information available to reduce their
fears, to achieve a sense of control over the future, to feel better about what they have to do face uncertainty with incomplete information. Even with complete information (if such a thing is possible), the uncertainty of the future cannot be controlled. "The anticipating emerging issues and, more generally, the study of the future can reduce, but not eliminate the perception of uncertainty" (Renfro, 1993, p. 7).
Overall, very little direct evidence exists concerning what determines uncertainty, especially as it relates to influence. According to McGarty, Turner, Oakes and Haslam
(1993), uncertainty is a judgmental confidence, in a way that someone believes that a specific cognition is correct or incorrect; thus, people should be more confident in a response to the extent to which they have evidence in favor of that response. Abel (1995) noted:
In a risk situation, uncertainty refers to the inability of a person to accurately estimate, in his or her own mind, the likelihood of an occurrence of a risk and the degree of its negative impact. However, there may also be an amount of uncertainty regarding one's knowledge of the issue pertinent to the risk or hazard. The possibility of uncertainty being a multidimensional variable is quite important because where risk is concerned, conflicting information is likely to abound.
Renn (1992a) supported this multidimensional approach to uncertainty, suggesting that the perceptions of probabilities in decision making affect people's ability to draw inferences from probabilistic information based on the difficulties in intuitive processing of uncertainty. Overall, "the intuitive understanding of risk is a multidimensional concept" (p. 66). McGarty et al. (1993) also suggested that uncertainty is a covariate (cause or effect) on the influence process. "It is precisely because uncertainty varies as a function of the influence process that there is very little clear evidence showing variations in it due to agreement and disagreement" (p. 20). Both Heath and Nathan (1991) and Driskill and Goldstein (1986) concluded that one of the goals of risk communication should be to engage in dialogue to reduce uncertainty, that the goal of communicators is to reduce and manage their own and their audiences' uncertainties through language. Control
Control is a natural response to the uncertainty that characterizes risks. Many studies have demonstrated that control is a primary variable in risk communication (e.g.,
Covello & Johnson, 1987; Heath and Palenchar, 2000; Lindell & Earle, 1983; Sims & Bauman, 1983; S. Thompson, 1981). S. Thompson (1981) defined control as the belief that an individual or organization can influence an event, or at least has the ability to do so if it chooses to influence the aversive situation. Control can be exerted to reduce the likelihood of a risk event or to minimize its impact. Like uncertainty and other risk communication process variables, control is multifaceted. Lindell and Earle (1983) determined that residents' lack of control created public opposition to hazardous facilities. Johnson (1987), as did Hance, Chess and Sandman (1989), determined that risk communication is likely to fail if it does not increase residents' control in the decision-making process regarding the risk. A risk is more acceptable to persons if they have some degree of control over the situation (Covello, 1989; Fischhoff et al., 1978). At-risk groups are more willing to accept risks if they have some control over them (Covello et al., 1988; Lindell & Earle, 1983).
Covello (1992) argued that an individual's control is a key determinant of people accepting risk, and Bord and O'Connor (1990) found that people's perceptions of industry control affect their risk estimates related to chemical cleanups. Weterings and Van Eijndhoven (1989) and Sharlin (1986) found that economic controls affected risk tolerance levels. R. Kasperson (1986) discovered a relationship between people's belief that they can control the gathering of information and the support for risk communication programs.
These examinations of control feature the variable as a personal trait, a trait of those who feel they (internal) or others (external) are responsible for their own actions, situations, and future. Internal control occurs when persons feel some control over their
destinies. Personal control extends to perceptions of speed of onset, scope (area), and duration of impact of the risk, as well as the quality of emergency preparedness. External control results when outside forces are perceived to have control over a risk source. In this regard, Sims and Baumann (1983) found that the more a person feels in control (internally or externally) the less he/she should feel that local chemical plant activities will affect their life. Community-based control means that members of a community seek to exert corporate responsibility standards on organizations that generate risks and their watchdog counterparts (including government and non-profit organizations).
Based on these findings, it is reasonable to assume that people respond to the uncertainties of risk occurrence and outcome by attempting to increase personal or community control over the source of the risk. Risk communication processes and statements are more likely to be effective to the extent that they empower citizens of a community of risk. As people think about risks, they ask many questions: Will something happen? Will it be bad? Will I suffer from the damage? To compensate for feelings of uncertainty, people want to exert control; uncertainty is a motivator and control is a means for reducing uncertainty. Trust
Trust is also a central risk communication process variable. People tend to be less afraid of risks that come from places, people, corporations, or other organizations that they trust and are more afraid if the risk comes from a source they do not trust (Ropeik & Gray, 2002). If expert risk estimates conflict with one another, the decision to be made
becomes more complex and requires greater amounts of trust. For effective risk
communication, the source of information and advice needs to have a satisfactory level of trust in the judgment of each public (Renn & Levine, 1991).
Trust is a multidimensional construct that results from the amount of control an audience believes it can exert over sources of risk information and assessment. As R. Kasperson concluded, "There is not a single risk communication problem; there is not a single social trust problem. There are many problems, and they are different" (In Davies et al., 1987, p. 45). Trust is affected by vulnerability, predictability, and reward dependability.
Trust predicts what people believe and the sources on which they rely. The infrastructure exhibits social amplification as various players receive, comment on, and pass along information and opinions. Making this point, R. Kasperson (1992) concluded: The concept of social amplification of risk is based on the thesis that events pertaining to hazards interact with psychological, social, institutional, and cultural processes in ways that can heighten or attenuate perceptions of risk and shape risk behavior. Behavioral responses, in turn, generate secondary social or economic consequences. These consequences extend far beyond direct harms to human health or the environment to include significant indirect impact such as liability, insurance costs, loss of confidence in institutions, stigmatization, or alienation from community affairs (pp. 157-158).
In this communication infrastructure, interpersonal communication is instrumental in place of or in support of mass-mediated communication. Through media reports and interpersonal contact, people seek confirmation for their conclusions about risks.
Information seeking is predisposed to confirm assumptions and goals of the persons involved. This infrastructure is a dialogue many people discussing issues and sharing
information through media and interpersonal channels. People rely on experts as well as acquaintances. The flow of information and opinion is complex and multidirectional, rather than linear from an expert source to lay publics. Residents may trust the process of dialogue more than the content of the process.
Trust is a vital part of this narrative. People in each community where risks occur must be able to trust the efforts to achieve reasonable levels of security. Such levels need to withstand the "smell" test of the area residents that they could and should trust industry to exert reasonable amounts of security and communicate in ways that increase rather than decrease citizens' security.
Trust is a counterpart of control. It assumes that when people are vulnerable in one way or another to one another the matter of trust becomes relevant. Industry would like to say, "Trust us because we have planned and put policies into place that will reasonably protect your interests, your security and safety." Trust is also a central factor in predicting whether members of a community accept and rely on the conclusions and recommendations of people who are trained in science, national security, business operations, engineering, emergency management and public policy. Risk assessments require scientific and decision-making techniques that are often foreign to community residents. If expert risk estimates conflict with one another, the decision to be made becomes more complex and requires greater amounts of trust. For effective risk communication, the source of information and advice needs to have a satisfactory level of trust in the judgment of each public (Renn & Levine, 1991).
Trust is demonstrated in word and deed. It is groomed and maintained. It can be lost or destroyed. Thus, it is an integral ingredient in risk communication. These factors
influence how, what, when, and to whom the industry will communicate. In essence, when it comes to risk communication related to chemical manufacturing, storage and transportation, variables such as knowledge, harms and benefits, uncertainty, control and trust remain key elements of stakeholders' narratives that can provide insight into both risk management and risk communication protocols.
Social Construction of Reality People do not form their identities because they set themselves apart from others in society. Individuals become selves as they realize themselves in relation with others and through interaction with others. In essence, the social quality of humanity is everything that people do with each other and what people individuals, groups, communities and cultures become as we do it, continually influenced and ever changed by the socialness that is inherent in the creation of self. "We individuate by identifying ourselves on a social landscape, a landscape we come to know as we interact with it. We discover and create ourselves and others by what we do with each other" (Bazerman, 1993, p. iix)
Social, thus, is the stage on which individuals enact themselves and their relationships with others. This social stage, however, is eclectic and infinite. It contains laws, ideas, history, culture, gender, knowledge, awareness, and discretion. It incorporates public, social, religious and economic policies. It includes character, ethics, morals, and organizational responsibilities. It involves individuals, small and large groups, private and public organizations, and small private businesses and industries. It wraps around hard, social, and human sciences.
Within this vast, complex landscape of social lies symbolic, transactional communication that socially constructs awareness, attitudes, knowledge, values and behaviors all elements of perception and ultimately constructed realities. It is through a community's oral and written words that much of this interactive human landscape is created, through words and symbolic representation. As Bazerman (1993) summarized, "We become ourselves by using the common symbols for our own ends, but these ends we often discover as we interact with others" (p. iix).
Following the lead of philosophers and historians like Nietzsche, Dewey, Heidegger, Wittgenstein, Scheler and Kuhn, social construction theorists generally accept the claim that knowledge is socially determined and constructed. The social construction of reality theory contends that reality is socially constructed and that the sociology of knowledge must scrutinize the manner in which this occurs (P. Berger & Luckmannn, 1967). From this orientation, P. Berger and Luckmannn described reality as "a quality appertaining to phenomena that we recognized as having a being independent of our own volition" and knowledge as "the certainty that phenomena are real and that they possess specific characteristics" (p. 1). In essence, people conceive their own distinctive social reality through contact and interaction with others (P. Berger & Luckmannn, 1967; Watzlawick, Beavin & Jackson, 1967).
P. Berger and Luckmannn (1967) contend that the sociology of knowledge must concern itself with whatever passes for knowledge in a society, created by individuals and groups within that society, regardless of the ultimate validity or invalidity of such knowledge (regardless of the criteria used to evaluate such knowledge). This human knowledge, or perception, is identified, developed, rationalized, maintained, and altered
in social situations. As if almost directly speaking to risk communication scholars, they argued that "the sociology of knowledge must seek to understand the processes by which this is done in such a way that a taken-for-granted 'reality' congeals for the man in the street" (p. 3). Building specifically on the work of Alfred Schutz, P. Berger and Luckmannn (1967) argued that the reasonableness of knowledge in everyday life presents itself as a reality interpreted by individuals and subjectively meaningful to them as a rational and coherent perspective:
The world of everyday life is not only taken for granted as reality by the ordinary members of society in the subjectively meaningful conduct of their lives. It is a world that originates in their thoughts and actions, and is maintained as real by these... the objectivations of subjective processes (and meanings) by which the intersubjective commonsense world is constructed, (pp. 19-20)
The authors argue that our reality is constructed and maintained through language (see, e.g., pp. 58-62, 92-104).
Language and actions serve this principle sustaining function, but it is language, via symbols, through everyday speech that is the principle method (P. Berger & Kellner, 1964):
As the latter [speech] occurs, it validates over and over again the fundamental definitions of reality once entered into, not of course, so much by explicit articulation, but precisely by taking the definitions silently for granted and conversing about all conceivable matters on this taken-for-granted basis, (p. 220)
Speech allows the individual to adjust to changing, conflicting, and other new social
contexts within his perspective. As P. Berger and Kellner pointed out, "One converses
one's way through life" (p. 221).
One of the strongest emphases of socially constructed and other social perspective
orientations is the fundamental rejection of positivism. According to positivist language
theorists, knowledge is a direct apprehension of reality, where an individual's mind acts
as a mirror reflecting the outside world of existence, and ideas are considered true as
much as they reflect what is seen or heard and ultimately confirmed by the outside world.
Social theorists reject that notion (e.g. P. Burger & Luckmannn, 1967; Burke, 1966;
Fisher, 1985b; Thralls & Blyler, 1993). For example, political scientist Edelman (1988)
described how politics is socially constructed through language:
It is the language about political events, not the events in any other sense, that people experience; even developments that are close by take their meaning from the language that depicts them. So political language is political reality; there is no other so far as the meaning of events to actors and spectators are concerned, (p. 104)
A large amount of risk communication research also comes from the traditional theoretical position known as objectivism. This perspective operates on the assumption that awareness, knowledge, attitudes, information, knowledge, behavioral intentions, and behaviors are a given in nature, essentially uncontaminated by social factors. The social construction of reality theory argues against a purely objectivist or positivist sense of perceptions. Knowledge is not something that only exists in our heads and is learned from informative communication, but is rather "the production of discourse... through social interaction, because discourse can be recognized as discourse only after it becomes part and parcel of the normative conventions that form the social communities in which we all must live and work" (Kent, 1993, p. 79).
For risk communication scholars and practitioners, the social construction of reality theory raises questions about whether the differences between key stakeholders' realities may not be understood in relation to various differences between individuals and/or publics. Though not directly naming risk communication or public relations, Seibold and Spitzberg (1982) argued that communication cannot be considered and
realized without an appreciation for the interpretations communicators bring to symbolic discourse:
Without attention to the ways in which actors represent and make sense of the phenomenal world, construe event associations, assess and process the actions of others, and interpret personal choices in order to initiate appropriate symbolic activity, the study of human communication is limited to mechanistic analysis.
Language is the means by which people function on two levels: their individual thoughts and the realization that others have similar meanings and interpretations (Heath & Bryant, 1992). By concentrating on language and the subsequent symbolic meaning, risk communication research can provide insight on relationships between words and issues, and between content and meaning, as well as by examining how interaction transpires regarding risk perceptions.
Risk communication scholars examine the social construction of reality through the scrutiny of symbols and meaning within the substance of messages constructed and shared by organizations with key stakeholders. It is through these messages symbols -that people create, manage and share interpretations of reality through social interaction, allowing society to function by the sharing and giving of meaning to physical and social realities (Burke, 1966). Ultimately, this sharing provides a footing for cooperative behavior through social reality, the understanding each person has of what other people know (P. Berger & Luckmannn, 1967). The overall symbolic constructionist process here that is of particular interest to this study is the one that constructs, maintains, and alters a consistent reality that can be meaningfully experienced by the individual and community. As P. Berger & Kellner (1964) noted, everyday society has its way of defining, describing and perceiving reality, and it is through its overarching organization
of symbols that a system of ready-made typifications provide a framework in which the
innumerable experiences of reality come to be ordered.
Though not the only influencing factor, an individual's construction of reality
clearly is related to the society or community in which the individual exists; in each
community there exists an overall consensus on the range of differences deemed to be
tolerable (P. Berger & Kellner, 1964):
This order, by which the individual comes to perceive and define his world, is thus not chosen by him, except perhaps for very small modifications. Rather, it is discovered by him as an external datum, a ready-made world that simply is there for him to go ahead and live in, though he modifies it continually in the process of living in it. Nevertheless, this world is in need of validation, perhaps precisely because of an everpresent glimmer of suspicion as to its social manufacture and relativity. This validation, while it must be undertaken by the individual himself, requires ongoing interaction with others who co-inhabit this same socially constructed world. In a broad sense, all the other co-inhabitants of this world serve a validating function, (p. 220)
Social Risk Perspectives
Social perspectives on risk managmenet and risk communication are gaining
ground in a field that has been historically dominated by actuarial, economic, and
psychological approaches. Dietz, Fray and Rosa (1993) may have summed up the
commonality among social perspectives on risk. "Humans do not perceive the world
with pristine eyes, but through the perceptual lenses filtered by social and cultural
meanings transmitted via primary influences such as the family, friends, subordinates,
and fellow workers" (p. 39).
For example, studies of risk, equity, and fairness (including environmental racism and risk distribution among classes and populations) have become a hot topic and important area of research (R. Kasperson & J. Kasperson, 1983). Reflecting this growing trend, Bord and CTConner's (1997) demonstrated gender differences toward perceived
risks and the concern that women face an unequal burden of environmental risks, while Boer, Pastor, Sadd and Snyder's (1997) demonstrated that hazardous waste sites are more likely to be located in working-class communities of color near urban areas. Other social perspective of risk studies have focused on the sociology of disasters (e.g., see Dynes, De Marchi and Pelanda, 1987), organizational aspects of risk (e.g., Clarke, 1989; Perrow, 1984), analysis of media coverage (e.g., Lichtenburg and MacLean, 1988), risk conflicts and their causes (e.g., von Winterfeldt & Edwards, 1984; Deitz, Stern & Rycroft, 1989) and epistemology or legitimation of risk knowledge (e.g., Dietz & Rycroft, 1987;
Within organizational studies, for example, Neilson and Rao (1987) viewed organizational legitimacy as a complex process of a social constructed reality, based on localized social norms and values. In the science/health communication field, numerous researchers have examined media coverage of scientific findings as partially socially constructed (e.g., Friedman, Dunwoody & Rogers, 1999). Many researchers in the field of sociology of ignorance argue that scientists' claims regarding knowledge are either inherently social or at least partially subject to social processes (e.g., Proctor, 1995).
On a theoretical level, several social theories related to risk have been developed during the past 20 years. Theories developed from this perspective include social cognition theory, social exchange theory, social identity theory, social judgment-involvement theory, social learning-social cognitive theory, social penetration theory, and the broader category of social theories of media effects (Heath & Bryant, 1992). A review of the literature found some common areas of studies, but as Renn (1992a) noted,
"Any attempt to classify these studies and link them to underlying theoretical concepts is like trying to find order in chaos" (p. 67).
Three major social theories of risk, however, have direct implications for this study. These include the social amplification of risk theory, social arena concept, and social drama theory. R. Kasperson's (1992) social amplification of risk theory is based on the condition that hazardous and other risk events interact with psychological, social, institutional, and cultural processes in a manner that can either increase or decrease perceptions of risk and resulting behaviors towards those perceptions. "The experience of risk is therefore both an experience of physical harm and the result of culture and social processes by which individuals or groups acquire or create interpretations of hazards" (p. 159). Within this theory, individuals act as members of groups (cultural) and social units (neighborhoods) that codetermine the dynamics and social processing of risk. These larger social units, according to R. Kasperson, are termed social stations of amplification. R. Kasperson built this term on the idea that individuals in their roles as members or employees of social groups or institutions do not only follow their personal values and interpretive patterns; they also perceive risk information and construct the risk problem according to cultural biases and the rules of their organization or group (Johnson
& Covello, 1987).
The second social risk theory is social arena concept. Advocated by Renn
(1992b), the basic idea is that social groups in political arenas:
[T]ry to maximize their opportunity to influence the outcome of the collective decision process by mobilizing social resources.... The outcome of this struggle, however, is determined not only by individual or group actions, but also by the structural arena rules and the interaction effects among the competing groups, (pp. 180-181)
The term "social arena" is used to describe the social and political location of competing interests. This theory focuses on explaining the process of policy formulation and enforcement in a specific, risk policy field. Power is a strong variable in the equation, though power is appreciated by all areas of the social arena, including stakeholders, stakeseekers, political institutions, the public, and issue amplifiers.
Third, and most applicable to this study of risk from both a social and narrative perspective, is the social drama theory of risk. Palmlund (1992), building on the works of social philosophers and scholars such as Aristotle, Kenneth Burke, Mary Douglas, and Aaron Wildavsky, developed his social perspective of risk based on two primary concerns with the direction of other risk studies: that risks to human health and environment can be defined by quantitative estimates and priced as commodities, and that risk communication is being used to manage opinions solely for the purpose of advancing dominant modes of technology development. He argued that risk should be approached from a perspective that emphasizes the role of social interaction, emotion, and power in public life; the desire of humans to exert control over the unknown and uncontrolled. "In this interaction it is possible to discern patterns that are continually created and re-created through emotional and intellectual experience" (p. 199).
Palmlund (1992) saw social evaluations of risk as a contest, with competing views of reality among the participants. These participants (e.g., community residents, industry, government regulatory agencies, school systems, scholars) compete to define what should be seen as the benefits and liabilities of risk, some of whom have complementary
interests while others have conflicting interests. For example, his analysis has led to identification of blaming games and stories of celebration participants act to "convince
an audience" (p. 199). He described this acting out of a social process as social dramaturgy.
Palmlund's (1992) analysis features characters typical of sociopolitical drama, centering on audience agents and roles. Audience is the public or key publics whose support each character seeks. Without an audience, you have no drama: "No decision on acceptable risk would be taken" (p. 201). Characters are audiences to one another. There have been a limited number of studies in relation to audiences beyond formal organizations (e.g., corporations, governmental agencies). Bourdieu (1984) argued that within the discourse of risk, a lot of the social action reflects a celebration of technology, where a critique about the actual need for the technology or product would be an act of self-destruction. As Goffman (1959) noted almost a half-century ago, within certain settings [risk], open conflicts regarding the definition of situations are avoided.
Actors are considered agents or "persons acting to promote certain interests" (Palmlund, 1992, p. 202). Actors take different roles depending on their position or stance on issues. From this perspective, building on Goffman's (1959) work among others (e.g., Bourdieu, 199), people are viewed not as individuals but as personae, as human beings with masks that vary according to the context. These personae, and the resulting behaviors, are influenced by the standards of the groups to which people belong (Frank, 1957). As such, social construction and search for consensus and approval have a great influence on human perceptions, including those perceptions of risk (Palmlund, 1992). As M. Douglas (1985) identified in her work, social concerns influence our selective perception of risk.
The major risk roles identified by Palmlund (1992) include risk bearers, risk bearers' advocates, risk generators, risk researchers, risk arbiters, and risk informers. Risk bearers think of themselves as victims; they may or may not actually be victims of negative consequences of a risk. Risk bearers' advocates are heroic protagonists who speak on behalf of risk bearers. Risk generators create risks, or are perceived to do so; they are antagonists in risk narratives. Risk researchers apply science to determine whether risks occur and if so how they can be abated or mitigated. Risk arbiters take actions to save risk bearers. Risk informers, such as reporters and advocacy groups, comment on the actions, risks, policies and outcomes.
Another aspect of social drama theory relates to the dramatic process, or the
representation of the risk conflicts and discourse. Part of this process is dramatic action
of risk. Risk is, according to Palmlund (1992):
[A] code word that alerts society that a change in the social order is being requested... Conflicts over risk are processes played out over time, where anxiety is contrasted with security, and where perceptions of chaos and risk are intermingled with perceptions of order and certainty, (p. 206)
A breach in regular patterns risk can be triggered by a sudden hazard or accident,
when scientific findings reveal threats, or when slowly over a period of time evidence
compiles that lends an individual or group to take action and put the risk in the political
Narrative Theory and Rhetorical Enactment This section explains and draws on narrative theory to help explain how risk communication and other public relations professionals responsible for predicting and responding to risk management issues and community risk perceptions can approach such situations as though they were narratives. Knowing the common narratives of a group,
community or society allows risk communicators the framework for scanning, analyzing, identifying, and monitoring community residents' perceptions related to living near chemical manufacturing, storage and transportation facilities.
Narrative theory is an important element of human communication analysis, not simply in the languages, drama and literature fields, but throughout various disciplines of human sciences, ranging from anthropology to linguistics to sociology. Historically, and still held true today, is that narrative functions represent "a universal medium of human
consciousness" (Lucaites & Condit, 1985). White (1981) described narrative as a "metacode" that allows for transactional transmission of "messages about shared reality" (p. 2).
Narrative theory, devised by Fisher (1984, 1985a, 1985b, 1987, 1989), adds depth to the view that people enact their lives as actors in an undirected play (Pearce & Cronen, 1980; see also Cronen, Pearce, & Harris, 1982). What is a narrative? According to Foss (1996):
A narrative generally is recognized to be a way of ordering and presenting a view of the world through a description of a situation involving characters, actions, and settings.... A narrative, as a frame upon experience, functions as an argument to view and understand the world in a particular way, and by analyzing that narrative, the critic can understand the argument being made and the likelihood that it will be successful in gaining adherence for the perspective it presents, (p. 400)
Narratives are a way of thinking, a way of ordering the events of the world that would otherwise seem unpredictable or incoherent. Through narratives, people structure their experiences and actions. Narratives give meaning to the world. Through stories,
the world and people's actions reflect a logic that explains what happens, why it happens, who makes it happen, when it happens, and how people should respond to these events.
Narratives express a set of preferences, the values of the persons who ascribe to those
narratives. Scripted logics allow people to create and share a variety of social realities.
Stressing this point, Gergen and Gergen (1988) concluded:
Narratives are, in effect, social constructions, undergoing continuous alteration as interaction progresses. The individual in this case does not consult an internal narrative for information. Rather, the self-narrative is a linguistic implement constructed by people in relationships and employed in relationships to sustain, enhance or impede various actions. It may be used to indicate future actions but it is not in itself the basis for such action. In this sense, self-narratives function much as histories within society do more generally. They are symbolic systems used for such social purposes as justification, criticism, and social solidification.
Narratives have substantial rhetorical potency because they are a conventional and
convenient means for understanding the theme that runs throughout a series of events
including health, safety, and environmental manufacturing incidents. Fisher (1985b)
noted that the primary purpose of rhetorical narrative is to advocate something beyond
itself. Fisher (1985b) summed up the strength of focusing on narrative from a rhetorical
perspective, demonstrating the value for exploring narrative in the evolution of social and
[A] rhetorical narrative is a story that serves as an interpretive lens through which the audience is asked to view and understand the verisimilitude of the propositions and proofs before it. Both content and form of the rhetorical narrative are thus subservient to the demands of the relationship between the specific audiences to which it is addressed, the specific context in which is appears, and the specific gain toward which it strives, (p. 94)
Two important forms with narrative, in relation to understanding social
consequences of particular narrative forms and functions, are unity of direction and unity
of purpose. Rhetorical contexts inherently include oppositionality advocates taking one
side or another in dispute point and counterpoint. Since the rhetorical function of
narrative advocates a particular understanding of the facts to a particular point of view, it
must be voiced and couched in terms of unity and single-purposefulness. Quintilian
(trans. 1966) noted, "For we must state our facts like advocates, not witnesses" (p. 109).
For unity or purpose, it relates to the act-centered nature of rhetorical narrative:
Rhetoric is a discourse genre that exists for the purpose of wielding power by enacting the interest of a speaker in a specific, real world context... the successful completion of a rhetorical enactment requires more than a simple, textual construction. Rather, it must encourage, and indeed enlist, the audience's active participation in the solution. (Fisher, 1985b, p. 100)
Fisher (1985b) argued that the unities of direction and purpose combine to form discourse dependency. In this sense, rhetorical narrative is not complete and self-sufficient textually. The claim supported by rhetorical narrative must be articulated outside of the narration as part of a whole and changing world:
Because the speaker in a rhetorical situation always seeks material gain in some measure, he or she is literally invested in the outcome of the rhetorical process and is therefore expected by an audience to assert and accept responsibility for the power and veracity of the narratives that are featured in discourse, (p. 100)
This view essentially supports Aristotle's (trans. 1932) contention that investigation of public discourse cannot be separated from the role of discourse in society.
A social symbolic interactionist perspective for the study and practice of risk communication and public relations entails the analysis of words and other symbols via narratives. Specifically, words have propositional value (Burke, 1966), and the selection of those terms affects how information is considered, accepted, acted upon, or altered. These propositions, according to Heath (2001), compete "in ways that help to inform judgments and actions, clarify and order the evaluative (value) dimensions of thought and
choice, and justify or deny the expedient wisdom of competing policies" (p. 32).
Meaning defines the identities and prerogatives of organizations, people associated with them, and their relationships (Heath, 1993, p. 142). Heath derived that
perspective from an examination of Burke's (1966) proposition that meaning is created and expressed through "terministic screens" with which people filter and form interpretations of reality and prescribe corresponding behaviors. Once these terministic screens, or interpretive patterns of perceiving and talking about reality, become observable through actions and discussions. Heath (1993) reasoned, they have become zones of meaning.
Thus, any observations made by publics, such as community residents, "are but implications of the particular terminology in terms of which the observations are made" (Burke, 1966, p. 46). Burke summized that "each of us shares with all other members of our kind... the fatal fact, that, however the situation came to be, all members of our species conceive of reality somewhat roundabout, through various media of symoblism" (p. 52). Each idiom relfected in the language and meaning of the risk community, according to Heath (1993), is a unique view of economic, political, social, corporate,
personal and community interests.
Risk communication helps organizations enact and co-manage risk, stressing the roles of social interaction, power, and emotions in public life (Palmlund, 1992). "Societal evaluation of risk must be seen as a contest, where the participants offer competing views of reality. They compete to define what should be viewed as the benefits and the risks of prevailing production practices" (p. 199). Thus, risk perceptions can be considered a drama enacted by many personae, each attempting to create and live a different view of reality.
Social meaning constructed through language and experiences in these dramas are created in increments, one statement at a time. According to Burke (1966), Fisher (1987),
and Heath (1993), these statements become an encompassing statement expressing preferred perspectives. Thus, socially constructed meaning is self-reflexive as well as externally directed. People persuade themselves while they are attempting to persuade others at the same time. They create in a sense, which zones of meaning are best for themselves, for whatever reasons their zones of meaning construct and accept.
This contest is dialectic of issue positions and interests. Narrative is an appropriate means for assessing this clash because it is dialectic characters who advance various plots and themes set positions against one another. To better understand a community or public, one can deconstruct its narratives. Risk assessment and planning that does not consider the dialectic dynamics communication and opinion formation -of each community is likely to lead to frustrating outcomes for the person making the risk assessment and for the residents of the community. Data should also be judged according to premises that arise through community dialogue.
Understanding the narratives within zones of meaning held by key publics is therefore an integral part of risk communication and public relations studies. If zones of meaning facts, value premises, and conclusions in communities differ, then risk responses must be tailored to each public to achieve agreement. Combining the analysis of Heath, Fisher and Palmlund, researchers can look for specific roles and their perceptions that are located in a risk scene. Out of such a struggle emerge the culture of a
story and a sense of the relationships that are at work. Deconstructing risk narratives ultimately can help public relations practitioners understand how key stakeholders navigate through the information environment by better understanding what sources of information and how narrative elements frame their perception of risk.
Culture shapes people's thoughts and actions. It accounts for how groups view and evaluate their physical and social worlds, so wrote Sapir (quoted by Whorf, 1956, p. 134). The culture of each entity (business, government, and citizen) influences its decision-making processes and expectations relevant to the formation of corporate, societal, and governmental policy. Cultures of organized publics are likely to attract supporters, including non-activist community members, detractors, and latent publics.
What is culture? G. Morgan (1997) viewed it as "a process of reality construction that allows people to see and understand particular events, actions, objects, utterances, or situations in distinctive ways" (p. 138). Culture is, he believed, "shared values, shared beliefs, shared meaning, shared understanding, and shared sense making" (p. 138). Culture is a set of unique opinions, a way groups think about themselves their identity and actions and view the world around them. Schein (1985) argued that culture "is a pattern of basic assumptions invented, discovered or developed by a given group as it learns to cope with its problems of external adaptation and internal integration that has worked well enough to be considered valid and, therefore, to be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think and feel in relation to those problems" (p. 9). Cultures are contained in its artifacts stories, legends, myths and physical attributes of an organization. These artifacts are vital to understanding the politics and power that
operate in an organization (Mumby, 1987).
M. Douglas (1992) saw culture as serving at least two major functions: fostering accountability and shaping knowledge. Cultural theory starts by assuming that a culture is a system of persons holding one another mutually accountable. A person tries to live at
some level of being held accountable which is bearable and which matches the level at which that person wants to hold others accountable. From this angle, culture is fraught with the political implications of mutual accountability.
Through culture, people express standards they expect others to meet. For instance, a culture defines theft as offensive. In similar fashion, industries that harm the health and safety of citizens can violate cultural expectations. Addressing the connection between culture and knowledge, M. Douglas (1992) concluded: "Each type of culture is based on a distinctive attitude toward knowledge" (p. 32). Culture influences the facts that people hold as knowledge. Thus, one culture may conclude that a particular risk is tolerable, whereas a conflicting culture might draw the opposite conclusion. Culture is evaluative, an expression of shared expectations and knowledge.
Culture is connected to risk perception. Making that point, M. Douglas (1992) offered cultural theory as "a way of thinking about culture that draws the social environment systematically into the picture of individual choices. It provides a method of analyzing public debates as positions taken in a conflict between cultures" (p. xi). The subtleties of a culture are an important part of building relationships and communication practitioners must understand and appreciate cultural differences and be responsive to them (Newsom, Turk & Kruckeberg, 2001).
The study and practice of risk communication can productively center on the role that culture plays in how organizations meet or violate the expectations of key publics. Risk communication is more effective when it considers publics as representing multiple cultures that define which risks are tolerable. Supporting this view, Rayner (1992)
concluded, "Cultural theory argues that risks are defined, perceived, and managed according to principles that inhere in particular forms of social organization" (p. 84).
Key publics can have different cultural perceptions of risk that can lead to conflict. "Cultural analysis of risk looks behind the perception of physical risks to the social norms or policies that are being attacked or defended" (Rayner, 1992, p. 91). M. Douglas (1992) also saw a culture clash in society regarding standards of risk assessment. "Risk analysis that tries to exclude moral ideas and politics from its calculations is putting professional integrity before sense" (p. 44).
Risk perceptions are affected by decision heuristics that reflect the cultures of key groups, based largely on their roles in society. These roles in society, constructed through narratives of risk, are culturally driven. In this vein, risk communication can be viewed as the understanding of different publics' cultures, addressing the concerns of a variety of stakeholders' cultures, and working with the influence of culture on relationships. The culture of each group influences how it and society evaluates business activities and governmental policies. Evaluations may conflict with or support the preferences of an organization's policies and actions. Cultures of each enterprise and any public may collide. With strategic risk communication, organizations can reduce cultural strains and thereby work to build positive, beneficial relationships with key publics. Such analysis supports the view that risk culture is enacted in narrative form (Heath, 1992; 1994).
Community Right to Know The community-right-to-know provisions help increase the public's knowledge and access to information on chemicals at individual facilities, their uses and releases into
the environment. Ideally, states and communities, working with facilities, can use the information to improve chemical safety and protect public health and the environment. In the scope and purpose of community-right-to-know legislation, people are supposed to be alerted to the potentiality of a risk occurring that could affect their health or safety. So, on one hand, responsible community relations and employee relations calls for effective, continual and honest communication about risks and the best way of responding to prevent or mitigate the risk.
Citizen participation in environmental regulation is a relatively new development, though since the mid 1970s it has been viewed as a standard feature of public policy (Szasz, 1994). The growing sophistication of the environmental movement led federal and state agencies to devise more public policy that involved public participation and was one of the bases for community-right-to-know legislation.
The legacy of today's philosophy of community-right-to-know began to change dramatically in the mid-1980s. Following Union Carbide India Limited's toxic methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas spill (40 tons) in Bhopal, India, which killed more than 3,000 nearby community residents and plant workers and injured hundreds of thousands (the exact death toll remains under debate, with some estimates reaching into tens of thousands of deaths considering long-term health consequences,) the U.S. federal government became deeply involved in chemical related risk assessment, mitigation and communication processes. This involvement was also spurred by another Union Carbide facility in Institute, West Virginia, where more than 100 residents were hospitalized after being exposed to fumes from the pesticide manufacturing operations. By 1986, 30 states or cities had some form of community-right-to-know pollution requirements (Hearne,
1996). The Bhopal tragedy, along with other energy-related crises such as Chernobyl,
Love Canal, Three Mile Island, and Exxon Valdez, motivated citizens to worry whether
similar risks loomed near their homes or at their work locations.
Prior to these iconic events, a generally unconcerned public and injudicious
regulatory climate were the norm. For example, prior to the Three Mile Island accident, a
few local residents who opposed the licensing hearings for the nuclear reactors at Three
Mile Island were not allowed to raise questions or discuss issues related to nearby
resident evacuation in case of an emergency because risk assessors and hearings officials
had determined a serious accident as virtually impossible (Walsh, 1987):
The partial meltdown of Unit 2 in 1979, however, undermined the credibility of the organizations responsible for such probability estimates while also serving as a major catalyst in transforming a previously docile and trusting population into antinuclear activists, (p. 85)
Activists of all sorts sought to compel changes on industry. The type of events awakened
a complacent public and fueled the arguments of many community activists.
Immediately after the Union Carbide tragedy in Bhopal, India, Rosenblatt (1984)
observed, "If the world felt especially close to Bhopal last week, it may be because the
world is Bhopal, a place where the occupational hazard is modern life" (p. 20). The
historical realities of risk management as the essence of society became front-page and
top-of-the-hour news hooks.
Worries that what happened in India could happen in many communities in the United States prompted federal legislators to create the Emergency Planning and Community-Right-to-Know Act of 1986 (EPCRA), section three of The Superfund
Amendments and Reauthorization Act of 1986 (SARA Title III; SARA, 1995). For risk
communication, the key part of SARA is the EPCRA, which gives the EPA oversight of
risk communication efforts related to the formation of LEPC. In addition, the Pollution Prevention Act of 1990, the Chemical Accident Prevention Act, the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, and the Chemical Safety Information, Site Security and Fuels Regulatory Relief Act guide risk communication efforts. SARA also mandated each state's governor to appoint members to a State Emergency Response Commission (SERC), which in turn created LEPCs. Each SERC is responsible for implementing EPCRA provisions within each state, including the 3,500 local emergency planning districts and appointed LEPCs for each district. SERCs supervise and coordinate LEPC activities, establish procedures for receiving and processing public requests for information collected under EPCRA, and review local emergency response plans.
Codifying environmental risk communication, SARA and other federal policies require chemical companies to inform citizens regarding the kinds and quantities of chemicals that are manufactured, stored, transported and emitted in each community. SARA's underpinning assumption is that as companies report the toxicity about the materials they produce, transport and store people could become more informed of the
level of risk in their neighborhood.
Among other outcomes, this federal initiative was intended to increase the flow of
various kinds of technical information from experts to community residents and to open channels of commentary between them. It is also likely that some of the motive for the legislation was to pressure the industry to adopt and implement even higher standards of community and employee safety. The EPA (1988) characterized this initiative in noble
The EPCRA creates a new relationship among government at all levels, business and community leaders, environmental and other public-interest organizations,
and individual citizens. For the first time, the law makes citizens full partners in preparing for emergencies and managing chemical risks, (p. 3)
Defined this way, risk communication is successful to the extent that people who fear that
they are harmed become more understanding and confident that sufficient control is
imposed by the sources of the risk and by government.
Such is the case because this body of legislation and regulation had substantial
political motivation. It was aimed to force a standard of operating excellence on an industry thought by its critics to be indifferent to the interests of employees and people who live in the shadows of such industrial operations. Critics advocated for the interests of people who might meet catastrophe through manufacturing explosions, derailed trains, exploding pipelines, and over turned trucks hauling explosive and otherwise hazardous materials. Reviewing the community-right-to-know provision for the Public Relations Society of America, Newman (1988) concluded, "The theory behind these toxic laws is that this information will not only help answer citizen questions about [chemical] releases, but will also assist them in pressuring government and industry to correct practices that threaten their health and environment" (p. 8). Understanding the nature and impact of a source of risk is not the only factor involved in risk assessment, management, and communication.
Specifically, Local Emergency Planning Committees (LEPC) were designed to plan for manufacturing emergencies, but they were also designed to serve as community forums where nearby residents, government officials, industry representatives, health and safety officials, and any other concerned individuals and organizations could request information and voice concerns. LEPCs typically meet once a month and are comprised of individuals from local government, industry, the medical community, school district,
and local residents. LEPCs are financially supported through the local industry and the hosting city. Each LEPC typically has several subcommittees that are responsible for establishing and maintaining risk management and risk communication protocols related to chemical manufacturing. These committees can include but are not limited to communications, community awareness, emergency response, finance, and transportation.
The LEPC membership must include, at a minimum, local officials including police, fire, civil defense, public health, transportation, and environmental professionals, as well as representatives of facilities subject to the emergency planning requirements, community groups, and the media. The LEPCs must develop an emergency response plan, review it at least annually, and provide information about chemicals in the community to citizens. Required elements of a community emergency response plan include:
a) Identify facilities and transportation routes of extremely hazardous substances;
b) Describe emergency response procedures, on and off site;
c) Designate a community coordinator and facility coordinator(s) to implement the plan;
d) Outline emergency notification procedures;
e) Describe how to determine the probable affected area and population by releases;
f) Describe local emergency equipment and facilities and the persons responsible for them;
g) Outline evacuation plans;
h) Provide a training program for emergency responders (including schedules);
i) Provide methods and schedules for exercising emergency response plans.
EPCRA, and thus community LEPCs, has four major provisions: emergency planning (Section 301-303), emergency release notification (Section 304), hazardous chemical storage reporting requirements (Sections 311-312) and the Toxic Release Inventory (TRI). EPCRA, Section 313, requires a publicly available, EPA database that contains information on toxic chemical releases and other waste management activities reported annually by certain covered industry groups as well as federal facilities. Facilities are required to report their environmental releases and waste management practices annually to the EPA. Covered facilities must disclose their releases of approximately 650 toxic chemicals by roughly 23,000 factories to air, water, and land, as well as the quantities of chemicals they recycle, treat, burn, or otherwise dispose of on-site and off-site. These chemicals range from acetone to vinclozolin. While TRI is the most comprehensive national source of information about toxic chemical releases, it has critical limitations (Environmental Defense Fund, 2003):
a) Does not cover all toxic chemicals that have the potential to adversely affect human health or the environment;
b) Does not require reporting from many major sources of pollution releases;
c) Does not require companies to report the quantities of toxic chemicals used or the amounts that remain in products; and
d) Does not provide information about the exposures people may experience as a consequence of chemical use.
The EPA (SARA, 1995) has argued that it is one of the most successful
environmental laws in the United States. Critics, however, have argued that the TRI is
simply a pollution accounting system and makes no attempt other than through the power
of information to control how pollution is managed or market incentives to minimize
pollution (Hearne, 1996). Since 1998, national environmental groups have been compiling TRI data, placing the information on their Web sites for an additional access beyond the EPA's Web site, and annually listing the 12 top offenders in the "Dirty Dozen" club in an effort to put pressure on industry to change environmental and manufacturing practices. Numerous examples (e.g. Hearne, 1996) exist of TRI data being used by communities to exert pressure on industry to reduce emissions (e.g., B.F. Goodrich plant in Akron, Ohio).
Industry groups, such as the Public Environmental Reporting Initiative (2004), argue that public reporting of emission and other environmental and risk management data and efforts helps provide a strong connection between improved environmental reporting, improved environmental performance, improved organizational performance, and increased satisfaction of key stakeholders such as community residents and local governments. At the same time, numerous industry groups, as identified by Hearne (1996), have requested the EPA not to require this kind of chemical use listing because it is not a good indicator of risk because it is not the same as exposure. Her research identified numerous groups such as environmental, labor, and community organizations who all feel that chemical use information, though limited to TRI reporting, is an important component of risk analysis.
Grant's (1997) findings indicate that, net of other predictors, states that provide substantial funding for community-right-to-know programs have significantly lower rates of toxic emissions over time. "Results are consistent with the arguments of conflict environmental sociologists, who suggest that, unless citizens are provided real resources
to mobilize their interests, citizen participation schemes will tend to be only symbolic gestures" (p. 859).
Of the research related to the effectiveness of the risk communication protocols of SARA Title III, and specifically the LEPCs, most of the research has focused on the creation of the LEPCs, their effectiveness at disseminating risk information, and the perspectives of the LEPCs efforts from LEPC representatives' perspectives. Conn, Owens and Rich (1990) summed up both the strengths and weaknesses of the LEPCs. Their research identifies that LEPCs are capable of sharing technical communication with community residents, but they lack sophistication in community dialogue, involving residents in the planning and research process, and fail to stimulate community dialogue. They cited the problems of promoting their existence, poor location of outreach offices, and the lack of assistance to the community in deciphering complicated manufacturing
Baram, Dillon and Ruffle's (1990) case study research identified significant progress in chemical manufacturers' reducing emissions, preventing accidents, planned emergency responses, and communicating risks to the public. Their research suggests that the changes were the result of internal initiatives rather than pressure from citizens groups or LEPCs. The EPA, however, reports that industry attention to public's concerns is among the top reasons private companies take waste minimization actions (Szasz, 1994). Regardless, most of these research approaches, including Rich, Conn and Owens (1993) and Baram et al. (1990), focus on a limited number of case studies, and fail to address the influence of the threat of citizen pressure and mobilization as opposed to direct and immediate citizen pressure (Grant, 1997).
These types of legislation are in support of conflict environmental sociology
literature (Schnaiberg & Gould, 1994). This line of research contends that pollution and
security is a result of differences of power between industry and community residents
(and other classes). In relation to community-right-to-know legislation, asymmetrical
information flows among classes are part of the reason for pollution and other health and
safety issues. Policies that address this asymmetry should reduce industrial pollution.
Schnaiberg and Gould argued that compromise may not be the most effective means of
resolution because compromise typically favors those organizations with higher power
resources. Others (e.g., Grant, 1997) have argued that regardless of power structure,
community-right-to-know provisions legitimate citizens' demands and provide
opportunities to mobilize resources.
One of the strongest arguments against community-right-to-know provisions is
the lack of financial incentives or penalties for offenders. Peterson's (1981) research
argued that states are under pressure to raise tax revenues and thus are under pressure to
lower environmental standards to attract capital and employees, thus likely to be more
symbolic. Lindblom (1982) similarly argued that the economic market and the role of
state governments as enforcers of such federal community-right-to-know policies limit
Risk Management Plan (RMP)
Another part of LEPCs efforts includes the RMP. When Congress passed the
Clean Air Act (1994), specifically section 112(r), it required EPA to publish regulations
and guidance for chemical accident prevention at facilities using extremely hazardous
substances. The RMP Rule was written to implement Section 112(r) of these
amendments. The rule, which built upon existing industry codes and standards, requires companies of all sizes that use certain flammable and toxic substances to develop an RMP, including:
a) Hazard assessment that details the potential effects of an accidental release, an accident history of the last five years, and an evaluation of worst-case and alternative accidental releases;
b) Prevention program that includes safety precautions and maintenance, monitoring, and employee training measures; and
c) Emergency response program that spells out emergency health care, employee training measures and procedures for informing the public and response agencies (e.g. the fire department) should an accident occur.
According to the American Chemistry Council (2004; formerly the Chemical
Manufacturers Association), the RMP is about reducing chemical risk at the local level.
The industry uses a list of factors that can affect a company's strategy to communicate
RMP information with the community. These include:
a) Proximity, size, and type of nearby community,
b) Apparent community interest level in plant operations,
c) Recent plant and safety and environmental performance,
d) Plant complexity and worst-case scenarios,
e) Presence of activists or aggressive news media,
f) Community outreach status,
g) Effectiveness of the LEPC,
h) Economic importance to the community,
i) Presence of other RMP-regulated facilities in the community, and
j) Other significant factors such as labor/management relationships and environmental justice issues.
This information helps local fire, police, and emergency response personnel (who must prepare for and respond to chemical accidents), and is useful to citizens in understanding the chemical hazards in communities. The EPA anticipated that making the RMPs available to the public stimulates communication between industry and the public to improve accident prevention and emergency response practices at the local level. As of April 2000, more than 15,000 facilities have submitted RMP to the EPA (1994). However, following September 11, 2001 (9/11), RMPs were temporarily removed from public access. Responsible Care
Responding to community-right-to-know initiatives and legislation in the early 1990s, numerous industry associations developed various risk communication protocols and programs. These include the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, American Petroleum Institute, and the National Propane Gas Association. The dominant industry association, however, is the American Chemistry Council, which developed the Responsible Care program to meet the requirements of SARA Title III. Responsible Care works to achieve improvements in environmental, health and safety performance. The guiding principles of Response Care include (American Chemistry Council, 2003):
a) To operate facilities and develop processes and products in a manner that protects health, safety and environment;
b) To lead in the development of responsible laws, regulations and standards;
c) To work with customers, carriers, suppliers, distributors and contractors to foster the safe use, transport and disposal of chemicals; and
d) To seek and incorporate public input regarding our products and operations.
The Responsible Care program established standards in six different areas: community awareness and emergency response (CAER), process safety, distribution, pollution prevention, employee health and safety, and product stewardship.
Part of the Responsible Care program includes the formation of community advisory committees or panels (CAC/P) that serve as a forum for public dialogue related to manufacturing concerns and risks. CAC/Ps are comprised of individuals, with membership drawn from a cross section of the community, who provide a link between the public and various organizations that operate in the region by providing counsel and recommendations on matters of public affairs and public policy.
CAC/Ps perform key functions for community residents, private interest groups, government, non-governmental organizations, and private industry. They are designed to improve the quality of services by encouraging closer ties between the public and organizations that have an affect on their community, and make for improved decisionmaking capabilities that involve perspectives from interested parties who participate in the process. CAC/Ps incorporate strategic community relations values such as the cooperation of key stakeholders, information and perception exchange, and the development of trust, sense of control, credibility, and consensus making. Through the implementation of public policy at the community level, CAC/Ps provide a level of accountability for government, non-governmental and private organizations, opening up decision-making and policy formation processes to concerned citizens, while providing resources for citizens to participate in the public policy process (American Chemistry Council, 2004).
The use of advisory committees is supposed to move the role of external input and influence to an internal advisory role working within the system. This public/private partnership facilitated by the role of the advisory committee is the "buckle that fastens the administrative process to the dominant institutions, elites, and value in society" (Cottin, 1973, p. 1140). The proliferation of and increased use and dependence upon advisory committees is a product of a response to the needs of the citizenry, the needs of government officials, and the demands of special interest groups to work together in reaching compromise and solutions to numerous public policy concerns (Petracca, 1994).
The western development and use of citizens committees can be traced back to England, where the use of such advisory groups for education and government was seen on a wide scale. In the United States, formal community advisory groups have been in operation since the first presidency. There was a significant increase in the number and types of community advisory groups during World War I, where many governmental commissions had citizens serving in an advisory capacity. Their role expanded during the depression of the 1930s, providing counsel on such topics as national illiteracy and emergency aid. During and following World War II, CAC/Ps expanded into areas of labor-management relations and post-war training programs for agricultural and industrial production (Stauffer, 1957).
At the federal level, the 1972 Federal Advisory Committee Act (P.L. 92-463) defined an advisory committee as any committee, board, commission, council, panel, task force, or similar group established in the interest of obtaining advice or recommendations for the president or one or more agencies of offices of the federal government. Federal advisory committees constitute one of the most significant vehicles for special interest
group representation and influence on the policymaking process of the national government (Petracca, 1994). This form of government by committee has been termed the fifth arm of the federal government (Anderson, 1979). The development and expansion of CAC/Ps have been driven not just by citizens' desires to participate in the public policy process, but also by national legislation aimed at increasing community input on vital issues. This approach is often called legislative citizen participation. In the past 20 years there has been a tremendous growth in legislated citizen participation in many areas. At present, most federal agencies have mandated citizen participation for many of their programs. The Mental Health Systems Act of 1980 (Public Law 96-398), for example, relies heavily on the voluntary efforts of citizens who advise and govern local community mental health center programs.
Typically, there are two types of CAC/Ps; short-term committees are organized to address specific issues and concerns for a finite time period, while long-term committees address specific as well as sweeping concerns and problems, providing continuous feedback from the community. There are some typical rules and responsibilities of CAC/Ps across a broad spectrum of organizations. Advisory committees are appointed when there is a definite function to be performed; they are appointed primarily to advise and are not typically requested to perform specific services. Their composition should represent the entire community related to the function to be performed, with membership representing various segments of community life ranging from lay representatives to acknowledged experts. Staff members typically are not appointed, but if they are, they constitute a minority of any such committee and the chairperson is chosen among the lay
members. Typically, the public is made aware of major recommendations, and the board
or organization to which the committee reports controls public announcements.
The effectiveness and value of CAC/Ps in relation to chemical manufacturing
have been questioned. David Hunter (1992), former editor-in-chief of Chemical Week,
noted that the most beneficial aspect of the Responsible Care program has been the
industry's efforts to establish a dialogue with the public. Chemical Week '$ former Gulf
Coast Editor Gregory Morris argued that the CAC/Ps are not dialogic forums but rather
vehicles to provide information asymmetrically: "These panels are not two-way streets"
(Hunter, p. 5).
Positive impact of such measures is not a given. For instance, research has led to
mixed reviews of LEPCs and CAC/P's abilities to communicate environmental
information to citizens. Heath, Bradshaw and Lee (2002) found a lack of awareness of
their existence and low use of such organizations, while at the same time more than two-
thirds of the residents surveyed approved of their intended functions.
Responsible Care Security Code
A recent addition to Responsible Care is the Responsible Care Security Code,
developed in response to 9/11, the focus of which is to safeguard against potential
terrorist attacks, expand industry relationships with law enforcement, and provide a
model for chemical site protection. This security code, adopted June 2002, was
developed in partnership with EPA, Office of Homeland Security, Federal Bureau of
Investigation, Defense Department, Coast Guard and other agencies to protect citizens
from possible threats.
Security has always has been a high priority for the refining and chemical industry, but security related to terrorist threats was not a high priority before 9/11. Plant security issues focused on vehicle break-ins, theft, perimeter access, trespassing, personnel problems, bomb threats, and the like. Historically a second-tier industry issue when compared to health, safety and the environment, security came into its own in a significant way after 9/11. Two driving forces that led to an increased openness in security communications have been the ongoing and at times relentless media interest and a justifiably concerned public primarily community residents near industrial facilities (Heath, McKinney & Palenchar, 2005).
According to the American Chemistry Council (2004), the purpose of the Security Code is to help protect people, property, products, processes, information, and information systems by enhancing security, including security against potential terrorist attack, throughout the chemical industry manufacturing chain. The Security Code uses a risk-based approach to identify, assess and address vulnerabilities, prevent or mitigate incidents, enhance training and response capabilities, and maintain and improve relationships with key stakeholders. Some specific examples include companies using tools to analyze the security of products sales, distribution, and cyber security; facilities protection actions such as the installation of new physical barriers, modified production processes, or materials substitution; measures to protect Internet commerce; additional
screening of transportation providers; and maintaining open and effective lines of communication including steps such as sharing effective security practices with others throughout industry and maintaining interaction with law enforcement officials. The Security Code requires industry members to verify security enhancements through
independent third parties such as firefighters, law enforcement, and other state/federal officials.
Four other key information and communication programs related to the chemical industry are the Chemical Transportation Emergency Center (CHEMTREC), the Transportation Community Awareness and Emergency Response (TRANSCAER) program, the Chemical Sector Information Sharing and Analysis Center (ISAC), and the Emergency Response Mutual Aid Programs. When an emergency occurs, CHEMTREC provides first responders to the crisis with technical assistance from product safety specialists, toxicologists, and other industry experts to have the information and proper resources to appropriately handle the emergency. TRANSCAER provides information to communities through which hazardous materials are transported, offering community education, guidance in developing plans to respond to an incident, and training for local emergency responders. ISAC, established in June 2002, is a public-private partnership that shares vital security-related information between the multi-agency National Infrastructure Protection Center, which is based at the Department of Homeland Security, and companies that manufacture and use chemical products. The Emergency Response Mutual Aid Programs refers to programs among manufacturers of products that pose a very high risk if spilled or involved in an accident or catastrophe. These companies have developed a mutual aid agreement to provide immediate assistance in an emergency, agreeing that the closest capable response team will assist until the shipper or manufacturer of the products involved is able to take over at the scene.
A limited review of the chemical industry's steps to strengthen security at their facilities includes (American Chemistry Council, 2004):
a) Tightening access to facilities, including issues such as deliveries of materials and parking on site, and increasing perimeter protection such as strengthening fences and exterior walls, creating setbacks and clear zones that eliminate hiding places near a site's perimeter, and installing additional lights;
b) Recommending to federal law enforcement officials that they should examine all licenses for drivers of hazardous materials;
c) Changing transportation standards, such as truck shipments cannot be left unattended and no stops can be made between the plant and delivery;
d) Communicating with local officials and briefing them on facility security efforts;
e) Using the industry's existing risk assessment tools for national security purposes;
f) Permitting cleaning crews to work only during business hours;
g) Improving information security such as prohibiting radio conversations about sensitive topics, using voice encryption for some radio conversations, and prohibiting employees from giving out potentially risky information over the phone;
h) Increasing the number of properly trained security officers and developing a security center to monitor and support security processes;
i) Ensuring availability of backup systems for electricity, communications, water/sewer/gas, control centers and computer servers;
j) Improvements in marine and rail security, such as establishing protocols for actions that correspond with different Homeland Security Threat and Marine Security levels;
k) Improved security planning, training and drilling; and
1) Improvements in hiring and employment termination practices.
Research Questions Developed from a literature review regarding risk communication and related social theories of risk, social construction of reality theory, narrative theory and rhetorical
enactment, culture, and community-right-to-know provisions, this research project asks
the following research questions:
RQ1: What risk roles do near neighbor community resident perceive themselves and others (individuals and organizations) in relationship to living in a community with a high concentration of chemical manufacturing, transportation, and storage facilities?
RQ2: How do near neighbor community residents' perceptions compare to previously identified risk communication process variables harms and benefits, uncertainty, control, and trust?
RQ3: How do near neighbor community residents' risk perceptions of emergency response measures compare to some of those required by the following federal and industry community-right-to-know legislation, policies and guidelines: SARA Title III, LEPC, and Responsible Care?
RQ4: What are some key differences and/or similarities between the two communities regarding the near neighbor community residents' risk perceptions and their role in the risk management and emergency response preparation process associated with the production, storage, and transportation of chemicals in their community?
CHAPTER 3 METHODOLOGY
Assumptions and Worldview
The fundamental concerns that lie at the heart of researchers' assumptions and worldviews (philosophy of science) antedate historical record by thousands of years. Assumptions and worldviews guide and base a philosophy of science in an attempt to understand order in the world, to explain why things happen, and why they ought to happen. The philosophy of science has been described as an effort to come to terms with the demand for unity and concern for issues and affairs that are difficult to discern, even those things that are beyond humans (Solomon & Higgins, 1997). While some philosophers suggest what is beyond us is mythological or cosmological, philosophers who study science from a positivist perspective suggest that what is beyond us is an underlying or constant truth. On the other hand, constructionists and emotionalists, for example, might argue that there is a relative ground in the pursuit of science due to the intersubjective nature of constructed reality.
Researchers' ontological, epistemological, and methodological assumptions guide
assumptions and worldviews. Ontology refers to issues concerned with being, with what people believe and understand to be the case. For social science, ontological assumptions are those surrounding the nature of the subject matter of the research, namely the social world. Epistemology refers to the question of knowing and the nature of knowledge. Epistemological assumptions surround such issues as the basis of knowledge, the form
that it takes, and the way in which knowledge may be communicated to others. Methodology refers to the frames of reference of knowing that shape the selection of a particular set of data-gathering techniques.
The dominant ontological perspective of the past two centuries is logical positivism, that social nature is encoded in an objective reality with associated variables that can be identified, analyzed and interpreted, and causal relationships measured (Lincoln & Guba, 1985). Logical positivism suggests a structured and ordered world, a physical and social world that exists independent of people's perceptions. Research from a positivist orientation expects that, though different results may yield from different analysis of similar phenomena, findings will ultimately uncover and emerge with a consistent objective reality or truth (Hudson & Ozanne, 1988). This positivist worldview has dominated risk communication research (e.g., Krismky & Golding, 1992; National
Research Council, 1989; Palenchar & Heath, 2002).
In contrast to positivists' belief in an objective reality, a naturalist perspective believes in multiple realities that are constructed by social beings as participants (Lincoln & Guba, 1985). Naturalism asks questions about what. This is the original, predominant language of qualitative research. A common orientation of naturalistic inquiry is to understand social reality on its own terms, working to gain rich descriptions of people and their interaction as they take place in their natural settings. Robert Park, University of Chicago, was one of the early pioneers of this approach. From a naturalist perspective, researchers assume that there is a "there" that you can get into and out of. There are issues as to whom the researcher is when embedded researcher, participant, and hidden role while assuming a subjectively stable environment and discourse, objects and
actions illustrative as empirical material. Naturalism draws on the work of symbolic interactionism, phenomenology, and hermeneutics, arguing that the social world cannot be understood by simple causal relationships or social events under universal laws. Naturalists advocate examination of phenomena holistically and in context in an effort to gain and produce a level of understanding (Lincoln & Guba, 1985).
A naturalist perspective based on symbolic construction leans more heavily on constructed reality as opposed to either a positivist or natural reality that is present for examination. Social meaning within constructed narratives, rather than information, causal relationships, or functions is the primary investigative. This orientation of meaning in communication studies is founded on three philosophical orientations: that humans use symbols to communicate, that reality is constructed and not discovered, and that symbolic activity is public and social (Pauly, 1991). From this orientation derives the notion of symbolic interactionism, which describes the symbolic relation between self and society.
Reality is then shared, subjective, and unstable. No two people have the same past experiences or interpretations about any object, person, or situation. This perspective suggests that reality is context-bound; as such it is socially created rather than some objective, pre-existing, non-subjective, and stable reality. Each person has a basic understanding of symbols/words but they each form their own perceptions and interpretations of what those symbols/words mean. With words, people internalize and externalize thoughts (Burke, 1961), and people share and manage their sense of reality through social interactions (P. Berger & Luckmannn, 1966). Individuals and groups have a strong instinct for creating systems of meaning and symbolic interaction (Burke, 1966).
Two primary orientations guide this study: meaning and reality exist through human
interaction with others and self, which allows meaning to develop over time as
individuals interact with others, compare and adjust those interpretations and self-
consciously reflect upon their varied experiences (Taylor, 1994); and that socially
constructed meaning and reality exist and can be interpreted in reconstructed narrative
In qualitative investigations, the researchers have been described as a kind of
instrument themselves who sort and search for patterns (McCracken, 1988). Weber
(1968) coined the method "verstehende sociologie" about the sociology of meaning,
which lays a foundation for ethnographic fieldwork to avoid researcher interjection.
This, Weber and others argued, is required to develop and maintain a close relationship
with those who are part of the case study, relying on them for information about actions
and behaviors and what it all means to them, all the while maintaining a social scientist's
distance that allows for neutral analysis. Intuitively, this case study follows this approach
of creating distance between what you study and yourself.
Qualitative researchers are not certain and cannot claim commonality with the
participants in their research projects. A researcher's goal is to render plausible the terms
by which individuals and groups explain themselves to the world and clarify the role that
communication plays in such explanations (Pauly, 1991). Qualitative research is geared
toward capturing unique meanings from the social actor's perspective rather than
verifying the researcher's theory (Taylor, 1994).
A natural, social constructionist perspective acknowledges the role the researcher plays in understanding and interpreting research. Described as bracketing (Gubrium & Holstein, 1997), which was developed from the work of Alfred Schutz (trans. 1967), researchers analyze and acknowledge their own personal and cultural assumptions in an effort to avoid unknowingly prescribing these points of view to the topic, individuals and groups, and questions being analyzed.
The researcher's interest has developed from both an academic and professional interest in the area of risk communication and community perceptions of risk related to chemical manufacturing. The researcher has worked for an oil-and-gas boutique public relations agency, and continues to this day to conduct risk communication research for various organizations including private chemical companies, federal regulatory agencies, city governments, academic institutes, and regional manufacturing associations. From these professional experiences, several researcher orientations and subjectivities should be acknowledged:
a) Most prior risk communication research has been dominated by a scientific, actuarial perspective that assumes risk can be objectively calculated.
b) Most prior risk communication research has failed to acknowledge the social constructionist perspective toward risk perceptions and associated behaviors, focusing more on scientific or public policy perspectives.
c) Most prior risk communication research has been conducted from a corporate-centrist perspective in an effort to generate data related to industry support rather than explanations of such phenomena.
d) Most prior risk communication research has failed to acknowledge the role of community residents, who as risk bearers have a right to determine their role and behavior in complex risk scenarios, even if it is to their detriment.
After addressing ontological orientations and related researcher subjectivities, as well as defining research interests and points of inquiry within the literature review and the development of appropriate and achievable research questions, elements of the research design were the next methodological step. The first step in the research design was to identify the population of the research project. This step has been described by Miles and Huberman (1994, p. 25) as "bounding the territory."
Attention was focused on two high-risk communities. A broad review of a variety of different types of communities dominated by chemical manufacturing facilities was conducted in an effort to recruit resident participants who lived in proximity to a high concentration of chemical manufacturing, storage, and transportation facilities. Efforts were made to identify two drastically different communities in the same geographic region that would allow for some limited comparative analysis, and the researcher sought
an eclectic array of community residents' backgrounds, experiences, and perceptions as a heuristic to help uncover and identify as many themes and narratives as possible. One of the primary differences sought between the two communities was the level of sophistication in the development and application of emergency management risk communication campaigns conducted by the chemical industry and related governmental organizations.
Thus, the Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast, and the Houston Ship Channel in particular, was identified as an ideal location to conduct this ethnographic case study.
Often referred to as the "Chemical Coast" by industry or as "Cancer Alley" by health
activist organizations, this region has the largest concentration of petrochemical plants in the United States.
The Houston Ship Channel, located in Harris County, opened in 1914 and began to attract refineries after the end of World War I. According to the Environmental Defense Fund (2003), Harris County ranked among the dirtiest/worst 10 percent of all counties in the United States in terms of air releases and in terms of an average individual's added cancer risk from hazardous air pollutants, and ranked among the dirtier 30 percent of all counties in the United States in terms of land releases. Within the Houston Ship Channel area, there are a large number of communities that are dominated by manufacturing industries. Previous research (Heath & Abel, 1996; Heath, Abel & Douglas, 1996; Heath & Palenchar, 2000; Palenchar & Heath, 2002) identified some of these cities based on the amount and duration of their emergency preparation (e.g., installation of siren systems) and their risk communication efforts (e.g., Wally Wise safety education campaign). Specifically, characteristics profiled for this designation include:
a) Proximity/size/type of nearby community,
b) Apparent community interest level in plant operations,
c) Community outreach status,
d) Effectiveness of the LEPC,
e) Economic importance to the community, and
f) The presence of other RMP regulated facilities in the community. Three distinct classifications of risk communities have been identified in
relationship to risk communication and emergency preparation efforts (Heath & Abel,
1996; Heath, Abel & Douglas, 1996: Heath & Palenchar, 2000; Palenchar & Heath, 2002) that address the designated profiles of this research project. Briefly, the first community classification is defined as a higher profile city, one with a longer record of community outreach, larger communication budget, and more resources utilized in the emergency response preparation and risk communication campaigns. The two other
community classifications were moderate profile and lower profile either because of a smaller emergency outreach budget per capita or because the implementation of warning systems and community-based emergency response was less well developed. This study examined individually as well as compared/contrasted one higher profile community (Deer Park, Texas) and one lower profile community (Galena Park, Texas) from the Houston Ship Channel region.
Data collection and analysis were conducted with residents who live in either Deer Park or Galena Park's near neighbor, manufacturing facilities geographic corridor. This residential and business corridor typically incorporates less than one-to-two square miles that surround hazardous manufacturing facilities. Near neighbor zones are identified by city emergency management departments, in coordination with industry and trade associations, and city and state emergency response teams. The near neighbor community zones studied for Deer Park include Zone 1 through Zone 3, and the near neighbor community zones studied for Galena Park include Zone 0 (some community residents live in industrial zone) through Zone 3. However, residents and visitors who do not necessarily live in the near neighbor community zones were at times part of the study.
Data Collection Method
Participant observation, ethnographic interviews, and focus groups are the three primary research means utilized for gathering data. D. Morgan (1997) and others have emphasized the value of cross-validation of qualitative research tools as a means to address validity and reliability issues related to qualitative data collection. Overall, the benefit of triangulation is increasing the value of the data collected. "The goal of triangulation is to strengthen the total research project, regardless of which method is the primary means of data collection" (p. 31).
Triangulating the participant observation to interviews and then to focus groups allows the researcher to explore perceptions in more detail that came up during the participant observation process and to clarify areas where there seem to be different viewpoints with the individual respondents during the focus groups. This project also triangulates focus groups with participant observation as a means to develop a more sophisticated and deeper insight into the community constructed narratives. Interviews and focus groups also were used as a means of the constant comparative method itself, a fundamental methodological approach of this project. It is also an appropriate means to test the researcher's understanding of the phenomena studied (D. Morgan, 1997).
Also, the use of a research assistant who spoke Spanish was initially considered an integral part of the research design. The research assistant has worked with this research in past projects (Heath & Palenchar, 2000; Palenchar & Heath, 2002) and is trained in risk communication studies, translation services, and interview and focus group data gathering techniques. While the researcher has a limited understanding and use of Spanish, there were numerous times throughout the research project that a Spanish