The public’s willingness to follow evacuation orders and public health guidance is critical to reducing disaster losses and limiting coronavirus transmission. Effective risk communication plays a key role in helping people evaluate risks and make decisions about protective actions. The development of effective messaging requires advance planning and familiarity with the needs and characteristics of the communities being served. Message content needs to address issues specific to the pandemic, providing detailed guidance about both hazards and evacuation safety, emphasizing specific actions that need to be taken in response to risks. It is also important for risk communicators to avoid repeating misinformation, even to debunk it, as doing so can have the unintended consequence of reinforcing false information.

Emergency planners can use the strategies below to inform their risk communications involving evacuation and sheltering operations.

Message Content and Delivery

Begin by Addressing the Needs of the General Audience. Provide detailed guidance and address misconceptions about COVID-19 risks without repeating misinformation to avoid encouraging its spread. Develop a communications plan and pre-test messages.
Tailor Messages to the Needs of Specific Audiences. Respond to specific concerns of different audiences and develop mechanisms for identifying and combating misinformation.
Use Accessible Communication Formats. Deliver a clear, consistent message in multiple formats. Visual tools (such as illustrations), multiple languages, audible messages, and large font size for text-based messages can all be helpful.
Provide Actionable Guidance with Implementation Steps. Address barriers to action when relaying guidance, and provide actionable solutions.

Selecting Message Sources and Channels

Use Trusted Messengers. Issue emergency guidance strategically through a variety of outlets (television and radio, social networks, social media) using sources that are seen as trustworthy by diverse audiences. Partner with community- and faith-based organizations viewed as credible by target communities.

Message Timing

Account for Information-Seeking Behavior. People tend to delay action until they have confirmed warning and risk information. Anticipate this behavior by providing trustworthy resources to help people find information relevant to their concerns. Describe how to take recommended actions, detail a time when actions should be completed, and be specific about the threats to different geographical boundaries.
Maximize Advance Warning. Update existing checklists and planning guides to help incorporate COVID-19 safety measures. Encourage people to affirm that previously developed plans are still feasible in the context of the pandemic.


Learn More

SEAN  is supported by the National Science Foundation and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. The Natural Hazards Center at the University of Colorado Boulder, with support from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, substantially contributed to this guidance.

Read the guidance online at

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SEAN is a network of experts in the social, behavioral, and economic sciences poised to assist decision makers at all levels as they respond to COVID-19. The network appreciates any and all feedback on its work. Please send comments to