I'm writing to express my frustration at what appeared to be conflicting stories recently on the expected fall wave of the H1N1 pandemic along with the traditional seasonal virus. The H1N1 strain that caused the pandemic declaration by the World Health Organization appears quite mild in its severity and fatality rate, but it doesn't automatically follow that there is nothing that the public should do, which appeared to be the message to take from the story "There's Little You Can Do to Prepare for Swine Flu" (Aug. 2). And the other story and sidebar appeared to say something totally different ("Are We Prepared for Flu Outbreak?").
Dr. Bruce Dixon from the Allegheny County Health Department was quoted as saying we should just go about "life as usual." Although the sky isn't falling, there is a whole lot of "stuff" between those polar situations. We professionals engaged in the business of risk/crisis communications would argue that any informational message to the public about risks to their health and lives, no matter how minor, should always be followed up with some action that can be taken, even if it is something simple like putting together a home pandemic kit. These are teachable moments and we can't afford to pass them by.
If we tell stakeholders not to worry, the next time we get in front of them and need to tell them to worry, how likely is it that they will pay attention or follow our advice? I believe that your coverage helped educate, but it also lent credibility to the commonly held assumption that the media overdoes coverage, leaving readers confused and frustrated and skeptical.
JC Safety & Environmental Inc.