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The effect of communication during mass decontamination

Holly Carter (Emergency Response Department, Health Protection Agency, Salisbury, UK)
John Drury (School of Psychology, University of Sussex, Brighton, UK)
G. James Rubin (Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London, London, UK)
Richard Williams (Welsh Institute for Health and Social Care, University of Glamorgan, Cardiff & Pontypridd, UK)
Richard Amlôt (Emergency Response Department, Health Protection Agency, Salisbury, UK)

Disaster Prevention and Management

ISSN: 0965-3562

Article publication date: 19 April 2013




Reports from small‐scale incidents in which decontamination was conducted suggest that a successful communication strategy is vital in order to increase public compliance with, and reduce public anxiety about, decontamination. However, it has not been possible to examine public behaviour during large scale incidents involving decontamination. The aim of the research reported here was to examine the relationship between people's positive perceptions of responding agencies’ communication strategies and relevant outcome variables, such as level of compliance and level of reassurance, in several field exercises involving mass decontamination.


Data were collected using feedback questionnaires completed by simulated casualties, which contained items relating to casualties’ perceptions of the success of responding agencies’ communication strategies, their confidence in emergency responders, and their compliance with the decontamination process. Path analysis was used to examine the relationships between variables.


Results show a significant relationship between responding agencies’ communication strategies, level of public reassurance, and level of public compliance. The relationship between responders’ communication strategies and the outcome variables was partially mediated by public confidence in responders.

Practical implications

Emergency responders should focus on communication with members of the public as a key element of the decontamination process, as failure to do so could result in high levels of anxiety and low levels of compliance among those who are affected.


This research highlights the importance of effective responder communication strategies. Further, findings indicate the value of examining feedback from field exercises in order to facilitate a greater understanding of public experiences of the decontamination process.



Carter, H., Drury, J., Rubin, G.J., Williams, R. and Amlôt, R. (2013), "The effect of communication during mass decontamination", Disaster Prevention and Management, Vol. 22 No. 2, pp. 132-147.



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Copyright © 2013, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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