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State and counties work together on emergency risk communication trainings

Over eight weeks in May and June, Kathleen Vidoloff and Julie Black visited county health departments across the state offering emergency risk communication trainings. The trainings were developed for emergency-designated public health public information officers as well as administrative staff and focused on interacting with the public and the media during emergencies. The trainings were based on CDC’s Crisis and Emergency Risk Communication Trainings.

“Communicating during an emergency is different than our day-to-day health communication or health education programs,” said Kathleen Vidoloff, Ph.D., Emergency Risk Communication Officer. “The goal of our trainings was to help staff identity how that emergency context can affect public information and how to improve their skills when handling public and media inquiries.”

The state’s Health Security Preparedness and Response Communications Team developed two trainings to address the unique needs of the county’s audience. The PIO refresher course offered participants the opportunity to practice media writing and interaction skills within the context of a botulism threat scenario. Participants wrote a press release and talking points. Some even practiced speaking and fielding questions on-camera. The course, developed for administrative staff, focused on building skills to address the public's questions and concerns. Participants were presented with an ever-expanding scenario and had to react based on the information they had at the time. Each person fielded telephone calls from various members of the public and was asked to develop appropriate responses. Both trainings offered information that is foundational to emergency risk communication and encouraged participants to build on existing skills to better prepare them for future events.

The state team worked initially with a small group of county health departments to develop the trainings based on county needs. Both trainings were scalable depending on the county's available time, number of attendees and the specific learning goals. The training offered to administrative staff ranged from an all-day event to one-hour blitzes.

Vidoloff and Black conducted more than 26 emergency risk communication trainings. A total of 224 participants –including county health department staff, hospitals, emergency management and law enforcement--completed the “Frontline Emergency Risk Communication” training while 64 participants completed the “PIO Refresher Course.”

“We have tremendous human resources at our Oregon counties,” said Julie Black, M.Ed., all hazards planner. “Our efforts are well-spent there to maximize our preparedness, as individual counties and as a whole state.”

If your health department or agency is interested in hosting an emergency risk communication training or would like OHA to develop a specific emergency risk communication training, please contact Kathleen Vidoloff at

Tribes and Counties that participated in trainings
Burns Paiute Tribe
Clackamas County
Columbia County
Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation
Coos County
Crook County
Gilliam County
Grant County
Harney County
Hood River County
Jackson County
Josephine County
Klamath County
Lake County
Lane County
Linn County
Marion County
Morrow County
Polk County
Sherman County
Umatilla County
Union County
Washington County
Wasco County
Burns Paiute Tribe
Yamhill County

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