Preventing, Interdicting and Mitigating the Impact of Mass Violence through Pre-event Risk Communication

The focus of the workshop will be how to prevent, build preparedness, responses and mitigate negative effects of targeted acts of mass violence through communication with the public, local communities and frontline staff in the educational system, transportation etc. More specifically, the workshop will engage with the following questions: What kinds of message content, media outlet, messenger and timing are more likely to be efficient in addressing the risk from targeted acts of (mass) violence in public spaces and to build resilience? How will target audiences respond to pre-event risk communication in terms of risk assessments, feelings of reassurance and behavioral intentions? What types of victim, survivor and bystander problem and protective behaviors need to be addressed through pre-event communication? The workshop will deal with both the threat from ideologically motivated acts of violence as well as less clearly motivated acts of violence. Core issues to be addressed include:

  • Mass violence in schools
  • Involving the public, school teachers and health professionals in reporting suspicious activity
  • Communicating to build resilience in vulnerable communities
  • Framing communications in terms of risks/security vs. care/safeguarding
  • Effectiveness of existing risk communications on deliberate acts of mass violence
  • Informing communications by identifying problem and protective behaviors looking at survivor responses
  • Learning from risk communication regarding other forms of non-deliberate disasters

The purpose of the workshop is to bring together leading scholars and practitioners in the area of resilience building, risk communication and research on mass violence for an inter-disciplinary exchange of research findings, their policy implications and future research projects and ideas. The format of the workshop will be a mix of presentations and plenary discussions in a relatively small setting of invited participants (approx. 15).

Presenter Biographies and Abstracts

David Eisenman

David Eisenman, MD, MSHS, is Professor in Residence at the David Geffen School of Medicine and the Fielding School of Public Health at UCLA, where he directs the Center for Public Health and Disasters. Dr. Eisenman is internationally recognized for his scholarly work in disasters, resilience and violence prevention. He is funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Department of Homeland Security and other federal agencies to study the fields of violence, post-traumatic stress disorder, disasters and global climate change. He has authored over one hundred peer-reviewed papers, chapters, and major reports. He has served on several national and international committees, including National Academies of Sciences committees examining public health emergencies, violence prevention and systematic reviews of disaster research. Dr. Eisenman is also an Associate Natural Scientist at RAND, where he is a member of the Human Subjects Protection Committee. Further details on his research and publications are available online at He holds a board certification in Internal Medicine and he cares for patients at the University of California, Los Angeles Medical Center.

“Seeing Things Differently, Seeing Different Things”

In this talk, I examine targeted, mass violence through three different public health lenses not often applied to the topic. First, I examine targeted, mass violence through a violence prevention lens. I describe alignments between the two fields and illustrate the conceptual and actual overlaps via the social-ecological model and current programming in Los Angeles. I find that reframing the topic as violence prevention connects it to a relevant field of research, draws in added expertise, leverages existing public health resources, offers opportunities for multi-purpose programming, a broader population reach, reduced stigma, and allows for research and evaluation. Second, I examine school shootings as a specific type of targeted, mass violence. For this topic, I apply a classic disaster risk-management framework to this national disaster. I find that applying this framework fosters consideration of policies and programs beyond the binary of American national political discourse around school shootings. Third, I examine the concept of community resilience. Community resilience to violent extremism, for instance, is a fashionable term but the multitude of its uses leads to conceptual and practical confusion. I propose a definition of community resilience to extremist violence and provide an accompanying resilience model as a necessary first step towards a scientifically credible and logically consistent theory to guide research and programs, and reliably measure and evaluate initiatives.

Julia Pearce

Dr. Julia Pearce is a Research Fellow in the Department of War Studies at King’s College London and Honorary Public Health Academic Consultant at Public Health England. Her research interests include risk and crisis communication, public health behaviour, disasters and extreme events, terrorism, social identity, social representations and moral panic. Specifically, she is interested in the impact of perceived moral, cultural and health threats on behaviour. Her recent research uses social psychological theories of risk perception and health behaviour to assess the impact of risk and crisis communication on risk perception and health behaviours, with a particular focus on extreme events and terrorism. Dr. Pearce is a Chartered Member of the British Psychological Society and a member of the Society for Risk Analysis. She sits on a number of advisory boards including the Cabinet Office National Risk Assessment Behavioural Science Expert Group as Deputy Chair, the Department of Health Pandemic Flu Communications Network Behavioural Science Advisory Sub-group and the Public Health England ERDG Psychosocial and Behavioural Issues Sub-group.

“Communicating to mitigate marauding terrorist firearms attacks”

Effective risk communication is an integral part of responding to terrorism, but until recently there has been very little pre-event communication in a European context to provide advice to the public on how to protect themselves during an attack. Following terrorist attacks involving mass shootings in Paris, France in November 2015, the UK National Police Chiefs’ Council released a ‘Stay Safe’ film and leaflet that advises the public to ‘run’, ‘hide’ and ‘tell’ in the event of a firearms or weapons attack. However, other countries including Denmark do not provide preparedness information of this kind, in large part because of concern about scaring the public. This paper presents the findings of a series of survey studies that were conducted to (a) examine the impact of ‘Run, Hide, Tell’ advice on perceptions about terrorism, the security services and intended responses to a hypothetical terrorist firearms attack (survey 1), (b) test whether adapted messages that address risky behaviours and incorporate insights from Protection Motivation Theory enhance the behavioural impact of this guidance (survey 2), and (c) whether the positive impacts of ‘Run, Hide, Tell’ guidance hold over time (one-year follow up study). Results will be discussed in relation to improving the effectiveness of pre-event communications designed to mitigate the impact of terrorist attacks involving firearms and the extent to which messages need to be adapted to take into consideration different national contexts.

Paul Thomas

Paul Thomas is Professor of Youth and Policy and Associate Dean (Research) in the School of Education at the University of Huddersfield, UK. Paul’s research focusses on how state multiculturalist policies such as ‘community cohesion’ and the Prevent counter-terrorism strategy have been understood and enacted by ground-level policy-makers and practitioners, particularly educationalists such as youth workers, community workers and teachers. It has led to the books Youth, Multiculturalism and Community Cohesion (Palgrave, 2011) and Responding to the Threat of Violent Extremism – Failing to Prevent (Bloomsbury, 2012), as well as articles in many leading journals. Paul’s recent research projects have focussed on the implementation of the ‘Prevent duty’ in English schools and colleges and on barriers to community members reporting concerns about an ‘intimate’ (a friend or family member) becoming involved in violent extremism (in collaboration with Professor Michele Grossman of Deakin University, Australia; funded through the UK’s Centre for Research and Evidence on Security Threats (CREST) /ESRC scheme).

“Community Reporting Thresholds – sharing information with authorities regarding involvement in violent extremism: Key findings of a UK replication study”

The first people to suspect or know about someone becoming involved in planning acts of violent extremism, will often be those closest to them: their friends, family and community insiders. Such individuals are ideally placed to notice any changes or early warning signs that someone is considering violent action to harm others, as well as being able to influence vulnerable younger people away from violent extremist beliefs and settings. However, whilst these ‘intimates’ have a vital role to play against potential terrorist threats and offer a first line of defence, very little is known about what reporting of the potential violent extremist involvement of an ‘intimate’ means for community members, particularly their views, experiences and concerns about approaching authorities, especially the police, when they have suspicions or knowledge to report. ‘Intimates’ reporting is a critical blind spot in current Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) thinking and strategy internationally. This paper presents key findings from a recent UK study (Thomas, Grossman, Miah and Christmann, 2017; funded by CREST), which replicated and developed the original Australian pilot study (Grossman et al, 2015) on this issue. These UK findings highlight both important issues regarding the framing, tone and content of public messaging about the prevention of terrorism, and clear respondent preferences around how, where and when they would be willing to communicate and share concerns with authorities regarding an ‘intimate’.

David Parker

Dr. David Parker is an EU Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellow at Aarhus University’s Department of Political Science. His research focuses upon anti-radicalisation communication strategies in Denmark and the UK, assessing how communication can be improved and how those individuals vulnerable to radicalisation can be more effectively reached. Prior to this he worked in the Department of War Studies at King’s College London, where his research focused on preventing, interdicting and mitigating lone-actor terrorism, as part of the EU-funded PRIME project. During his time at King’s College London, David lectured on several modules, including ‘Political Violence, Counterterrorism and Human Rights’. His work in a range of journals, including European Security and Studies in Conflict & Terrorism. In addition to his research David is an experienced counter-terrorism practitioner, with eight years of experience supporting the strategic local implementation of the UK government’s Prevent Strategy (counter-radicalisation) in West London. In this role David had responsibility for designing and delivering projects designed to counter terrorist ideology, led research project focused on local risk, designed communication and community engagement strategies and oversaw evaluation. He is also a member of the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism’s – The Hague (ICCT) Editorial Board.

“Understanding Teacher Reporting of Student Vulnerability to Radicalisation”

In a range of countries, structures to identify individuals displaying vulnerability to radicalisation rely, in part, on front-line practitioners to refer cases to the relevant safeguarding board. This is particularly so for teachers (e.g. approximately a third of referrals in the UK come from teachers) and considerable resources are used in the provision of training and materials for schools. This approach has generated debate. Some commentators and unions accuse governments of securitising the work of teachers, whilst other reports find that teachers broadly consider protecting students from radicalisation as part of their traditional safeguarding role. Whilst research has provided insight into teacher attitudes towards the Prevent Strategy and Prevent Duty (part of the UK’s wider counter-terrorism strategy), little research to date has been conducted to understand teacher reporting itself. As such, this presentation outlines a survey experiment with teachers in the UK and Denmark. Based on measuring behavioural intentions to a scenario involving a student, reporting attitudes based on TRAS (Teacher Reporting Attitude Scale) and identifying the types of training / communication received, the study adds to our understandings of the threshold for teacher reporting (i.e. the when), the reporting mechanisms used (i.e. the how) and the barriers and drivers of reporting (i.e. the why). This data will add to the academic literature on teacher reporting as well as having significant policy relevance for a range of states delivering radicalisation prevention strategies. In terms of preventing mass violence through pre-event communication, the study can provide insights around the effectiveness of early terrorism prevention strategies and the impact of communications delivered to teachers on their reporting behaviours.

Nina Blom Andersen

Nina Blom Andersen, Reader, PhD, University College Copenhagen. Nina is head of research at the Emergency and Risk Management Programme at University College Copenhagen and associate professor at the Communication Programme at Roskilde University. She has carried out research on risk and crisis management in general and incidents emergency management in particular since 2014. Her research deals with communicative dimensions of incident and crisis management. She focuses on the ways that crisis managers’ communicate to the public and how citizens and the media make sense and assess the communication from the managers. In addition to her affiliation to research institutions, she has trained and educated Danish incident commanders and crisis and emergency managers on strategical level in Danish institutions in the last 10 years.

“Paradoxes of involvement and engagement – Pre-event Risk Communication”

University College Copenhagen (previous Metropolitan University College) carries out a two-year research study on Danish public institutions’ work with emergency management, taking its point of departure in the sector of university colleges. The project holds a specific focus on the sector’s practices for working with emergency management concerning threats, violence and attacks. To begin with, a desktop study of written emergency plans from seven Danish institutions of higher education has been carried out, and currently, we do fieldwork on site on ten campuses around in Denmark concerning risk culture and awareness of emergency management plans. Methods like observations, shadowing and qualitative in depth interviews are applied in order to investigate culture and/or cultures concerning the ways safety, risk and emergency management are perceived and practiced in everyday life among both students, teachers, managerial staff and service personnel. In the work packages to come we intend to investigate how researchers and representatives from the institutions in the sector can co-produce policies, best practices and guidelines in matters of emergency management to be worked with in the future.The preliminary results of the project stress the need for the institutions to develop a stronger awareness on their strategy on how to involve all the members – students and employees – in matters of emergency planning. In their written plans, they all intend to raise awareness towards emergency matters and involve all members of the organization; though in practice this is operationalized in very different ways. So far, the fieldwork indicates that there are at least two paradoxes: Defining the degree to which the different members should be involved and which incidents the members are expected to be capable to be prepared for.

Lasse Lindekilde

Lasse Lindekilde is associate professor at the Department of Political Science, Aarhus University. He holds a PhD from the European University Institute. His research is focused on violent radicalization and the implementation and effects of counter-terrorism policies and communication. He has published more than 30 articles and book chapters in this domain. His work is interdisciplinary linking insights from political science, political sociology, criminology and social psychology. Methodologically he has published work building on both field work, survey research and experimental techniques. His research is funded by amongst others the European Commission, the MINERVA-programme and the Danish Research Council. He is currently undertaking research looking at the importance of self-uncertainty and dark personality traits in violent radicalization as well the efficiency of pre-event communication campaigns aimed at interdiction and mitigation of violent extremism.

“Encouraging the public to report suspicious behaviour: A cross national comparison of the impact of the ‘See it, Say it, Sorted’ campaign”

Terrorist attacks on public transport hubs such as railway stations continue to pose a serious threat to Western States. The impracticality of introducing airport style passenger security screening for mass transit systems makes the public co-production of security particularly important in this context. In the UK there has been a long-standing policy of using poster campaigns to encourage public vigilance to disrupt attacks (e.g. by reporting unattended items). However, the recent ‘See it, Say it, Sorted’ campaign has broadened this approach to involve the public in countering attack planning (e.g. by reporting individuals who could be recording the location of security cameras). This campaign also differs from earlier approaches by including a ‘sorted’ element, which provides reassurance that the police will take reports seriously and act accordingly. This paper presents findings from an online survey experiment conducted in the UK (n=1505) and Denmark (n=1500), which examined whether factors known to influence police cooperation for general criminality hold for public willingness to report in the context of countering terrorism. A two-stage scenario was employed to test the impact of certainty on reporting behaviours and whether the addition of ‘sorted’ information increases intention to report. By including a cross-national comparative element, this study also examined the extent to which counter-terrorism measures aimed at encouraging reporting behaviours need to be adapted to national contexts with different experiences of terrorism and different baseline levels of trust in and cooperation with the police. Results demonstrate that counter-terrorism communications can effectively encourage reporting behaviour, but highlight a number of challenges relating to the use of informal reporting channels and differences in public and security services’ understandings of what constitutes ‘suspicious behaviour’ in this context.

Benjamin Smith

Benjamin K. Smith is a fourth-year Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Communication at UC Santa Barbara, where he studies public opinion and media communication. He is also a Graduate Student Researcher at the Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies, where he studies the typology of frames used by media organizations when discussing terrorist actors and the effects of these frames on public attitudes and beliefs about terrorist organizations and the threat of terrorism. Benjamin’s research focuses on three overlapping areas: (a) how the media constructs reality and why certain constructions are chosen over others, (b) the factors influencing the way media messages are perceived and processed by individuals, and (c) the effects of these varying media constructions, in concert with personal and social factors, on the formation, updating and expression of beliefs, attitudes, and opinions. In addition to his interests in public opinion and media communication, a sizeable portion of his work has focused on research methods, with the goal of encouraging a more robust foundation for the development of social science theory.

Michael Stohl

Michael Stohl is Professor of Communication, Political Science and Global Studies at the University of California Santa Barbara, where he Directs the Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies. Dr. Stohl’s research focuses on organizational and political communication with special reference to terrorism, human rights and global relations. He is the author, co-author, editor or co-editor of 16 books and more than 100 scholarly journal articles and book chapters.  Dr. Stohl has been the recipient of numerous fellowships and awards, including the International Communication Association Applied/Public Policy Research Award for career work on State Terrorism and Human Rights in 2011 and the International Communication Association 2008 Outstanding Article Award for Stohl, C. and Stohl, M. 2007, “Networks of Terror: Theoretical Assumptions and Pragmatic Consequences” Communication Theory 47,2: 93-124

“How the Media Frames Terrorism, Extremism, and Terrorist organizations, and Why it Matters” -Benjamin Smith & Michael Stohl

This presentation is interested in exploring the construction of extremism, terrorism, and terrorist organization in the media discourse, the factors driving specific constructions, and the implications of these constructions for counterterrorism policy. We present three empirical studies investigating these issues. In study 1, we measure the average intensity of security framing in three major newspapers over the course of the Clinton, Bush, and Obama presidencies, and look at factors influencing the shift in intensity over time. We then test the effect of securitization of extremism on public perceptions of the threat from terrorism, finding that increases in the intensity of security framing artificially increase the public’s worry about becoming a victim of terrorism, all else held constant.

In study 2, we look at the relative saliency of terrorist organizations in print media, asses the relative rate of co-occurrence between FTOs, and asses the degree centrality of organizations within the semantic network of terrorism discourse. We find that Al-Qaeda and ISIS are clearly the predominate focus of terrorism coverage, serving as the anchors for the Zipfian distribution of articles mentioning different terrorist organizations. We are they have transcended their status as literal and objectively knowable entities, attaining a highly symbolic meaning in discourse. There is a socially shared conceptualization of these actors, allowing them to serve as framing devices within the broader terrorism discourse. When applied in media discourse products these entities are able to quickly communicate information about the actions of unfamiliar terrorist groups and other organizations / organizational actors. In study 3 we present the results of an experiment testing the validity of these arguments, showing that the pairing of the known with the unknown can have substantive effects on both public perceptions of the lesser known actor and indirectly on what actions the public is willing to support in combating terrorism writ large.

Steven Becker

Dr. Steven M. Becker is professor of community and environmental health in the College of Health Sciences at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia. He is a leading international expert in emergency planning, disaster preparedness and response, public health preparedness, and crisis and emergency risk communication. Dr. Becker served as a principal investigator in the Pre-Event Message Development Project, a landmark multiyear, multisite CDC-funded study aimed at improving public messaging and emergency communication for new and emerging threat agents. In follow-up studies, he examined the views, concerns, and training and information needs of hospital clinicians and other key healthcare system personnel related to radiation incidents. In other studies, he has focused on addressing information needs of vulnerable populations. Dr. Becker has also had extensive on-the-ground experience at the sites of major emergencies and disasters around the world. For example, in 2011, he was a member of a three-person emergency assistance team invited to Japan in response to the earthquake-tsunami and accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. While on scene, the team carried out a rapid situation assessment and provided training to more than 1,100 Japanese healthcare professionals and emergency responders. Dr. Becker’s work on preparedness and response, emerging threats, and risk communication has been recognized with awards from such scientific organizations as the Health Physics Society and Oak Ridge Associated Universities. In 2005, Dr. Becker was elected by his scientific peers to the Congressionally-chartered National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements. He has also been a Dozor Visiting Scholar at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel and a Visiting Fellow at the Japan Emergency Medicine Foundation and National Hospital Tokyo Disaster Medical Center. In 2012, Dr. Becker was appointed by President Barack Obama to the U.S. Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board. In 2017, Dr. Becker was named a member of the Nuclear and Radiation Studies Board of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.

“Pre-Event Message Development for Radiation Emergencies: A Review of Two New Initiatives in the U.S.”

Radiation emergencies, including potential radiological or nuclear attack scenarios, have been and continue to be a significant preparedness focus in the U.S. and around the world. Consequently, radiation emergencies have been one of the major areas of emphasis in pre-event message development efforts in the U.S. over the past 15+ years. After briefly reviewing earlier milestones in pre-event message development for radiation incidents, this presentation discusses two recent initiatives to improve pre-event messaging capabilities. The two initiatives build on previous message development work and incorporate additional research findings and lessons from real-world experience with radiation incidents. The initiatives help provide a broader and more robust set of pre-scripted emergency public safety and protective action messages and materials, enhancing the ability of agencies to prepare effective public communications prior to and during a major radiation emergency.

Michele Wood

Michele M. Wood, PhD, is Associate Professor and Vice Chair of the department of Public Health at the California State University, Fullerton. Her research interests include disaster preparedness, risk communication, HIV/AIDS among high-risk populations, and program evaluation. Dr. Wood is working with the California Office of Emergency Services to develop and test messages for the earthquake early warning system (ShakeAlert) currently being developed for the US West coast; she is a Subject Matter Expert for the USGS ShakeAlert Joint Committee for Communication, Education, and Outreach. She served as Co-Principal Investigator on the Department of Homeland Security-funded, “Comprehensive Testing of Imminent Threat Public Messages for Mobile Devices” through the START Center (Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism) at the University of Maryland; she was the quantitative lead for the study. Also in connection with the START Center, Dr. Wood played a lead role in the design and implementation of the National Survey of Disaster Experiences and Preparedness and the California Earthquake Study of Household Preparedness. She has served on multiple committees for the National Academies of Sciences examining alerts and warnings, social media, geolocation, and ethics and privacy issues.

“Designing Risk Communication for Terrorism: Issues, Challenges, and Opportunities”

Although much has been learned about full-text public warning messages, less is known about how to write effective short messages for mobile devices, particularly for imminent threat events such as terrorism. This knowledge gap is further complicated by lack of understanding of the role text messages play in modern public warning systems. In this talk I will integrate findings from multiple studies funded by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, the National Science Foundation, and the California Office of Emergency Services. The various project sought to determine how the contents of imminent threat messages delivered over mobile communication devices — including those for active shooter and radiological hazard events — can be optimized to motivate people to take protective action. The implications of this research for terrorism preparedness campaigns are discussed, as well as the design of social marketing and preparedness campaigns that communicate actionable risk.

Stevan Weine

Stevan Weine M.D. is Professor of Psychiatry and Director of Global Medicine at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine. For 25 years he has been conducting research both with refugees and migrants in the U.S. and in post-conflict countries, focused on mental health, health, and countering violent extremism. He leads an active, externally funded research program which has been supported by multiple federal, state, university, and foundation grants, from 1998 to the present, all with collaboration from community partners. Weine is author of When History is a Nightmare: Lives and Memories of Ethnic Cleansing in Bosnia-Herzegovina (Rutgers, 1999) and Testimony and Catastrophe: Narrating the Traumas of Political Violence (Northwestern, 2006).

“Gatekeeper Training and Deploying Mental Health Resources for Preventing Targeted Violence”

Preventing violence, including ideologically motivated violence, depends upon better engaging and mobilizing civil society including community advocates, community based organizations, and mental health and health professionals. This presentation considers the use of a gatekeeper model for building community resilience to targeted violence (including ideologically inspired violence) which is currently being developed in Chicago through a collaboration led by the Illinois Criminal Justice Authority and funded by the DHS CVE Grant Program. This approach draws upon gatekeeper strategies that have been utilized in suicide prevention. It provides training to community gatekeepers to increase community capacities to promote well-being and public safety by identifying potential warning signs and connecting individuals with appropriate resources. It aims to empower participants to teach others about the information and strategies learned. It centers on three key components: 1) Notice—What should I look or listen for? 2) Identify—What is concerning enough to prompt action? 3) Act—What are my options for action and how do I do it? For the gatekeeper model to be successful will also require the active involvement of mental health resources which have traditionally not been involved in violence prevention without a criminal justice system response. Challenges and opportunities for engaging mental health resources will also be discussed. Success in all these dimensions very much depends upon developing effective communication strategies, including with the public, media, community advocates, service organizations, and practitioners.

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