No matter where you work, when you get a call from your organization’s director, you answer that call.

In 1981, the organization in question was the National Science Foundation, the callee was Dr. Vincent Covello, and the result of the meeting would be nothing less than the founding of the field of risk communication.

So unfolds the case study that opens chapter four of Dr. Covello’s most recent release, Communicating in Risk, Crisis, and High Stress Situations: Evidence-Based Strategies and Practice.

In this case study, Dr. Covello shares the origins of his career. In so doing, he provides the perfect setup for a chapter exploring the history of the ever-developing field of risk, high-concern, and crisis communication.

In our last post, we previewed the third chapter in Dr. Covello’s must-have resource for risk communicators. Below, we’ll look into the fourth chapter, “Development of Risk Communication Theory and Practice.”

What You Find Within

The following are the topics covered in Dr. Covello’s book. In the section that follows, we’ll look more in depth at the fourth chapter.

  • The Critical Role of Risk, High Concern, and Crisis Communication
  • Core Concepts
  • An Overview of Risk Communication
  • Development of Risk Communication Theory and Practice
  • Stakeholder Engagement and Empowerment
  • Communicating in a Crisis
  • Foundational Principles: Perceptions, Biases, and Information Filters
  • Foundational Principles: Trust, Culture, and Worldviews
  • Best Practices for Message Development in High Concern Situations
  • Communicating Numbers, Statistics, and Technical Information about a Risk or Threat
  • Evaluating Risk, High Concern, and Crisis Communications
  • Communicating with Mainstream News Media
  • Social Media and the Changing Landscape for Risk, High Concern, and Crisis Communication

A Peek Inside Chapter 4: “Development of Risk Communication Theory and Practice”

This chapter provides an overview of risk communication, lays out the field’s basic principles, and illustrates how these principles arose from actual experience, research, and evaluation.

Dr. Covello walks readers through four stage of the field’s development:

Stage 1: Ignore the Public (prevalent until the late 1960s)
Stage 2: Explaining Risk Data Better
Stage 3: Stakeholder Engagement
Stage 4: Empowerment

As with each chapter, Dr. Covello concludes with an extensive list of resources ideal for further exploration.

In the next entry in this series, we’ll preview the fifth chapter, which details stakeholder engagement and empowerment.

Pathway Prompt: In your time in the field, have you detected any notable shifts in the ways practitioners approach risk, high-concern, and crisis communication?

Communicating Effectively When Feelings, Fears, and Facts Collide

More information about risk, high-concern, and crisis communication can be found in Dr. Covello’s video-based course Pathway to Risk, High-Concern, and Crisis Communication.

This master class introduces communicators to the tools and techniques for communicating effectively—while providing greater insight into why audiences react the way they do during times of stress.

The course comprises nine video lectures and accompanying text modules, plus supplemental materials for putting valuable lessons into practice. More information about the course, including group rates and partnering opportunities, can be found by emailing

Dr. Vincent Covello

Dr. Vincent Covello, director of the Center for Risk Communication, is one of the world’s leading experts and practitioners on risk, high-concern, and crisis communication. He is the author of more than 150 articles in scientific journals and the author/editor of more than 20 books.

Covello, Vincent T. Communicating in Risk, Crisis, and High Stress Situations: Evidence-Based Strategies and Practice. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, 2022.