While risk communication often serves as an umbrella term, it is also useful to examine the more specific areas of crisis and high-concern communication.

In the following post, the Pathway team takes a closer look at crisis communication, addressed further in world-renowned risk communicator Dr. Vincent Covello’s video-based course Pathway to Risk, High-Concern, and Crisis Communication.

Definition of Crisis Communication

A subset of risk communication, crisis communication communicates risk information before, during, and after a crisis.

As noted by Heath and O’Hair in Handbook of Risk and Crisis Communication, crisis communication is the sharing and exchange of information about a risk.

Further, crisis communication is the sharing and exchange of risk information about an event that characteristically

• is abrupt.

• exceeds the expectations of those affected.

• disrupts normal processes.

• places nonroutine and unique demands on individuals and responding organizations.

• produces high amounts of uncertainty.

• challenges organizational performance.

• poses a significant chance of harm or loss to individuals and organizations.

Crisis communication involves multiple messages during the many phases of a crisis, from prevention to response and recovery.

Crisis communication includes messages about the nature of a crisis, and it also includes messages that are not strictly about the crisis. These include legal and institutional arrangements for crisis management.

The Goal of Crisis Communication

The goal of crisis communication is to reduce exposures to risks through individual, group, or institutional action before, during, and after a crisis.

Crisis communicators evaluate the effectiveness of their communications by measuring perceived safety, calm, connectedness, hope, and self- and group efficacy.

From the onset of the crisis itself and continuing through the crisis, risk communication goals shift from the more general risk communication goals of dialogue and the exchange of information to the more specific risk communication goal of providing protective guidance.

What Pieces of Information Do Crisis Communicators Share?

During a crisis, crisis communicators share instructional messages about crisis-related issues, including information about

1. what people can or should do to protect themselves and that which they value.

2. the location of and access to crisis resources.

Pathway Prompt: What type of communications do you find yourself addressing most often?

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 info@pathwaycommunication.com.

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.


Heath, R., and O’Hair, D., eds. (2009). Handbook of Risk and Crisis Communication. New York: Routledge.