The COVID-19 pandemic has presented risk communicators with challenges that shift nearly every hour. Few organizations have been as involved in COVID communications as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

How do these organizations view risk communication?

From the WHO website, risk communication is the “exchange of real-time information, advice and opinions between experts and people facing threats to their health, economic or social well-being. The ultimate purpose of risk communication is to enable people at risk to take informed decisions to protect themselves and their loved ones.”

Furthermore, the WHO site states that risk communication “uses many communications techniques ranging from media and social media communications, mass communications and community engagement. It requires a sound understanding of people’s perceptions, concerns and beliefs as well as their knowledge and practices. It also requires the early identification and management of rumours, misinformation and other challenges.”

On its “Risk Communication” page, the CDC says the following:

“Virtually every day, crisis and emergency risk communication is needed somewhere in public health. Whenever a crisis occurs, communicators must be ready to provide information to help people make the best possible decisions for their health and well-being. This must be done in rapid timeframes and without knowing everything about the crisis.”

In his video-based course Pathway to Risk, High-Concern, and Crisis Communication, world-renowned communication specialist Dr. Vincent Covello defines risk communication as the “sharing and exchange of information among interested parties about the nature, magnitude, significance, or control of a risk.”

As Dr. Covello explains, this information can be conveyed through a variety of channels, including fact sheets, websites, media reports, social media posts, warning labels, public meetings, and public hearings.

Pathway Prompt: How do you define risk communication? Does your definition differ in any way from the above? Where do you turn for risk-related information?

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. Dr. Covello is a consultant, writer, and teacher. He is a frequent keynote speaker and has conducted communication skills training for thousands.


World Health Organization:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: