Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, there have been multiple others terror attacks on transportation and critical infrastructure including the 2004 Madrid train bombings, 2005 London bombings and 2006 Mumbai train bombings and therefore sufficient reason to believe that public transportation and critical infrastructure remain at risk in the United States. Title 6 U.S.C. § 1112 – Authorization of the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response (VIPR) teams authorizes the program to “augment the security of any mode of transportation at any location within the United States”.
The VIPR program’s mission is [was, webpage now removed] to “promote confidence in and protect our nation’s transportation systems through targeted deployment of integrated TSA assets utilizing screening and law enforcement capabilities in coordinated activities to augment security of any mode of transportation” (TSA.gov Website, 2013 until removed). The methods that are authorized by Title 6 U.S.C. § 1112, and employed by VIPR are examples of what the general public can expect during an incident or emergency. For the objectives of this article, all security teams, agents and government agencies could effectively issue risk communications and benefit from this strategy and the term Agency is refers to these collectively.
The activities discussed introduce an element of unpredictability to combat terror activities due to its random application and classified status. As a result, travelers who may come into contact with security personnel unexpectedly may react with confusion or shock. This scenario is a source of risk, conflict and confusion that warrants explanation and proper risk communication procedures to avoid fear, panic, and public resistance.
This article presents an example of a risk communications strategy that could be used in scenarios of similar nature, to inform and educate members of the general public, private and non-governmental organizations, domestic and international travelers and public officials.
Risk Communication Methodology
The Elaboration Likelihood Model (ELM) of persuasion developed by Richard E. Petty and John Cacioppo (1986) was used to design this example risk communication strategy, incorporating attitude certainty and the theory of changing minds . Using the Model of Source Characteristics , it was determined who would deliver the message and how the message should be structured so that it is perceived to be credible, attractive and exert the appropriate amount of power and influence, as Kelman describes.
Two routes of communication, central and peripheral, were selected to reach the majority of stakeholders in a short to medium time-frame. Long-term communication strategies will be employed regularly and security measures will be publicized repetitively using social media, placards, public meetings and feedback channels.
The message was evaluated using a self-assessment checklist inspired by the 7 R’s of Changing Minds for continual review and improvement.
This risk communication strategy serves as a reference guide when releasing information externally, and to describe how an Agency intends to communicate with stakeholders. The plan addresses stakeholder needs (see Figure A1, Stakeholder Analysis) including those that are responsible for making decisions about communication changes as a result of feedback or public reaction to the information that was received. Stakeholders are considered anyone who perceive themselves to be affected by the communication or the activities of the agent’s program, including terror groups. Extreme caution must therefore be exercised when making decisions about stakeholder communication because terror groups are highly likely to monitor the messages.
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation in their Passenger Travel Facts and Figures, passengers traveled 55,169 million miles in 2012 alone . According to the U.S. Department of Transportation 5% of Americans use public transit, including buses and trains, for commuting to the workplace and back home . Compared to air travel via airports this is a relatively small number, however these figures do not account for the amount of vehicular and pedestrian traffic in and around bus stops, railway and metro stations.
Stakeholders are local police, transit authorities and mainstream media, domestic and foreign travelers who use the public transportation system in the United States, the private sector within the vicinity of stations, as well as local law enforcement agencies.
It should be recognized that, however undesirable, organized terrorist’s organizations and individuals are external stakeholders and are recipients of the communication strategies. Caution is therefore required and it would be useful for the communication strategy to consider a message specifically targeting terrorists. After all, security activities will only deter terrorists from attacks if they know that it increases the risk of their interdiction. This knowledge may be delivered effectively if the Agency plans accordingly.
Communication plans are aimed at avoiding conflict and to defuse concerns raised by certain stakeholder groups, and to increase concern for external groups such as terrorists. This article outlines a sample strategy and tactics developed according to the central and peripheral communications routes defined previously. These plans must always be executed in compliance with all applicable local and federal laws & regulations, and in congruence with other relevant risk management policies. Figure 1 outlines the stakeholder analysis that was performed and divides the stakeholders into central and peripheral groups that will each receive the message from different media, based on their profile.
Consideration of Human Factors
Human factors in risk communications are essentially about people, their perceptions and behaviors. Perceptions are always changing and must be considered as messages are developed. Not all stakeholders are likely to engage or able to receive messages using the same medium. Messages should be repeated and presented in multiple formats, using multiple mediums so that it stimulates reflection within the vast array of perspectives. Reflection and discussion among recipients are needed both for stakeholders to learn from each other when conversing about the topic, but also for the Agency to learn and improve its own processes.
Risk communication should be aimed at managing the uncertainty that a change in circumstances, in this case discussions about security responses or the incident itself, brings about. People’s perceptions are what they believe to be true. This perception influences how people behave and how they make decisions.
Technology in the 21st century has a significant impact on how people perceive an incident response, interact with each other and respond to emergencies. For example social media that facilitates conversations between people in remote locations, and can spark community engagement, has become paramount to a successful risk communications strategy. Using technology to provide real-time access to conversations that influences people’s perceptions can become an Agency’s most valuable asset. For these reasons it is crucial that the Agency understands human factors in delivery and reception when communicating about its security activities.
Message Objectives – Example
The following message objectives were defined to target specific communications criteria of the central and peripheral groups, prior to developing the message itself.
Communications Tools and Tactics – Examples
Central Stakeholder Group
The following channels of communication have been identified to address the needs and concerns of stakeholders within the central stakeholder group.
Caution: Terror groups are included in the central stakeholder group and mass communications cannot be filtered by recipient motives. Messages must therefore take into consideration social engineering tactics that may be employed by individuals to obtain additional information. Agencies must prepare accordingly and expect that individuals from terror groups will be participating.
- In order to maintain credibility, trust and confidence in the message, it is important that the message is delivered directly by the Agency’s official spokesperson. The Agency will typically publish a message on its website and immediately hold a press conference to start a dialogue. The central group is likely to seek out information about their travel destination before or during their trip from mainstream media where this type of information is routinely published. Mainstream media will therefore serve as the primary vehicle to deliver the message to the central stakeholder group. Following the press release, the media will investigate and report on the topic which should reach the intended recipients.
- Information will be provided to all transportation authorities and posted by means of placards, warnings and notifications, and in multiple languages, to travelers at bus and train stations. Passenger announcements will inform passengers periodically that they may be selected randomly for additional screening and searches. Messages must be drafted carefully so that passengers are not confused or bewildered by the announcement.
- One-on-one passenger communication tactics will only be available at the local transit authority information desk. Only a trained Agency representative may conduct a conversation with an individual and must maintain physical records all such discussions properly for management review and continual improvement, and in a format that is appropriate and complies with all privacy policies and regulations.
- Open consultations are scheduled with stakeholders from the central group only. Consultations should be a comprehensive and timely two-way dialogue between the Agency and its central stakeholders. A consultative team-approach is used so that the basis of decisions and reasons for specific actions are understood by all party representatives. This involves sharing and receiving information about threats to safety and security of travelers, protecting local businesses within, or near train and bus stations, and raising awareness of the Agency’s security measures.
Peripheral Stakeholder Group
The following channels of communication have been identified to address the needs and concerns of stakeholders within the group.
- Social media will be the primary vehicle to deliver information to the peripheral group because the nature of this media is effective in connecting vastly different groups with each other. Interactive media channels such as Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook are designed to deliver brief messages, illustrations, graphics and video information to its users. [themeone_highlight txtcolor=”accent-color2″ bgcolor=”second-bgcolor”]The peripheral group is unlikely to seek out this information but may be tempted to read it if it was embedded within daily updates[/themeone_highlight]. These sources of information can easily be shared between users and commentary can be monitored to measure the rate of message reception, attitude toward the content, and varying perceptions of the recipients.
It should be expected that the dialogue between the Agency and its central and peripheral stakeholders will be continuous. The media will scrutinize the subject as long as there is sensational appeal or perceived public interest in it. Therefore, two-way communication must take place at every stage of the risk communication, and overall risk management process. Stakeholders, procedures, delivery and receipt effectiveness should be subject to monitoring and revision. Continuous dialogue between the Agency and its stakeholders contributes substantially to effective governance and will maintain trust and respect for the Agency’s efforts to secure the public transportation system. It is imperative that the basis for decisions about risk is understood by the officials that are responsible for implementing security measures, including transit authorities and local police.
Message Self-Evaluation using the Changing Minds Theory
A simplified version for changing minds was applied to formulate the press release and forms a basis for communicating complex content to potentially resisting recipients. Gardner’s model suggests that [themeone_highlight txtcolor=”accent-color2″ bgcolor=”second-bgcolor”](a) reason is applied, (b) research is provided, (c) the message resonates with the audience, (d) re-description is used to reformat the positioning of the facts, (e) rewards (or penalties) are offered and (f) real-world events are used to familiarize the audience with the issue[/themeone_highlight].
- Re-description was employed to re-position the fact that the new security measures are random, intrusive search and screening activity. Instead the security team should be seen to serve as stealthy guardians of public infrastructure and instill confidence rather than anxiety. Re-description was also used to address the need for additional security measures as an ingenious counterbalance to combat calculating criminal and terrorist dispositions.
- The message appeals to people because there is strength in unity against an adversary or enemy. Nobody wants a terror attack to occur on a train or bus in their city, let alone a vehicle that they are using daily to commute to work. The notion that there is an elite force that is guarding our infrastructure is attractive.
- Sufficient research is provided to position an idea without providing too much technical information that the majority of the audience may not be able to or willing to process .
- Given the increase of terror activity since 2000 and frequency of successful terror attacks, the enhanced security measures message is reasonable considering the research that was provided.
- The recent real-world terror examples that are given in the message instill a sense of urgency to the message and increases the attitude certainty of the audience’s perception.
- The rewards are subtly implied by referencing secure and safe passage on public transit vehicles within the United States.
Monitoring, Review and Feedback
Once the press release was received by the media, it will be the responsibility of the Agency’s public affairs office to monitor the media response and the public reaction resulting from media attention. A variety of outcomes could be expected ranging from right to privacy and freedom objections and the possibility of unfair profiling. The Agency’s public relations office should be ready to respond with appropriate feedback about the element of unpredictability in the random selection of travelers.
Transit authority feedback indicators.
The transit authorities and Agency officials will collect feedback from transport stations using a system that records all discussions, questions and answers that were given to concerned parties. These must be aggregated and reported to management for review, analysis and appropriate stakeholder engagement via feedback groups.
Social networking indicators.
The Agency should recognize the power and influence that technologies have on culture. It cannot ignore technological advancement in society, and are therefore leveraging these in our communication strategy as both a vehicle to reach the peripheral stakeholder group, and a tool to measure, monitor and review the effectiveness of our communication tactics. Even if the Agency does not use social networking features they may still be exposed to positive and negative, and unintended communication about the enhanced security measures. This information must be monitored continuously because it is a source of information and a two-way written dialogue. The change in opinions can be measured and used for cause analysis, lessons learned, stakeholder monitoring and analysis.
Continual Improvement and Action Items
Continuous communication breaks down barriers between stakeholder groups, which is beneficial to reach the peripheral group and the central group to spread the message organically. Social networking makes risk conversations fluid and allows corrective messaging to occur when the flow is interrupted or becomes muddled. Content delivery can be personalized and is recommended to reach the maximum number of stakeholders in the peripheral group. In addition, questions that are raised by a stakeholder can be answered by the most credible and influential person and observed by others contributing to Agency’s organizational learning processes.
Annex: Stakeholder Analysis
Press Release – Example
“Terrorism is a growing threat to the United States and the world. There were 2,753 incidents recorded between 2000 and 2013. Over the 14 year period from January 1, 2000 to December 31, 2013, a staggering 672% increase in the frequency of terror incidents (University of Maryland, n.d.).
As the spokesperson of the Agency, I Mr. Agent, have been called to task to keep the public informed about the successes that we have had in combating the threat of terrorism. I am personally vested and therefore also concerned about the safety of the people, our children, and their future. The Agency is responsible for ensuring safety and security within our borders, at all public transit points and nearby public spaces. Because terrorists and criminals have access to the same technological advancements that citizens do, the Agency must practice and renew its capabilities with the same cunning rigor that adversaries apply to further terror.
It has become essential that we introduce a level of uncertainty to thwart terrorist activities before they occur. This calls for an elite security task force that is dispatched to any transportation and transit points including bus and train stations. To do so, we have developed enhanced security measures to protect the infrastructure that enable our economy. In their presence, we shall not fear intimidation nor terror. These measures were designed to deter terrorists from planning an attack on our transport systems and provide our citizens with the comforting knowledge that custodians are safeguarding their daily commute.
Our citizens are fortunate to enjoy the privilege of having a program that protects our infrastructure and our way of life.”
– Example only