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Risk Communication Workshop Cultivates Collaboration with Medical Services of U.S. Armed Forces

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PORTSMOUTH, Va. (NNS) -- The Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center (NMCPHC) hosted a three-day public health risk communication and media workshop at the Naval Medical Center Portsmouth, Virginia, March 26 - 28.

The goal of the workshop was to develop the communications planning and execution skills of military and civilian personnel working across multiple medical services within the U.S. Armed Forces regarding issues that could impact those stakeholders affected by their command's mission, both crisis and non-crisis.

"At the end of the day, whether it is a local food-borne illness outbreak, a global infectious disease outbreak such as Ebola, or a safe drinking water issue, it all boils down to health," said Dr. Paul Gillooly, environmental programs, NMCPHC. "People want to know whether they have been exposed, what their risk is, how does it affect their health, their families' health, and will that exposure cause illness and disease later in life."

In accordance with the current Defense Health Agency (DHA) initiative to identify efficiencies in delivery of risk communication products and services, the course facilitated collaboration among personnel from across Navy, Marine Corps, Army, Air Force and Coast Guard medical services.

"Even though our group has identified a significant shortfall in risk communication experts and training across each service, as a group we decided to open up a limited number of seats in the formal training we offer to the other services to better leverage those training opportunities worldwide," said Gillooly, chair of the DoD DHA Risk Communication Working Group.

The training was well-received by attendees, including Cmdr. Greg Fairchild, one of several Navy radiation health officers (RHOs) who deal with stakeholders who aren't familiar with radiation on a daily basis.

"There are so many misconceptions about radiation that risk communication is nearly an everyday activity for RHOs," said Fairchild. "The training and tools provided in this class are key to being effective in our communications."

To effectively communicate key messages to a larger audience of stakeholders in-person and in-writing, risk communicators must be acutely aware of risk perception factors, how people decide something is a risk, and the extent to which they decide that risk affects them personally.

"Otherwise we run the risk of escalating, instead of de-escalating, a health risk issue," said Gillooly.

Lessons in the workshop included role-playing exercises to help attendees strengthen their communications skills.

"The course offers effective lessons and real-life scenarios to practice communication techniques with engaging instructors," said Cmdr. Harold Hurst, chief of environmental health branch, Health, Safety and Work-Life Service Center, U.S. Coast Guard. "Participants improve all their communication abilities, not only in a professional capacity for internal and external organization success, but also for their personal life."

"Risk communication is invaluable in Public Health and we need to practice regularly to ensure we maintain the skills to communicate our messages well," said Col. Monica Selent, headquarters Air Combat Command Langley, U.S. Air Force. "This course did a great job in teaching these skills and building on them by practicing in many different scenarios any of us would encounter."

In addition to Gillooly, the workshop training team included Mr. Bill Stover, environmental programs, NMCPHC, and Keith Fulton and Sandy Martinez, president and CEO, respectively, of Fulton Communications, all of whom possess decades of experience in the field of communications consulting and training.

"This course helps participants connect to their audiences using effective risk communication tools and principles," said Debra Colbeck, health risk communicator, Army Public Health Command. "I would highly recommend this course to anyone looking to improve communications and stakeholder relationships."

"Our goal is to build a network of Navy environment, safety and health scientists who can, on a daily basis, develop strategies to help ensure people get the information they need when they need it and in a format they can easily understand," said Martinez. "This will help build and maintain trust and credibility, resolve conflict and ensure the long-term success of our Navy organizational goals."

In addition to conducting this workshop, NMCPHC is also available to conduct executive risk communication briefs and site and topic-specific training for environment, safety and health projects.

More information about products, services and downloads are available at the NMCPHC webpage:

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