Risk = Hazard + Outrage

Creator of the “Risk = Hazard + Outrage” formula for risk communication, Peter M. Sandman is one of the world's preeminent risk communication speakers and consultants.

A Rutgers University professor from 1977 to 1995, Dr. Sandman founded the Environmental Communication Research Program (ECRP) at Rutgers in 1986, and was its Director until 1992. During that time, ECRP published over 80 articles and books on various aspects of risk communication. In 1995 Dr. Sandman left the university and became a full-time consultant. He received his PhD in Communication from Stanford University in 1971.

“The engine of risk response is outrage,” Dr. Sandman argues. “Sometimes the problem is too little outrage; people are apathetic, and I help my client arouse more outrage so they protect themselves. Other times the problem is too much outrage; people are excessively angry or frightened – usually because of things my client has done wrong – and I help find ways to calm the situation. Still other times, the outrage is rightly high about a genuinely serious risk, and the job is to help people bear it, sustain it, and act on it.”

An AIHA CPAG initiative recently identified key content from Dr. Sandman on business communications that will help IH and OEHS professionals better communicate risk.

Commentary: When the next shoe drops — Ebola crisis communication lessons from October (Article)

By Peter M. Sandman, PhD, and Jody Lanard, MD
CIDRAP, University of Minnesota, December 9, 2014

Audience: Public

In contrast to the Ebola crisis in West Africa, which started in late 2013 and will last well into 2015 or longer, the US "Ebola crisis" was encapsulated in a single month, October 2014. But there may well be US Ebola cases to come, brought here by travelers or returning volunteers. And other emerging infectious diseases will surely reach the United States in the months and years ahead.

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Radical Candor: Making Clean Coal More Than an Oxymoron (Article)

Published in Public Utilities Fortnightly, March 2015

Audience: C-Suite

Most promising new technologies don’t keep their promises. That’s why an even-money bet on a new technology is a dumb bet. Venture capitalists lose most of their bets, but they make money because their successes pay off at a lot better than even-money odds.

So is a given clean coal technology likelier than not to fail? Absolutely. Does that mean investing in clean coal is foolish? Absolutely not.

And yet it might be foolish after all. People who know more than I know might be able to make a convincing case that clean coal is a blind alley. But I doubt it – not because I’m especially hopeful about clean coal, but because what I’ve read about technological breakthroughs strongly suggests that it’s vanishingly difficult to predict the winners.

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Risk Communication in Practice (Audio)

Interview with Brooke Gladstone of "On the Media"; Fracking; Government Surveillance; Terrorism

Audience: C-Suite

This is an audio MP3 file, 77.6MB, 48:27 min.

Three Ways to Manage Controversies (Article)

By Peter M. Sandman

Audience: C-Suite

This is the 32nd in a series of risk communication columns I have been asked to write for The Synergist, the magazine of the American Industrial Hygiene Association. The columns appear both in the journal and on this website. This one can be found (edited for length and with minor copyediting changes) in the January 2016 issue of The Synergist, pp. 20–21.

Your organization faces a controversy – any controversy. Neighbors are worried that you might do X; employees are angry that you did Y; activists are fighting to keep you from doing Z. Maybe it’s about health, safety, or the environment; or jobs and the economy; or discrimination and social justice. Maybe all of the above.

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Vaccine Risk Communications, Interview with Peter M. Sandman (Audio)

By Richard Levick
January 13, 2021 (part of Richard Levick’s “In House Warrior” podcast series, released January 20, 2021)

Audience: C-Suite

Richard Levick runs a crisis communication consulting firm and churns out an incredible number of podcasts, including the daily “In House Warrior” series for Corporate Counsel Business Journal. Our 38-minute conversation covered some generic topics, starting with my three paradigms of risk communication and ending with my views on whether corporations should take a stand on controversies. In the middle we focused on vaccine communication: what to do about vaccination hesitation; bandwagoning versus finger-wagging; what company COVID-19 vaccination policies should be; the politicization of masks and vaccines; key messages in this dark pandemic winter; etc.

This is an audio MP3 file, 34.5MB, 37:46 min.