Improving Decon Outcomes through Understanding the Psychosocial Aspects

During incidents involving mass decontamination, members of the public will respond both to the perceived threat (the possibility of being contaminated) and the way the threat is managed (actions taken by emergency responders). It is important for Emergency Responders to understand that the way an incident is managed will affect the way members of the public respond and, ultimately, whether decontamination is conducted effectively. A particular problem can be when 'control’ management strategies (e.g. corralling people, withholding information etc.) are used. If responders attempt to forcibly control casualties, then they may perceive that responders are behaving in an unfair or illegitimate way. This in turn can lead to reduced public compliance, and even attempts to challenge responders’ authority.

We present findings from our programme of research into the effect of different responder management strategies on public experiences and behaviour during mass decontamination. Methods we used included evaluation of mass decontamination drills and exercises, an online visualisation experiment, and a mass decontamination field experiment. We found that a communication strategy which included health-focused explanations about the need for decontamination, regular updates about actions responders were taking, and sufficient practical information, resulted in increased speed and efficiency of decontamination, increased public compliance, and reduced public confusion.

Applied Psychological Sciences in Public Health England
04 October 2016 by Chelsea Robertson, Behavioural Science Team, Public Health England

Researchers from the Applied Psychological Sciences team, part of Public Health England, have developed a number of training courses based on their expert research and policy output in the area of emergency preparedness and response. Training focuses on the psychosocial aspects of emergencies and disasters and includes effective risk and crisis communication, Psychological First Aid and effective management of mass casualty decontamination.

The team can be contacted for initial consultations or to provide subject matter expertise. Their evaluation and research capabilities can also be contracted out for specific projects.

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