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Principles for collaborative risk communication: Reducing landslide losses in Puerto Rico

Jocelyn West, PhD Student, Lindsay Davis, MS, Raquel Lugo Bendezú, BSc, Yahaira D. Álvarez Gandía, BSc, K. Stephen Hughes, PhD, Jonathan Godt, PhD, Lori Peek, PhD


Landslides are frequent and damaging natural hazards that threaten the people and the natural and built environments of Puerto Rico. In 2017, more than 70,000 landslides were triggered across the island by heavy rainfall from Hurricane María, prompting requests by local professionals for landslide education and outreach materials. This article describes a novel collaborative risk communication framework that was developed to meet those requests and shaped the creation of a Spanish- and English-language Landslide Guide for Residents of Puerto Rico. Collaborative risk communication is defined here as an iterative process guided by a set of principles for the interdisciplinary coproduction of hazards information and communication products by local and external stakeholders. The process that supports this form of risk communication involves mapping out the risk communication stakeholders in the at-risk or disaster-affected location—in this case Puerto Rico—and collaborating over time to address a shared challenge, such as landslide hazards. The approach described in this article involved the formation of a core team of government and university partners that expanded in membership to conduct collaborative work with an informal network of hazards professionals from diverse sectors in Puerto Rico. The following principles guided this process: cultural competence, ethical engagement, listening, inclusive decision making, empathy, convergence research, nested mentoring, adaptability, and reciprocity. This article contributes to the field of risk communication and emergency management by detailing these principles and the associated process in order to motivate collaborative risk communication efforts in different geographic and cultural contexts. While the work described here focuses on addressing landslides, the principles and process are transferable to other natural, technological, and willful human-caused hazards. They may also serve as a roadmap for future partnerships among government agencies and university researchers to inform the cocreation of science education and outreach tools.


Hurricane María, natural hazards, landslides, collaborative risk communication, science education, public outreach, convergence, interdisciplinary teamwork

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