Although it is important to address the public’s fears and squelch unfounded rumors, it is also important not to offer too much reassurance when some amount of concern is warranted. Too much reassurance can backfire if people perceive that you are not taking their concerns seriously or not telling them the truth. The goal isn’t to give people a false sense of security—it’s to help them make decisions about their well-being.
During an emergency, people need to be concerned and vigilant, so they need a realistic understanding of the situation. Erring on the side of caution may have fewer hazards in the long run. The public is more likely to tolerate any amendments to early estimates of damage or victims if the numbers go down rather than up.
To illustrate, suppose you have to correct your earlier projections. Would you rather say that the damage is “less serious than we thought” or “more serious than we thought?”