Skip to main content.

Communication Channels

Now think about how you will get your key messages to your target audience. Think about what communication channels each target audience uses and where they get their information. Also consider the characteristics of the communication channel:

  • How much detailed information can it convey?
  • How many people can it reach at once?
  • How easily can people access the information via this channel?
  • Which channel do you think would work best to express the tone of your key message?

What Would You Do?

A winter storm with record-setting wind speeds knocks out electrical power to over a million residents in your county. As people remain without power, hospitals report unprecedented numbers of patients with carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning, a few of whom have died from the poisoning. As a public health worker, how would you inform people about the dangers of CO poisoning, especially immigrant groups?

What They Did

In December 2006, a storm with record-setting wind speeds knocked out electrical power to 1.5 million residents in King County, Washington. As the power outages wore on, local hospitals saw an unprecedented number of patients with carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning, and eight people died from the poisoning. Nearly all of those affected were from immigrant groups who had come from warm climates where homes had open ventilation, and they were bringing their charcoal grills indoors for heat and cooking.

In this conversation, Robin Pfohman of Public Health - Seattle & King County and Mohamed Ali explain how the health department has improved communication to immigrant groups by working more closely with members of the community.

The 2006 wind storm taught us that we needed to develop better relationships with particularly the refugee and immigrant community, but also all community-based organizations. And so we developed a community communication network that established connections to the community organizations and the refugee and immigrant groups. It includes email contact information, after-hour emergency contact information as well as telephone information, so that we have easy access to many key organizations. And we have also developed more in-depth relationships with particular refugee or immigrant groups. The Somali community, as you well know, is one of those groups. And I think that's what, that partnership—that relationship, helped inform what happened during the snow storm of 2012, and the robocalls that you were able to do in your community. Can you talk a little bit about that Mohamed?
So yeah, so that response was really well done. And it was, luckily, it was not planned. It was not a resource that we desired, or that we had. But, since I knew 2006 what happened, and I was also really concerned about those kinds of disparity whether it is in response in disasters or in health in general. But, 2012, when I got those emails that you sent out and I got, especially when you called me about that possibility of tonight the storm might hit in this area. So I really took it seriously and I went to the Abu-Bakr mosque. I knew there was a big congregation there and I wanted to convince them to pass that information to the people who attended that prayer. And then eventually we decided to put, to craft, a message using the template of the public health including my personal information there, so people have that kind of immediate person to call when that thing takes place. There's a system they do have. People call in to find out the prayer times or what's going on when the event starts coming up.
Did you know that that mechanism, that robocall mechanism, existed? Were you already thinking that that’s what you wanted to do to get the word out?
I knew that it existed, but I didn't know that I will, because I never knew that they will allow me to use that service because they do it for religious purpose. And now I'm trying to say something that is kind of a little contradicting to their beliefs.
Right, a forecast.
Because a forecast, I’m trying to forecast something, and I believe there’s a chance of it happening. But at the same time, when it comes to that, people who have no clue what you are talking about, in terms of prevention, about something that’s not going to happen. So then, yeah, my main challenge was to convince them. But I was using the 2006 what happened, those in the incident, the carbon monoxide poisoning, and then the impact it had in our community. And also I was using other disparities that exist, to bring them to their attention.
Do you think that that message saved people's lives in the Somali community?
It did really. It did, it worked out. I don't want to say, and I can't say because of this kind of different culture, the way we reason is you can't even claim that you saved someone, but in terms of comparing the data, so if we have zero incidents in this time, really we did some good work.

Community members affected by the snow called the mosque, which rented two four-wheel-drive vehicles and transported people to family and friends who did have power. The mosque also sheltered several families, bringing in food from a local Somali restaurant. This event strengthened the relationship between Public Health - Seattle & King County and broadened the Somali community’s thinking about what their role was in an emergency.