The Ebola outbreak and its rapid spread throughout West Africa and other countries was a megacrisis that imposed numerous challenges to those communicating to nonscientific publics about the epidemic. This article examines the instructional risk messages offered in the days that followed the 2014 infection and death of Liberian national Thomas Eric Duncan in Dallas, Texas. More specifically, we apply the IDEA model for effective instructional risk and crisis communication embellished by exemplification theory to conduct a thematic analysis of messages offered locally (Dallas news stories and press releases), nationally (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Live Chat Twitter posts), and internationally (website content from the World Health Organization, the United Nations Children’s Fund, and Doctors Without Borders). Our conclusions reveal that the majority of messages offered from each organization privileged the element of explanation over internalization and action as well as negative over positive exemplification. On the basis of these conclusions, and informed by previous research, we propose a number of potential implications and recommendations for offering a balanced representation among internalization, explanation, and action as proposed in the IDEA model. We also suggest that positive exemplification could be used strategically to motivate receivers to attend to these messages (internalization), reduce potential misunderstandings (explanation), and take appropriate self-protective actions (action). Agency spokespersons and media reporters may find the conclusions and recommendations drawn from this analysis to be useful when crafting similar instructional risk preparedness and crisis response messages.



Author ORCID Identifier

Deborah Sellnow-Richmond 0000-0001-6179-0307

Deanna Sellnow 0000-0003-4668-4359