Communication and messaging are important components of an effective response to a pandemic or public health emergency and are therefore critical to pediatric preparedness. Suboptimal messaging and communication can easily exacerbate a crisis.  Messaging is important (what to say, how to say it, and who to say it to), as is the means to deliver the message.

With the wide use of smartphones and other computer technology, messages can be delivered through many different forms. Examples of such methods include social media, text messaging, YouTube videos, blogs, other websites or online tools, and apps specifically designed for topics such as tracking various aspects of disaster planning or acute issues during disasters, as well as the clean-up and follow-up in the aftermath.

In a time of crisis, the message needs to be simple, poignant, accessible and timely. Messages should come from a trusted source, be reviewed by a pediatric expert and be crafted to reassure and/or communicate concrete steps to reduce risk.

Key communication points identified by AAP members during previous pandemics included:

  • Preparedness and planning efforts should consider messaging and strategic communication as essential to response.
  • Preexisting and trusted collaborative relationships between public health and health care organizations form the basis of a strong communication system during an emergency.
  • It is important to minimize excessive, conflicting, confusing, or unnecessarily anxiety-provoking messages.
  • It is critical to ensure up front that children’s needs are specifically addressed.
  • The AAP and CDC partnership during the recent pandemic was effective.  It will be important to continue and expand a joint AAP/CDC response strategy.

Questions to Consider

  • Does the state have an emergency contact database for health professionals who care for children, such as pediatricians, pediatric care providers, and pediatric nurse practitioners?  If not, what is the first step in creating such a database to ensure communication connections between these professionals?
  • Has a strategic communication plan been created based on state, regional, and local partner input?
  • What specific strategies can be implemented at the state, regional, and local level to enhance communication and reduce information duplication or overload before, during, and after a pandemic or public health emergency?
  • Does the communication plan consider the unique needs of all children, including children and youth with special health care needs (CYSHCN) and their families?
  • What types of existing vehicles are available to communicate important messages to colleagues, patients, and families before, during, and after a pandemic or public health emergency?
  • What are some new ways to develop strategic messaging in planning for a public health emergency?
  • Can connections with child care health consultants or school nurses be enhanced to ensure accurate health information can be shared with families?
  • How can telecommunications and telemedicine strategies be leveraged to improve situational awareness and consequence management, share critical knowledge, and provide just-in-time training to enhance response during public health emergencies without power failure, and thus enable the best possible outcomes?

Tips for Working With the Media and Risk Communication

Crisis communication and messaging are important components of an effective response to a public health emergency and therefore become a critical component of preparedness efforts.  These efforts are most efficiently handled by those experienced in doing so.  However, in the event those individuals are unavailable, here are some important tips on working with the media during a pandemic or public health emergency.

  • Identify, recruit, and train pediatric subject matter experts as media spokespersons.
  • Communicate openly and honestly.
  • Engage the public.
  • Provide timely and accurate information.
  • Establish a solid (contractual, if possible) relationship with the media in advance of a pandemic or public health emergency.
  • Participate in media training.
  • Develop a list of media contacts.
  • Have a well-developed, single overriding communications objective.

Additional Information

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American Academy of Pediatrics