Step 4: Develop and Pretest Communications Plan and Materials

Insight generated from the research and the mental models analysis enabled the Project Team to develop a focused Communications Plan about CO safety in the home that reinforced what homeowners knew and addressed the gaps in their knowledge and their misperceptions. The Project Team first developed the communications goals and the strategic objectives of the communications plan, the key communities of interest as recipients of the communications and potential partners who could assist in maximizing the reach of the communications, the critical message platforms, and actions to be taken by TSSA and the Carbon Monoxide Safety Association (CMSA) to implement these communications. This communication strategy was presented to TSSA’s social marketing and advertising agency along with potential measurements of the success of these communications.

Communication Goal and Strategic Objectives

A clear statement of the communications goal and strategic objectives is necessary to define the scope of the Communications Strategy and ensure that the Project Team has a shared understanding of the goals and objectives. The Project Team identified the following Communication Goal:

To improve homeowners’ ability (and that of other Communities of Interest) to minimize risks associated with CO exposure through strategic communication designed to enable well-informed risk decision making on their part.

Table 12.2 The mental models assessment summarizes what homeowners know that is correct, what they don’t know that’s consequential, what they might misunderstand, what they want to know, and who they trust

Interviewees’ understanding of CO safety in the home

Interviewees Know:

The furnace and fireplace are sources of CO in the home

Damaged or malfunctioning equipment or lack of servicing will increase the likelihood of CO production

Proper ventilation will reduce the concentration of CO in the home

Service people have the expertise to maintain fuel-burning equipment

The importance of regular maintenance of fuel-burning equipment (a perception held especially by women)

Symptoms of CO exposure are fatigue and nausea

The presence of CO can be detected by a CO detector, or if residents experience such symptoms as headaches and nausea

Interviewees Don’t Know

Homeowners are required by law to regularly maintain their fuel-burning equipment and appliances

CO affects everyone in a household (as opposed to only those thought to be most susceptible like children and the elderly)

People with heart conditions are especially at risk

CO is a product of all combustion

CO detectors need to be replaced after a period of time

What action to take first if the CO detector alarm is activated

Exposure to high concentrations of CO can cause brain damage

Interviewees May Misunderstand:

CO is heavier than air

That furnaces and fireplaces are not the only potential sources of CO in the home

Newer, high-efficiency fuel-burning equipment still requires maintenance

The gas water heater is a possible source of CO in the home. Often, people assumed that since it was a rental, the gas company automatically maintained it

That if the CO detector goes off, homeowners should not seek out the source to shut down the equipment. They should call an expert

What the CO detector is indicating, for example, it is not likely an indicator of a faulty detector

Children and the elderly are most at risk

Respiratory problems are a side-effect of CO exposure, affecting everyone

Interviewees Want to Know:

The risk of CO and the health impacts

The steps to take, if it was detected in their home

Consumer reports about various CO detectors and their reliability

Interviewees Trust:

The Gas Company

The Fire Department

In order to achieve the communications goal, the Project Team identified several

strategic objectives:

  • • Building on the work of the Carbon Monoxide Safety Association, establish TSSA as a catalyst within a network of partners and allied interests for improved CO risk communication.
  • • Building synergistic communications strategies across the network.
  • • Developing and pretest communications about CO to ensure accurate and consistent treatment of the subject by all partners.
  • • Providing model (and pretested) communications tools/ support materials for use by network partners and their employees, as well as with Communities of Interest.
  • • Maximizing the reach, effectiveness, and impact of the communication initiatives.
  • • Ensuring the communication strategy is sustainable and maximizes the return on investment (funding and resources) of TSSA and its partners.
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