Reply of January 22, 2014 from Barbara Reynolds, CDC Public Affairs Director

From: Reynolds, Barbara S. (CDC/OD/OADC)
January 22, 2014

Dear Dr. Davis, Ms. Parke and Ms. Petersen,

Your January 20th letter is a welcome reminder that the response to a crisis, at every stage and in every facet of the response, counts. You state, on behalf of the Society of Environmental Journalists and the Society of Professional Journalists, that we short-changed our media response while tackling other aspects of the response, including supporting our local and state public health partners.

After the chemical leak was identified, the fix to eliminate the initial risk to the public was pretty straightforward—stop using the water. However, there was valid uncertainty in determining how to return the community back to normal and we should have communicated this uncertainty better.  It is that uncertainty that fosters heightened concern by the public, their representatives in the media, and by public health scientists and emergency responders.

We agree that early, complete and on-the-record information released to the public through the media and directly by concerned leaders in their community is the best way to foster confidence by community members in evolving health recommendations. This includes timely and direct communication even when we may not readily have answers to the very questions the public want answered.  Crises of this type create complex questions that deserve thoughtful, consistent, and timely answers.

I wish I could say that all of the competing needs were met immediately during this response by all members involved, but that is not true. We share your sense of urgency and commit to examining our processes to fulfill our commitment to good public health.  We will continue to work to reach that critical balance between accuracy and timely release of information the public expects and needs to protect their health.

Sincerely,
BR

Barbara Reynolds, Ph.D.
Director
Division of Public Affairs