Poor Communication about Anthrax, Affected Postal and Capitol Hill Workers Say

In 2002 and 2003, researchers at the RAND Corporation, Arlington, Va., conducted focus groups with postal employees and Capitol Hill staffers exposed to anthrax in an apparent bioterrorist act in October 2001.

Their goals were to determine each group's perceptions of the information they received, how those perceptions affected decisions to comply with treatment recommendations, and how communication could be improved in the future.

Key Findings

In an article, which was accepted by the American Journal of Public Health, the researchers reported the following findings:

  • Capitol Hill workers received most of their information from internal sources, including the Capitol Physician's office, while Brentwood employees cited the media as their most common source of information.
  • Workers at both locations were frustrated with information they perceived as unclear, inconsistent and frequently inaccurate.
  • Both groups mistrusted the sources of their information, but for different reasons. The mistrust among Brentwood employees reflected delays in evacuating the facility and initiating testing and treatment, and a concern that their treatment differed from that of Capitol Hill staff because of their social class and race.

    Capitol Hill employees mistrusted information sources they perceived as providing inconsistent information and being poorly organized.
  • Brentwood workers with hearing impairments cited a lack of qualified interpreters to communicate critical information.
  • Both groups indicated that neither the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) nor the District of Columbia Health Department provided useful information.
  • Vaccination rates for the two participant groups differed significantly. Three of the seven Capitol Hill focus group participants chose vaccination while only two of the 36 Brentwood participants did so.