PR for People Monthly December 2014 - Page 13

The American public has a sort of attention deficit disorder when it comes to risk,” said Annie Searle. She was talking over coffee about the public’s reactions to the self-proclaimed Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS or ISIL), and the threat of Ebola.

Searle, the principal of her own risk advising company, a lecturer at the University of Washington and the author of Advice from a Risk Detective, knows a thing or two about managing risk. Among a long line of accomplishments, she led Washington Mutual Bank’s programs in crisis management, continuity of operations, risk management and change management until it was absorbed by JP Morgan Chase in the Great Recession.

“If you seriously thought that you might become infected, you would still have a much better shot in America of recovering from it than anywhere else,” she explained. As of late November 2014, only two of the 10 people treated for Ebola in the U.S. have died, and in both of those cases, intensive treatment didn’t start until they were quite advanced.

“When it comes to the flu, which kills many more people than Ebola, people could just manage their risk by getting a flu shot,” she said. “Even if you do get it, the chances are it would be much less impactful and certainly of a shorter duration.”

ISIS worries her, but for a different reason than most people say: The “extremely sophisticated marketing campaign” the Islamic State is waging.

“They even have giveaways, so you might get a t-shirt,” Searle said. “It’s packaged in a commercial fashion, but the idea is to appeal to extremely disenfranchised people who have very little hope of ever getting out of the situation they’re in now. What’s totally astounding is they’re attracting young women.”

Searle said that what we fear most are not the greatest threats but the ones that make us feel the most helpless. When an issue like the racial unrest in Ferguson, Mo., comes up, she said, it “becomes a focus for anxiety that’s present for other reasons, and it magnifies them.”

The nightly media coverage on the network news, CNN and Fox is also partly to blame. “Issues we should pay attention to get made into dire predictions, and with certainty,” she said.

Her prescription? Do what you can about the things you can, and keep the things you can’t in proper perspective.

Words of Wisdom from

the ‘Risk Detective’ Annie Searle on

Ebola, ISIS, race

and the country’s risk-induced


By Manny Frishberg