The IDEA Model as a Best Practice for Effective Instructional Risk and Crisis Communication

Deanna D. Sellnow, Derek R. Lane, Timothy L. Sellnow, Robert S. Littlefield

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

59 Scopus citations


This study presents the IDEA (internalization, distribution, explanation, action) model as an easy-to-use and situationally generalizable framework for quickly developing effective messages instructing people on how to protect themselves before and during high-risk events, crises, disasters, and other emergencies. The model consists of four elements: helping message recipients internalize the potential impact of the risk or crisis event, identifying appropriate channels and strategies for distributing the risk or crisis event messages, offering a brief and intelligible explanation of the nature of the risk or crisis, and providing specific self-protective action steps for people to take. The model may be used to design messages in any risk, crisis, or emergency context. Through a posttest-only quasi-experimental cross-sectional research experiment, this study measured the perceived message effectiveness, cognitive understanding, and behavioral intentions of those viewing a television news story about a crisis situation employing the IDEA model compared to those viewing a similar story replicating typical crisis event news stories delivered to general publics. This comparative examination revealed that the message designed according to the IDEA model was significantly more effective than the status quo message and resulted in greater behavioral intentions to engage in appropriate self-protective actions in the event of an acute risk or crisis situation. Strategies for implementing the model are also provided.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)552-567
Number of pages16
JournalCommunication Studies
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 20 2017

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Deanna D. Sellnow (PhD, University of North Dakota, 1991) is Professor and Human Communication Program Coordinator in the Nicholson School of Communication at the University of Central Florida. Derek R. Lane (PhD, University of Oklahoma, 1996) is Associate Professor and Senior Associate Dean in the College of Communication and Information at the University of Kentucky. Timothy L. Sellnow (PhD, Wayne State University, 1987) is Professor of Communication in the Nicholson School of Communication at the University of Central Florida. Robert S. Littlefield (PhD, University of Minnesota, 1983) is Professor and Director of the Nicholson School of Communication at the University of Central Florida. Correspondence to: Deanna D. Sellnow, Nicholson School of Communication, University of Central Florida, P.O. Box 161344, Orlando, FL 32816-1344. E-mail: This manuscript is based on an earlier version presented at the annual conference of the International Communication Association, San Juan, Puerto Rico, May 21–25, 2015. This article was developed with support from the National Center for Food Protection and Defense, Grant Award Number 2007-ST-061-FD0001. The views and conclusions contained in this document are those of the authors and should not be interpreted as necessarily representing the official policies, either expressed or implied, of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The Department of Homeland Security does not endorse any products or commercial services mentioned in this publication.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 Central States Communication Association.


  • Crisis Communication
  • Disaster
  • Emergency Communication
  • Instructional Communication
  • Risk Communication
  • Warnings

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication


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