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Communicating during a disaster


The last week has seen extreme weather hitting both sides of the Atlantic, with snow in north America and rain in Britain.  Communication during such events is often critical, both at helping those in direct danger and those indirectly affected by the conditions.

Some lessons on how to do this effectively could be gleaned from an upcoming study conducted by researchers from QUT’s Centre for Emergency and Disaster Management.  It aims to understand how people assess the risks of a disaster as it’s unfolding and how that impacts their response, with the hope that such enhanced understanding can shape future communication by officials and emergency services.

A second study will then explore the capabilities these authorities require in order to both survive the ordeal and then recover as quickly as possible.

“Our aim is to partner with government agencies to design effective communication that motivates people to act to protect their lives and others’ during and immediately after a natural disaster,” lead academic on the study Professor Vivienne Tippett said.

“Because people receive warnings from each other, news and social media and the emergency services, there can be challenges about who to trust and how to behave as the natural disaster unfolds around them.

“We want to examine how people engage with emergency warnings and how psychology and the law can influence that process to guide the development of innovative digital and communication campaigns that ultimately protect lives.”

With natural disasters seeming to be occurring more frequently due to climate change, this study should be a worthwhile addition to the field of disaster response, especially due to the diverging channels by which people secure information.

The following infographic provides a nice overview of how social media has evolved in recent years, providing a number of ways to respond to natural disasters.  Produced by Rhode Island-based digital agency Creative Signals it illustrates the role social media played in three of our most recent natural disasters: the Japan tsunami, Haiti earthquake and Hurricane Sandy.


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