How people seek information when their community is in a disaster

Ryan, Barbara ORCID: (2011) How people seek information when their community is in a disaster. In: Emergency Media and Public Affairs: Partnering with the Media, 10-12 April 2011, Canberra, ACT.

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Purpose: To research information seeking behaviour and discover sources used by people whose community was in a disaster and what they wanted to know.

Design: In-depth interviews were conducted with 37 people in three communities that had suffered a disaster in the previous 12 months. The study covered St George in Queensland (flood), Airlie Beach in Queensland (cyclone) and Gerogery in NSW (bushfire). The interviews were transcribed and then analysed using the constant comparative technique (Wimmer & Dominick 2000).

Findings: There were clear preferences for information sources that differed between disaster types. Those in a bushfire found out about the fire by seeing the smoke or were notified by friends. Radio was a preferred source, for cyclone and bushfire, but in the Gerogery case radio was unable to supply reliable or up-to-date information. In flood and cyclone, the Bureau of Meteorology was the most cited source and was the way many people discovered they were facing a flood or a cyclone. In a flood, a visual of the river and the person’s own experience or the flood experience of friends, family or neighbours were then drawn upon to interpret the possible effects on the individual. Radio was not a well used source of information in this particular flood. In a cyclone, however, radio was the second most popular source of information, particularly after the power went out and especially those stations featuring talk back from community members about local cyclone damage and other news. In the bushfire and cyclone, mobile phones were a constant tool for contact with others. Few used their mobile phones to get onto the web and only one person in Airlie Beach used Facebook as a source of information about the situation. Twitter was not used at all.

In all disasters, location, timing and strength/peak was the most prevalent information sought, followed by whereabouts and safety of friends, neighbours and family.

Practical implications: The Bureau of Meteorology provides an effective source of information for communities potentially affected by flood and cyclone. Flood mapping should also be a standard feature of local council communications. In cyclones, mobile phone service should be a priority and post-impact agency recovery texts be used. Radio should continue to be proactively used by agencies as a primary tool in order to build up trust in that media. In a bushfire situation, text or phone messages could be utilised more often for reporting of the location and direction of the fire and radio stations need to be proactively kept up to date.

For all disasters, mobile phones featured as a primary tool that was accessed by all interviewees. This points to the importance of developing mobile phone message technology that is not subject to delays or interruptions.

Originality and value: Very little research has been undertaken around the world on how people seek information in a disaster. Much of the research focus has been on what media sources people use (Greenberg, Hofschire & Lachlan 2002; Piotrowski & Armstrong 1998; Roeser & Schaefer 2002; Seeger et al. 2002; Stempel III & Hargrove 2002). Two very small studies have been undertaken in Australia (Cohen, Hughes & White 2007; King & Goudie 1997) but the study by King et al asked a small number of questions about sources of information as part of a wider study.

This study on information-seeking may provide data on which better communication plans can be built by emergency agencies.

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Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Commonwealth Reporting Category E) (Paper)
Refereed: No
Item Status: Live Archive
Additional Information: This is an unrefereed report that was a result of a project funded by EMPA.
Faculty/School / Institute/Centre: Historic - Faculty of Arts - School of Humanities and Communication (1 Apr 2011 - 30 Jun 2013)
Faculty/School / Institute/Centre: Historic - Faculty of Arts - School of Humanities and Communication (1 Apr 2011 - 30 Jun 2013)
Date Deposited: 13 May 2012 22:59
Last Modified: 24 Sep 2020 04:02
Uncontrolled Keywords: flood, bushfire, cyclone, river heights, tracking, radio, community networks, information-seeking, information source, messaging, community communication, emergency agencies, police, SES, Rural Fire Service, Bureau of Meteorology.
Fields of Research (2008): 20 Language, Communication and Culture > 2001 Communication and Media Studies > 200101 Communication Studies
16 Studies in Human Society > 1699 Other Studies in Human Society > 169999 Studies in Human Society not elsewhere classified
Fields of Research (2020): 47 LANGUAGE, COMMUNICATION AND CULTURE > 4701 Communication and media studies > 470101 Communication studies
44 HUMAN SOCIETY > 4499 Other human society > 449999 Other human society not elsewhere classified
Socio-Economic Objectives (2008): C Society > 94 Law, Politics and Community Services > 9402 Government and Politics > 940299 Government and Politics not elsewhere classified

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