Information seeking in a disaster

Ryan, Barbara ORCID: (2012) Information seeking in a disaster. In: 2012 World Public Relations Forum Research Colloquium, 18-20 Nov 2012, Melbourne, Australia.

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This paper seeks to re-align discussion about disaster communication from an organisational perspective to a stakeholder point of view. It will review human behaviour in a disaster through an information needs lens and then report the findings of an Australian study based on this review.

Design: The approach takes the form of a literature review from which interviews were developed and undertaken in four Australian communities in 2010 and 2011. The interviews were conducted with 57 people in communities that had experienced a disaster in the previous 12 months. A survey based on the interview findings will be undertaken in July 2012 and preliminary findings reported.

Findings: Actions of individuals immediately before and during a disaster are centred on protection of and aid for themselves, their families, friends and neighbours (Barton 1969; Helsloot & Ruitenberg 2004; Kreps 1984; National Weather Service Central Region 2011). Drabek (1986, p. 133) found that '..most individuals evidence behavioural continuity and remarkable composure.' However, once they allay their concerns, people tend to look for information (Blake et al. 2004; Drabek 1986; National Weather Service Central Region 2011). They incorporate the following activities into their information-seeking process: hear- confirm- understand- believe- personalise- respond (Mileti & O'Brien 1992).

Interviews confirmed Mileti and O’Brien’s model, with the 'response' phase incorporating checking on family and gathering information. Checking on family occurred by mobile phone, landline and email. In slow floods gathering of information consisted of visual checking, consulting experienced friends and family, and flood maps, with flood levels and ramifications for community property the information sought. In a flash flood, people turned to television for context, then undertook concern behaviour, with this and context seeking behaviour lasting several days in a severe flash flood. In a bushfire, friends and family and watching the source and direction of the smoke and wind were key sources, and location of the fire was the information sought. In a cyclone, weather websites and radio were most relied-upon sources, with radio talk back cited as important for context setting. Social media was starting to emerge as an emergency communication tool during the interview period, but had not become a key source for any of the interviewees, although it did seem to be an important source for their relatives outside the area who were engaged in both information gathering and concern.

The survey will test these preliminary results and may provide the basis for development of a human behaviour model that will inform disaster communication across a range of disaster types and demographic settings.

Originality and value: This paper fills a gap in disaster communication research, which has not, until now, used human behaviour models to explain disaster communication. In addition, this study presents a starting point for research in crisis communication, which has a similar dearth of stakeholder-oriented research to date.

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Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Commonwealth Reporting Category E) (Lecture)
Refereed: Yes
Item Status: Live Archive
Additional Information: Extended Abstract and Powerpoint presentation deposited. No evidence of copyright restrictions preventing deposit.
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: 06 Jan 2013 03:13
Last Modified: 24 Sep 2020 04:02
Uncontrolled Keywords: emergency; disaster response; flood; bushfire; cyclone; information seeking; crisis communication
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 > 9499 Other Law, Politics and Community Services > 949999 Law, Politics and Community Services not elsewhere classified

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