Views and Visions: Posts from our People

May
21

Amisha Mehta connects with industry and academic interests to examine critical issues in risk and crisis communication.

Amisha Mehta connects with industry and academic interests to examine critical issues in risk and crisis communication.
Amisha Mehta connects with industry and academic interests to examine critical issues in risk and crisis communication.

International insights and local lessons: Themes from the International Risk and Crisis Communication Conference

“Sadly, crisis is a growth industry.” These words were used by Professor Matthew Seeger to introduce the new Journal of International Crisis and Risk Communication Research at the annual conference of the same name.

Thankfully, though, both the journal and annual conference hosted by the University of Central Florida provide a valuable forum to showcase emergent and established research and connect industry and academic interests to examine critical issues in risk and crisis communication.

At this year’s conference, I presented CRC research findings about how community members evaluated existing and research-modified official agency warnings (that can be issued via multiple channels) and Facebook posts for bushfire and flood events. These results suggest there is value for emergency services organisations to review the approach for existing Facebook posts. By including efficacy-based content that frames the ease of implementing protective behaviours and includes a rationale for such instructions, emergency management organisations have the potential to enhance message effectiveness beyond the addition of a text-based image.

I also wanted to share insights and observations from other conference speakers in the hope they might inspire future conversations.

Risk communication that asks people to wait during building fires

Dr Gabriella Sandstig and Professor Bengt Johansson from the University of Gothenburg examined protective actions during apartment building fires in Sweden. In this context, the desired action is to stay in the apartment and wait for help from the fire department. Recognising the challenges associated with a passive behaviour of waiting, the researchers aimed to increase awareness of how to act in the case of a building fire and to enhance intentions to act in the desired manner (i.e., of waiting).  The researchers examined the addition of action messages (e.g. cover vents with wet towels, warn others) and calming messages (e.g. the fire department comes in time) via a large scale experiment of Swedish citizens.

Findings suggest that the passive behaviour of waiting is best communicated through calming messaging rather than action messaging. Dr Sandstig and Prof Johansson’s findings offer some considerations for communication that encourages people to wait at the “prepare to leave or evacuate” stage of messaging.

The assumption of fit across cultures

One of this year’s keynote speakers was Professor Christine Huang from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. She noted the challenges involved in translating Western perspectives for crisis communication into non-Western contexts. Prof Huang noted the low-trust sentiment in Chinese cultures influenced the way citizens evaluated organisations’ Western-oriented crisis response strategies. Given the findings of this year’s Edelman Trust Barometer, risk and crisis communicators should continuously check our assumptions about communicating about trust and across cultures.

Sources and stories in health crises

Associate Professor Brooke Liu, Dr Lucinda Austin and Associate Professor Yan Jin examined the use of narratives including blame narrative and its focus on responsibility, victim narratives that personify harm and hero narratives that focus on victories during crisis (see Seeger & Sellnow, 2016). In the context of an Ebola virus alert, they found that a blame narrative led to less information credibility than a no-narrative approach and greater attributions of government responsibility and a victim narrative led to more sadness than a heroic narrative. While their study found no significant effects of narratives on protective action-taking intentions and information seeking/sharing intentions, it is a start to empirical research in this space that could be translated to physical natural hazards.

University of Maryland PhD candidate Rhys Lim shared a case analysis about Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in South Korea. His study showed that the lack of information from government can lead citizens to create their own information systems to cope with the crisis situation even though doing so creates a significant burden on the initiator of the system. This user-led Facebook site triggered a change in government policies and has initiated researchers to examine how communal coping could be used as a theory for community participation.

About the conference and journal

The International Crisis and Risk Communication Conference started in 2010 and prides itself on a peer-to-peer learning experience for communication researchers and professionals to share knowledge and start to collaborate around local and global issues. The conference is hosted by the University of Central Florida and runs in mid-March every year. Having attended since 2017, it’s firmly on my annual calendar and worth the 24-hour commute.

The International Crisis and Risk Communication Journal is in its second edition with the editorship being handed over from Professor Matthew Seeger to Associate Professor Brooke Liu. For further information about the journal, please visit: http://stars.library.ucf.edu/jicrcr/

Thank you to the BNHCRC for their contribution towards the travel costs associated with attending this conference.

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