The Way Disaster Media Communication Helped During Hurricane Sandy

Over the past decades, disasters have claimed millions of lives and cost billions of dollars globally. In today’s society, whether in the global north or south, occurrences of natural and anthropogenic disasters are inexorable but can be mitigated. Human communication plays an important function in the life cycle of a disaster event which gave rise to the concept of disaster communication in human communication studies. According to The University of Chicago, Disaster communication refers “to communication during and after a disaster event by the relevant stakeholders to the wider population in aid of reconnecting affected individuals/families to support systems and re-establishing a state of normalcy to the society.” Johnston and Ronan argues that disaster communication should be properly studied and understood as this enhances the resilience and survival rates of the population. Poor communication during disaster occurrences have resulted in high mortality rates. In this essay, the components’ disaster preparedness, response, recovery and mitigation and issues in disaster communication namely issues in media dependency, technical difficulties /cultural beliefs, poor interorganisational communication and lack of resources of the population would be explored in depth respectively.

Response in disaster communication is paramount to the targeted audience but significant issues such as technical difficulties and cultural attitudes may arise. Response in disaster communication is defined as the process where authorities and target population conceptualize and acts in an orderly manner on the pre-warning messages disseminated during a disaster event. In other words, in disaster communication the response would require the population to be cautious and evacuate with respect to the warning signals issued communicated by the relevant disaster and emergency organisations. Lachlan, Spence, Lin and Greco stated during Hurricane Sandy Twitter was widely used to communicate with other parties although governmental platforms on Twitter were overloaded due the overwhelming amount online traffic resulting in sites to experience technical problems. Furthermore, this would have been a significant issue as it leaves potential responders to pre- and current warning messages with a level of uncertainty as to proceed. As the population is limited in exchanging information with disaster organisation, they experience the notion of uncertainty. With reference to Lachlan, Spence, Lin and Greco, the uncertainty reduction theory can be applied to this situation of the public as they cannot respond to the relevant authorities due to the breakdown in the two way model of communication experienced on broadcast media and social media. Therefore, the public uses social media to reduce anxiety concerning the event experienced in which they observed the particular information shared hoping that their cognitive uncertainty is relived. In addition, disaster communication can be hindered by cultural attitudes resulting in response of authorities and the population deterred. 

It is my belief that natural disasters are symbolic elements to the population who believe these occurrences play an important function in their culture as it symbolises just only a ‘purging of the evil elements’ in society. This results in a significant issue to the communication process as one believe that they do not have to heed the warning issues by the relevant authorities as they are safe and protected. To support my comment, the symbolic interactionism theory states that person tend to emphasise great importance on objects on society and deem them to be safe although scientifically proven to cause harm. This results in problems in the communication process.

07 July 2022
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