Communicating with the public during natural disasters in Europe

Communicating with the public during natural disasters in Europe

Author: Stefanie Wahl – Freie Universitaet Berlin, Germany

Karolin Bauer – Freie Universitaet Berlin
Lars Gerhold – Freie Universitaet Berlin

During natural disasters such as floodings or storm events, emergency management agencies are required to inform the public about the ongoing situation (Beneito-Montagut et al., 2013). This is ideally based on a communication concept or strategy that fits public’s information needs and increases people’s participation during an event (Alexander, 2014). Besides television and radio, social media technologies can serve as an effective tool to share situation reports, but also to receive useful information from people in the affected area (Starbird et al., 2010; Vieweg et al., 2010). Nevertheless, it is yet not known what concepts are best suited to communicate situation reports to the public and vice versa (Beneito-Montagut et al., 2013).

In order to explore existing concepts, good practices as well as possible constraints for European emergency management agencies when exchanging situation reports with the public during disaster events, we thus ask:

  1. What concepts do European public authorities use for public communication of situation reports?
  2. How does the public participate in this communication?
  3. What challenges do arise, when providing and receiving situation reports to or from the public?

To answer these questions, we conducted semi-structured qualitative interviews with crisis communications experts of emergency management agencies (e.g. ministries, fire brigades, police, security regions) in Austria (n = 4), France (n = 2), Denmark (n = 3), Italy (n = 4), the Netherlands (n = 4), Poland (n = 4) and the United Kingdom (n = 3) in 2017. Interviews were analyzed using an inductive-deductive coding scheme (Mayring, 2000).

By comparing different communication concepts, we will point out differences and similarities between all seven countries, e.g. how authorities handle respectively verify information about the situation they have received from the public. Based on our findings, we will discuss recommendations for public communication during natural disaster events.

The author has not yet submitted a copy of the full paper.

Presentation type: Individual paper
Theme: Society
Area of interest: Investigating science communication practices