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Disaster and Communication


Disaster risk communication may take place through many different channels, including some of that have been recently developed or expanded. Potential channel of communication include face to face conversation, telephone call, group meeting, and mass media such as radio, television and interactive social media such as Twitter and Facebook.

Media is vital for issuing warning of disaster, alerting government officials, relief organization and the public for the potential danger. Public health official and journalist also play a crucial role in disseminating information regarding natural disaster and other human-initiated disasters. However, study suggests that journalists are unprepared to cover many types of natural disasters.

Media play a vital role in educating the public about disasters and facilitating discussions about disaster preparedness and response. A systematic review of intervention studies showed that the risk communication in disasters aims to prevent and mitigate harm from disasters, prepare the population before a disaster, disseminate information during disasters and aid subsequent recovery. Similarly, the media can have a beneficial effect on the community by informing, educating, and communicating people.

The print and electronic media are considered powerful in many societies and have an unintended dual role in both reporting of the event itself and acting as a catalyst for evoking responses.

Nowadays social media like Facebook and Tweeter are also playing an important role in disaster risk communication because they are providing a platform for individuals to locate and inform their families or Friends. Information acquired through the Internet had the highest correct rejection rate, and the lowest false alarm rate suggesting that residents were able to judge their own situation most accurately using it as a source. So, there was a low level of compliance with the advice to take protective action against the imminent natural hazards. Factors relating to personal circumstances, beliefs and attitudes, societal response, and the characteristics of the authorities may have influenced whether individuals chose to evacuate.

It is found that the journalist's orientation tends to be more objective than emotional; however, the evaluations of the objectivity of the published articles were low especially for the coverage of the nuclear power plant accident. Studies examining the influence of the media following the Oklahoma City bombing and the September 11 terrorist attack showed that the degree of disaster-related television viewing was positively associated with posttraumatic stress, disorder and depression.

Lesson learned from the experience of past disasters:

Following three main lessons can be drawn from the experience of past disasters:

  • Humanitarian agencies and governments can help the media to work effectively through the journalism training readily available.  Better the journalists, the coverage of disasters will be accurate and responsible.
  • Governments should ensure that the media are well embedded in early warning systems.
  • Authorities should formulate policy guidelines that assist the media and humanitarian agencies to address disasters and promote responsible reporting.

Thus, Media organizations should be encouraged to evaluate their reporting system working with disaster management stakeholders, improving the quality, accuracy, and reliability of reporting. Similarly, the organizations working in disaster mitigation should seek to provide reliable information to the media as soon as possible in a concise and readily understandable form.

                                                                                                                                     Author:  Devraj Regmi (Intern)

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