What the public needs to hear during a disaster

Katrina revealed the impact of poor communications on the public during a disaster: chaos, distress and alarm. For future disaster communications, a new Temple University survey of Pennsylvanians* bears important findings, including how people prefer to get information during an emergency, which public agencies they're most confident in, attitudes toward emergency preparedness and actual preparedness. The findings will be presented today at the American Public Health Association meeting.

"The catastrophic failure of the emergency response system in the wake of Hurricane Katrina reinforces the need to better understand the public's concerns and to include the public in emergency planning and response. This will help state and local officials effectively communicate important information before, during and after disasters," said researcher, Sarah Bass, Ph.D., assistant professor of public health.

Bass defines effective risk communications as timely, relevant and true. "Effective communications during a disaster provides for people's doubts," she explained. "It can also reduce the mental stress and anguish that comes with anticipating and coping with disasters."

Bass and her colleagues analyzed survey results from 1500 families throughout Pennsylvania on their concerns, attitudes and practices regarding emergency preparedness, as well as exposure to disasters and generalized anxiety. As expected, people universally rely on television and radio for information during an emergency. But surprisingly, say the researchers, half of respondents would go to their clergy for information, highlighting the role that non-traditional communicators play in emergency response. In addition, 62 percent would turn to the Red Cross or Salvation Army, while 59 percent would turn to a public health agency.

A considerable proportion of the population is not fully comfortable with national policies about preparedness and homeland security: 25-35 percent disag

Contact: Eryn Jelesiewicz
Temple University

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