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NC Sea Grant enables ECU to study emergency communication

GREENVILLE, NC   (Jan. 22, 2008)   —   East Carolina University has received a grant from the N.C. Sea Grant to study how the state’s coastal residents receive and use emergency information.

The $120,000 grant will enable researchers from the departments of English and sociology to study how to more effectively deliver to the public information about weather-related risks and hazards.

“Almost every disaster after-action report identifies communication as a major failing, yet both practical guides on natural hazards and academic scholarship neglect communication as an influence on perception and behavior related to risk,” said Catherine Smith, an ECU professor of English. Smith is the principal investigator and will work on the grant along with English colleague Donna Kain and sociology professor Kenneth Wilson.

Working with ECU colleagues John Howard in communication and Tom Crawford in geography, Smith and Kain conducted a pilot study in Dare County that suggested residents in coastal communities seek, process and use risk and emergency information in complicated ways. They shared their findings with emergency management officials from coastal North Carolina Dec. 11 at the Risk and Emergency Communication Workshop in Manteo.

“They tend to synthesize expert assessments, past personal experience with storms, family wishes, and practical concerns that may include pet ownership, medical conditions, or congested evacuation routes,” said Kain, who is also the director of outreach for RENCI’s Center for Coastal Informatics and Modeling at East Carolina University.

“Consequently, developing a more robust model of emergency communication that views communication as dynamic, interactive, and linked to context is vital because communication impacts every stage of disaster management — preparation, response, recovery, and mitigation.”

RENCI (the Renaissance Computing Institute) at ECU will provide technical and facilities support for the project that will begin in February. The three researchers are also faculty affiliates of ECU’s Center for Natural Hazards Research.

Through surveys and in-depth interviews, the researchers will develop a model of risk and emergency communication that would help characterize how people seek and respond to information about coastal weather events. Such a model could help assess vulnerability or resiliency in eastern North Carolina as well as in coastal communities nationally.

“We will continue to share our findings with emergency management professionals and public information officers in North Carolina who have the responsibility for providing information before, during, and after hazardous events,” said Kain.


Contact: ECU News Bureau | 252-328-6481