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ECU study: TV remains primary eastern N.C. hurricane information source
Planning critical for businesses

GREENVILLE, N.C.   (Aug. 9, 2010)   —   Eastern N.C. residents still rely on commercial TV more than Internet, radio or alert services for updated information when a hurricane threatens, East Carolina University researchers have found.

“This was a surprise,” said Dr. Catherine F. Smith, professor of English, who is leading the multidisciplinary study. “With the ubiquity of the Internet and the expansion of cell phones today, we had expected to see more people relying on those sources.”

More than 1,000 residents of 21 counties were surveyed for the study of hurricane risk information use and emergency communication. Researchers also included Dr. Donna J. Kain, ECU assistant professor of English; and Dr. Kenneth Wilson, ECU professor of sociology. The research team has worked closely with local, state and federal agencies involved in storm warnings and preparedness, from county leaders to the National Hurricane Center.

The project, funded by North Carolina Sea Grant, offers immediate results and has provided groundwork for ongoing efforts. “This study provides reliable data to help emergency managers update their procedures for getting the best information quickly to those who may be in the path of a pending storm,” said Michael Voiland, North Carolina Sea Grant executive director.

“The ultimate goal is saving lives,” he added.
 
TV ranks as the primary source of severe weather information for 95 percent of residents. Other important sources include social networks (word-of-mouth), commercial radio and the Internet.

Residents with access to cable TV service mostly rely on local affiliates of major networks and on national news channels such as The Weather Channel. Few residents use public-access channels, a source for local severe weather updates. Satellite users may not have access to cable channels or to local channels.

During hurricanes, residents who rely on TV or the Internet will likely 
experience power outages, which may lead them to turn to unfamiliar 
sources for information.

"Residents of eastern North Carolina should become more familiar with 
public and commercial radio or NOAA weather radio," Smith recommends.
 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration radio, as well as AM and
 FM stations can be accessed with battery-operated receivers.

Alerts delivered by cell phone are another untapped opportunity for emergency-related information. The study also found that 86 percent of residents report that they have cell phones but only about 20 percent of residents who have them use subscription or free alert services. Many weather-related websites, including those of local TV stations, offer free or low-cost alerting services.

Most participants said that they are prepared for hurricane season, and three out of four reported having a plan. More than three out of four reported that they know the emergency hurricane routes, and the same amount reported knowing the location of emergency shelters.

Businesses plan for storms

Serious hurricanes can be disastrous for businesses and organizations. Planning before a disaster is a good indicator of whether they will be able to operate post-disaster. The study also surveyed or interviewed more than 700 businesses in the 21-county area. Of those studied, 72 percent reported having a formal plan to handle severe weather emergencies.

Surprisingly, location was not an important factor. An oceanfront location, for example, did not increase the likelihood that a business would have a plan.

Several factors, however, influence whether a business was likely to have an emergency plan. Such businesses were most likely to have regular connections to others, access to reliable information and more employees. They are most likely to receive updates directly from local emergency management.

“These findings suggest that the best prepared are the most connected,” Smith said. “A business or organization that has strong ties to local emergency management for information and to others for potential cooperation during disasters might cope better with situations.”

More than half of businesses and organizations with a plan reported that they have used it in an emergency. Some said that they have regular drills.

North Carolina Sea Grant is an inter-institutional program of the University of North Carolina system that provides research, education and outreach relating to current issues affecting the N.C. coast and its communities.

The study findings, as well as reports for each county, can be found at http://www.ecu.edu/riskcomm.

 


Contact: Dr. Catherine F. Smith | smithcath@ecu.edu

 
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