David Cochran and Joslyn Zale’s AAG Presentations

The GHRL team was in Chicago last week attending the annual meeting of the Association of American Geographers. While there, Joslyn and I presented early results from our DHS-funded project that focuses on geo-targeting at-risk communities and deploying effective crisis communication systems in the three counties of the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

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Joslyn focused on the spatial coverage of common warning devices on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and how public preference for these devices vary according to the socio-economic-cultural characteristics of local residents. Of course, many devices – including television, radio, telephone, and cell phones – are available throughout the study area, different age cohorts prefer different devices. Older adults, for example, tended to place the most trust in conventional devices (television, radio, and sirens) whereas younger adults were more confident in digital technologies (social media and text messages). A number of other factors, including gender, ethnicity, income, and educational levels show similar variations among the sample of the population we surveyed. Joslyn also mapped these variations by zip code in order to show the spatial dimensions of different demographic characteristics. Her work will go a long to helping us to be able to geo-target communities along the Mississippi Gulf Coast that are most vulnerable to hazards.

In my presentation, I compared the perceptions of the general public with that of emergency management agencies and other disaster mitigation organizations working on the Missisippi Gulf Coast. In doing so, I addressed these questions: 1) Which emergency warning devices are most used by the general public and by agency personnel; 2) How do the public and agency personnel perceive warning devices in terms of their accuracy, frequency of use, and trustworthiness; and 3) Which devices are most effective (according to the public and agency personnel) in motivating at-risk populations to evacuate? Our results showed that the general public and agency personnel of the Mississippi Gulf Coast share a great deal in terms of their perceptions of common emergency warning devices and broadly accept a variety of conventional devices and digital technologies. There are, however, important differences as well. Agencies tend to place greater emphasis on the importance of text messaging in risk communication (WEA Messaging) whereas the general public expressed some misgivings about the use of this technology in risk communication. This suggests that a hierarchical approach to risk communication centered on text messaging will not be appropriate for some segments of the population. Our results also showed that the general public identified social media and friend-family networks as important sources of hazard information. Although emergency management agencies and disaster mitigation organizations certainly have a social media presence, these technologies might need to be more thoroughly integrated with risk communication.

These are exciting results and there’s more to come as we continue our analysis. With the AAG behind us, we’re beginning to focus on developing our presentations into manuscripts that we plan to submit for peer review publication later this year.

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