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DERN brings to light the research of Robinson, Pudlo, and Wehde, who aimed to study the use of technology and communication medias in relation to the 2016 Oklahoma Tornados. They analyze use of mixed media communications, including ‘word of mouth’, text messages, phone calls and Facebook as part of warnings beforehand, during the storm, and afterwards, and how these influenced citizens communicating with one another during the disaster process.

When looking into the effects of medias on citizen to citizen communications, and how these compare to authority to citizen communications, it is important to note that peer sharing was not an invention of the recent age of technology. However, technology has facilitated the sharing of messages in entirely new ways while undermining the ability of official sources to be the sole, or even predominant, source of information. These technologies have produced a set of “digital volunteers” who act in a C2C manner to provide services and communication that authorities may not be able to provide. The paper analyses whether these are effective medias that should be considered and included in disaster management policies, as a way to spread information during these natural phenomena. However, if this is to be the case, and the diffusion of warning messages depends increasingly on peer-to-peer sharing, then emergency managers will have to build information systems and then write the content of messages to facilitate peer sharing (and reliably retain the content of the message).

In particular, to be effective, authorities may be required to establish networks of communication during preparedness activities or early in during the response phase. During the research for the paper, which consisted of both qualitative and quantitative analysis relating to the Oaklahoma Tornadoes, they aimed to discover how much information is absorbed through official channels, and how much people rely upon other medias as their main source of knowledge about the disaster risks. Interpersonal communication for receiving and spreading tornado warnings highlights the social nature of disasters and the ways in which social networks and social media converge in disaster warning. While the impact of social media in early phases of the disaster cycle is still unclear, social media has become a powerful tool in the response and recovery phases by spreading information to disaster victims, fighting rumours, fund-raising, and organizing volunteers to help with the re-building process. Findings from the media aspect of the research suggest that ‘the most commonly reported source of information is television—a classic source of Authority to Citizen information.

What is more surprising is the importance of cellular phones and “word of mouth.” The former indicates how people are receiving information from mobile devices—without the necessity of access to a television—in ways not reflected in the traditional literature. The “word-of-mouth” option prompted respondents to consider information from all friends and family (regardless of technology). These personal networks are still an important source of information for more than a quarter of our respondents. It is surprising that the internet and social media were not particularly common sources of information—a finding that should raise questions about large investments in these technologies for warning messages.’ – Robinson, Pudlo, and Wehde Participants tended to report that they had looked to Facebook for information after the event had occurred, to check on the wellbeing of friends and family, and to assess the damage that had occurred.

Another aspect that the paper aimed to discern, is the effectiveness of these medias as a way to distribute disaster management for all ages and genders, or whether the role of age or gender impacted the likelihood of receiving disaster warnings and aid through these unofficial channels. The paper illuminates how threat intensity affects the public’s use of different media to receive and send information— and whether the effect of threat intensity varies by age and gender. They found that Across media and threat intensities, women are more likely to send and receive communication than their male counterparts, but the communication methods of Men during the storms increased to above that of women, especially via the text message communication outlet. This suggests that overall, gender plays an important role in communication in the aftermath of severe storms. While women communicate more on average, men are more likely to be prompted to communicate by a more intense threat such as a tornado. The net result is that the gender gap is reduced by the storm threat. In terms of the research related to age, it was noted that younger participants are more likely to communicate storm warnings via text and Facebook Media, where older generations are more likely to divulge threat intensity via telephone.

The paper suggests that communication medias such as messages and Facebook could be a tool that authorities use to harness disaster warning and management, but also that there should be caution in doing so, as these medias may not reach all demographics, such as the elderly.

‘This initial view of the complexity of the information sharing environment between residents provides both a starting point for investigation of the new ecology of public information and serves to raise a concern about how these dynamics can influence the spread of information.’ Robinson, Pudlo, and Wehde