communication with the public.

I have attached the source for the essay.

a. This week’s readings focus on communication with the public. The readings addressed two aspects of communication that are critical when dealing with the public and disaster response. These are particularly important when dealing with hazardous materials incidents because of the potential human health effects.

b. Write an essay (minimum of 500-words and accompanying cover and reference page) in which you respond to the following question:

  • List those two aspects of communication that are critical when dealing with the public and disaster response and describe their importance to you as IC. 

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Convincing the public to evacuate areas threatened by impending disaster is often difficult. Ben Buerger is shown standing in the ruins of his store on Dauphine Island, Alabama, where he rode out Hurricane Frederic. (Courtesy of Robert Madden, (@) 1980, National Geographic Society.)

In disasters, communication with the public assumes new dimensions not present in routine emergencies. This chapter will address some of the more important points of two aspects: issuing warnings to the public and handling inquiries from the public.

When warning is possible, it may have the greatest potential for saving lives and property, because it allows people to take protective action before impact. The effectiveness of warning requires not only that the message is received, but that it is based on accurate assumptions about human behavior in disasters.

Large numbers of inquiries from the public to emergency and governmental agencies are an almost inevitable consequence of disasters. Often the volume of such information requests can place substantial demands on the recipients. Organized efforts to deal with these inquiries can lessen their disruption.


The Value of Warning Warning can be one of the most important types of disaster communication, allowing the recipients to avoid the threat altogether or to significantly lessen its effects (Mcluckie, 1970:2). A number of disaster countermeasures can be taken as a result of effective forewarning. Probably the most effective is to leave the threatened area before the disaster hits. Other adaptive responses include sandbagging to prevent flooding, boarding up windows to prevent wind damage, mobilizing teams in anticipation of search and rescue activities, or stocking up on food, fuel, water, flashlighthttp://

batteries, and medical supplies. In a number of disasters, many fives have been saved, even in the face of tremendous property losses, because the affected population received advanced warning (Adams, 1981b:53; Drabek, 1981:87; Quarantelli, 1982c:57).

EXAMPLE: Tornado, Wichita Falls, Texas, April 10, 1979. This tornado ranked at 4 on the Fujita scale, placing it in the top 3% of tornado severity. It was one of the widest tornados ever observed and stayed in contact with the ground for a distance of 47 miles, cutting an 11-square-mile path of destruction through the city. It was felt that the injuries and deaths (171 hospitalized and 47 dead) resulting from the storm would have been much greater had there not been an effective warning prior to impact Quarantelli, 1982a:G54; Adams, 1981b:53; Fox, 1981:7; Glass, 1980:737).

Planning Assumptions Effective procedures for warning must be based on accurate assumptions about how the public reacts to warning messages. Unfortunately, officials have put out warning bulletins most cautiously, or withheld warnings until the last minute, because they felt that the inevitable panic would be almost as dangerous as the disaster itself (Dynes, 1981:16; Quarantelli, 1965:107; Quarantelli, 1972:67; Fritz, 1961:664; Drabek, 1986:120).

Figure 9-1. About to be engulfed by a tsunami, a man faces his last moment alone. This wall of water, which reached a height of 55 feet, was generated by an earthquake in the Aleutian Islands. It struck Hilo, Hawaii on April 1, 1946, killing 159 persons. Tsunami warning systems are the most effective means of preventing loss of life in this type of disaster. This photo from the ship S. S. Brigham Victory. (Courtesy of Water Resources Center, University of California at Berkeley, California.)

EXAMPLE: City officials and state police refused to order the evacuation of an eastern resort threatened by an approaching hurricane. They preferred to chance the danger of inaction, because they feared the warnings would result in a panic flight. This was despite urgent recommendations by the Weather Bureau and Coast Guard that the warnings should be issued. It was also despite knowledge that the two routes of escape from the low-lying city would be impassable if the magnitude of the storm was as great as predicted (Quarantelli, 1960:68).

EXAMPLES: Because of similar beliefs about the risk of panic, warnings were played down during the Rio Grandeflood, and the Worcester tornado. Fear of panic is also why alarm bells were not rung on the collision-doomed ship, Andrea Doria Quarantelli, 1960:68).

The Absence of Panic However, contrary to popular belief, research has shown that panic is not a common reaction to disasters (Dynes, 1974:71; Dynes, 1981:16,18; Quarantelli, 1960:68; Quarantelli, 1965:107; Quarantelli, 1972:67; Mileti, 1975:57; Drabek, 1986:136; Wenger, 1975:33; Wenger, 1985a:30). This is not to say that panic never occurs, but that it is rare. Furthermore, if it does occur, three conditions appear to be required (Mileti, 1975:58):

a perception of immediate danger,● apparently blocked escape routes, and●

a feeling by the victim that he is isolated.●

Finally, if panic occurs, it is not widespread or contagious. It is most always highly localized, with few participants, and of short duration Quarantelli,1960:72). The lack of panic in disasters is documented in Table 9-1.

One of the reasons for the belief that panic is common is failure to draw the distinction between evacuation and wild panic. Fleeing a threat is not the same as panic. Sometimes withdrawal is the most intelligent response to a hazard. A panic-stricken individual, however, flees without consideration for others. In contrast, persons who leave an area in an orderly evacuation often assist others to get away (Quarantelli, 1972:68).

EXAMPLE: Flood, Denver, Colorado, June 16, 1965. When residents of Denver were threatened by the rapidly rising flood waters, 92% of the families who evacuated left together. This is in contrast to the pattern one would expect from a panic-stricken population Quarantelli, 1972:68).

Reluctance to Evacuate Not only is panic flight an uncommon response to disasters, but it is often difficult to get people to leave when disaster threatens (Quarantelli, 1972:67; Quarantelli, 1960:69; Quarantelli, 1965:107; Fritz, 1961:665; Wenger, 1985a:34; Perry, 1985:54) (see Table 9-2).

A similar hesitancy to flee in the face of impending disaster has been documented in dozens of disasters of all sorts. In some of these cases, even the threat of force and coercive measures was not enough to assure evacuation (Quarantelli, 1960:67,69)

Table 9-1. Absence of Panic in Disasters (click to enlarge)


Panic is not a common problem in disasters; getting people to evacuate is.

Premature Return of Evacuees Even if they have been convinced to evacuate, inhabitants may return while the threat is still present.

EXAMPLE: Four months after the initial war-time evacuation of British cities, over 60% of the population had returned. This was in spite of official warnings that these areas were prime targets for air raids and rocket attacks. Although the cities were being bombed nightly, even children were being brought back to London in large numbers. A similar pattern occurred in Germany in spite of governmental efforts to discourage it by withholding ration cards and schooling (Quarantelli,$file/p-199.jpghttp://$file/p-199.jpg


Table 9-2. Reluctance to Evacuate in Disasters

Disaster Observation Bombing of Britan WWII

Only 37% of the mothers and children evacuated London during the raids. The town of Bootle was bombed every night for a week, and 60% of its houses were hit at least twice each, and only 10% escaped serious damage. Nonetheless, 25% of the town’s inhabitants remained to sleep in their homes during the raids (Quarantelli, 1960:69).

Hurricane Florence Florida 1953

Despite intensive warnings, 66% of the residents in a town in the hurricane’s path refused to leave their homes (Quarantelli, 1960:70).

Hurricane Carla Texas 1961

About 70 to 80% of Galveston residents stayed on the island even though most knew that they would eventually be cut off from the mainland (Davenport, 1978:19).

Hurricane Frederic Mississippi 1979

As the winds intensified, in spite of a massive evacuation effort, nearly half the residents refused to leave their homes (Drabek, 1981:141).

EXAMPLE: The Mt. St. Helens, Washington, Volcano Eruption, May 18, 1980. Risking a $500 fine and 6 months in jail, many residents circumvented the barricades around the threatening volcano. Taking to the back roads, they went to check on their property and retrieve belongings (Kilijanek, 1981:57).

Reasons for Hesitancy to Evacuate There are a number of reasons why persons hesitate to evacuate in the face of threatening disaster. They may not be convinced that they are actually at risk; they may wish to stay and protect their property; or they may want to assure the safety of other family members before leaving.

Perception of risk. The most common reason people do not evacuate is that they do not believe they are in immediate danger (Perry, 1985:53). People tend to interpret observations in light of what they expect to happen. Since disasters are such a rare experience for most people, the natural reaction to warning is disbelief. This effect is magnified when the warning is related to a type or severity of threat that is unlikely to occur in the recipient’s area. Thus, residents of Kansas are likely to heed a springtime tornado warning. On the other hand, a flash flood warning to those living near a quiet stream which has never flooded before is less likely to be taken serious (Drabek, 1985b:12).

In addition, the thought of impending disaster is one that most people would prefer to avoid, and thus they may tend to deny it. This is not to say will necessarily ignore warnings, but if there is any ambiguity or in the warning information, it is often interpreted as evidence that the best rather than the worst situation exists. For example, an air raid siren may be taken for another test, or a mistake. Often, only after these possibilities are shown to be untenable are other less pleasant interpretations considered (Mcluckie, 1970:40; Drabek, 1986:73,82).

In most cases, the first reaction to a warning, if it has not been expected, is to try and confirm its validity. One way this is carried out is by observing the behavior of others. The failure to see them behaving in an alarmed manner may lead to a discounting of the warning as a mistake, misunderstanding, or overreaction. Attempts to validate the information may take the form of phone calls to relatives, friends, or public safety agencies. Another common response is to turn on the radio or TV for further information. Validation can also take the form of assessing the warning in the context of environmental cues (Mcluckie, 1970:41; Drabek, 1985b:12; Drabek, 1986:83,113,123; Perry, 19850,79).

EXAMPLE: Tornado, Grand Island, Nebraska, June 3,1980. The warning sirens were heard frequently from April through late summer, but the last actual tornado was in 1857. Nevertheless, on the evening of June 3, they were not heard with the usual complacency, because the skies began to look uniquely ominous. Many people were acutely aware of the weather, turning -on the radio to get further information, even before the sirens -sounded. When they did go off, furthermore, they were heeded. Thus, in spite of bearing the full brunt of six twisters that flattened one fifth of the town, the town lost only five of its- 40,000 residents to the storm (Quarantelli, 1982c:57).

Even when persons hear a warning and accept the fact that a disaster is threatening, they may still fail to evacuate because they don’t believe they are in personal danger (Perry, 1985:70). This may be because the warning does not carefully specify the severity of the forces involved, or because previous disasters have failed to materialize after warnings or have been of less magnitude than predicted.

EXAMPLE: Hurricane Audrey, Lower Cameron Parish, Louisiana, June 27, 1957. A large number of the 400 deaths from this storm were from an area where the residents thought the rising waters would not reach the ridges on which they lived. The warning messages issued failed to make it clear that they would (Mcluckie, 1970:7; Bates, 1963:13).

Protection of property. Another common reason persons hesitate to evacuate is because they want to protect their property. In some cases, this has been because of the fear of looting, but many times, it has been due to the desire to protect property against the environmental threat (Perry, 1985:53, 153).

Figure 9-2. As in this wildland fire, residents are often hesitant to evacuate in disasters, preferring to remain and protect their property. In such situations, the absence of effective and convincing warning procedures can lead to loss of lives. This photograph of “The Forty-Niner Fire,” of Nevada County, California in September, 1988, is a good example of need for warning procedures. (Courtesy of The Union, Grass Valley, California.)

Safety of family members. Persons in disaster-threatened areas often hesitate to evacuate until they have assured the safety of other family members. Often, this means that the family will evacuate as a unit, but only after all family members are located or accounted for. Sometimes this definition of “family” even applies to household pets, particularly dogs (Perry, 1985:60,72; Drabek, 1986:84,114,116).

Improving the Response to Warning In contrast to the belief that people will flee in panic when warned of a disaster threat, the chief difficulty is in getting people to evacuate. There are several factors which can enhance warning effectiveness.

Context of the Warning Message The credibility of warning is enhanced it if is issued in a context consistent with a condition of urgency. For example, if a TV station issues a tornado warning and then suspends regular broadcasting to follow the storm’s progress, the viewer’s perception of urgency is enhanced. If, however, the warning is followed by a return to normal programming, the threat is not taken so seriously. In some cases, information given out with the warning can have a neutralizing effect on it (Mcluckie, 1970:33; Drabek, 1985b:13; Perry, 1985:44,58).

EXAMPLE: Rio Grande Flood, Piedras Negras, Mexico, June 27-30, 1954. Two loudspeaker cars were “drafted” from a local theater to assist in warning the public. Reportedly, one of them issued the following alert, “An all-time record flood is going to inundate the city. You must evacuate immediately. (Pause) The_____ theater is presenting two exciting features tonight. Be sure to see these pictures at the____ theater tonight.” (Mcluckie, 1970:33)

The validity of past warning messages can also influence believability. Per-sons living in areas frequently warned about approaching threats, but which rarely sustain a severe impact, tend to discount the seriousness of subsequent warning messages (Mcluckie, 1970:23,26,33,37; Drabek, 1986:77,93).

Consistency and Repetition Hearing repeated warnings increases the likelihood of taking protective action (Drabek, 1986:61,76; Drabek, 1985b:13; Adams, 1981b:15,53). Consistency of the warning information from different sources enhances its effect. When different sources of information convey similar information about the threat, persons trying to confirm the warning are more likely to heed it (Drabek, 1981:76,95,113). The greater the number of different warning sources, the larger the number of people contacted (Moore, 1958:212; Adams, 1981b:15,53,57; Fox, 1981:8; Glass, 1980:737; Perry, 1985:41).

Legitimacy of the Source Warning messages are more likely to be believed if they are issued by official governmental authorities, such as the police, civil defense, fire department, the governor, or the mayor’s office (Drabek, 1986:75,104).

Specificity The specificity of warning influences its effectiveness. Recipients of warning information need to know more than just the fact that there is a disaster threat. They need information that indicates how the threat will affect them personally. Although sirens can alert a large number of people, they carry the least specific type of information. They do, however, get people to turn to potentially more specific sources of information, such as the mass media, especially if sirens go off in inclement weather (Mcluckie, 1970:31; Drabek, 1986:92; Quarantelli, 1982c:57,61). Helpful information is that which states in terms clear to the recipient, the urgency of the situation, the likelihood of impact, and the specific localities at risk. “Terms clear to the recipient” implies the need for foreign languages in certain ethnic communities. It also infers that the terminology used is meaningful to its audience. For example, saying that flood waters will crest 5 feet above flood stage may convey less meaning than saying that the waters will cover the courthouse stairs. Even in parts of the country where tornadoes are common, terms like “tornado watch” and “tornado warning” are misunderstood by over a third of the public (Drabek, 1986:74,106,335; Perry, 1985:67,71; FEMA, A-50; Kreimer, 1980:21).

Information on Courses of Action For a warning to be effective, it has to do more than just alert the public of a disaster threat. Information has to be given regarding appropriate protective actions that should be taken. Protective actions may be obvious to some living in disaster prone areas, but to many, especially in technological accidents, the proper courses of action may be less obvious (Perry, 1985:66,79).

EXAMPLE: Nuclear Power Plant Accident, Three Mile Island, Pennsylvania, March 28, 1979. Of those living within 15 miles of the reactor, 39% (144,000) evacuated. Of those that failed to

evacuate, 62% indicated it was because they were not instructed to do so (Perry, 1985:53).

Invitations from Relatives Those living in disaster-threatened areas are more likely to evacuate if they are encouraged by invitations from relatives and friends outside the impact area (Drabek, 1985b: 17). This is because people prefer to seek shelter with friends or relatives rather than at public shelters. It also reflects the effects such invitations have in confirming the danger. Encouraging this activity can enhance compliance with evacuation advisories (Drabek, 1986:81,86,118).

TelePatrol International One of the most potentially effective technological approaches to warning is the use of computers to contact selected populations by phone and give recorded warning information. This technology is now widely available through “Tele-Patrol International.” TelePatrol International is a non-profit organization formed for the purpose of bringing this alerting system into widespread use.

Using TelePatrol, local communities can list all residential and business phone numbers by category in a computer data bank. The system can then be programmed to rapidly dial every number and announce a recorded message or warning. If the number is busy, the system will redial until it gets a response. This allows large numbers of people to be warned of a hazard, even if they have their radio or TV turned off, or if they are asleep.

The system allows listing the phone numbers according to geographic location. Thus, if a tanker truck carrying hazardous material is involved in an accident, all those living in the immediate vicinity can be warned to evacuate. Phone numbers can be categorized by features other than location. For example, non-English speaking households can be identified and the message given in the appropriate language. Households with deaf residents or those without phone can also be indicated. Furthermore, the system will identify those addresses that have failed to respond. The system can be used to recall public safety or hospital personnel. It can also be used to call sources of special supplies or equipment needed for a disaster. In addition to its ability to carry messages to the public, TelePatrol can also receive and collate information. For example, it can ask those who are disabled and need transportation assistance to indicate that need.

In addition to uses in disaster warning, TelePatrol has a number of uses in daily emergencies and law enforcement. For example, it can quickly give a neighborhood the description of a child who is lost in that area. It can also expand the distribution of the message as time passes and the area of search increases. If a report is received that a food or pharmaceutical product has been tampered with, every grocery store and drug store in the area can be rapidly notified. The possibilities are endless. A participating community has to pay a $1 fee and agree to assist in establishing a local TelePatrol Board of Directors from its business and community leaders which would be one of the outreach mechanisms for raising funds for the local program. The community is also required to appoint one liaison from existing government personnel to coordinate the public relations and political aspects of the program and another to coordinate operations and technical aspects. TelePatrol International is responsible for fund raising with the assistance of the liaisons and the support of the local government chief executives. All of this funding stays in the local community’s TelePatrol program. For more information, see Additional Reading at the end of the chapter.

Coordination of the Warning Process The process of warning is complicated by the fact that it requires the accomplishment of a number of tasks, and because these may have to be carried out by different organizations, coordination is required among them. For example, the determination that adverse weather will lead to unusually heavy rainfall is usually made by the Weather Bureau. This might alert the local flood control authorities to the possibility of flooding and the subsequent detection of impending dam or levee failure. The decision to issue an evacuation directive might then come from the sheriffs department or the office of the county executive. But the conveyance of the message to the public is often carried out by local commercial radio or TV stations (Stallings, 1971:34; Dynes, 1981:9).


Many inquiries from the public are an almost inevitable consequence of disasters. Often the volume of such information requests can place substantial demands on mayor’s offices, police and fire departments, hospitals, news agencies, and other sources of disaster information. The bulk of these inquiries are of three types: inquiries to confirm the validity of warnings; inquiries about the welfare and location of missing loved ones; and instruction on what to do (Scholl, 1984:289; Quarantelli, 1965:110; Fritz, 1956:14, 38; Lands, 1984:52; Ross, 1982:64; Drabek, 1986:85).

These inquiries can be disruptive for several reasons. Their sheer numbers can jam local telephone circuits; essential public safety activities are interrupted as agency personnel attempt to answer the inquiries; and it may be very difficult to collect and collate the information necessary to respond (Seismic Safety Comm, 1983:16,33; Drabek, 1986:85; Worth, 1977:160; Moore, 1958:8).

Efforts to Locate Loved Ones Because the United States is a very mobile country, family members and loved ones are often separated from one another. Nearly every family in the country has blood relatives living in other parts of the nation or in foreign countries. Families living together are usually temporarily separated at different times of the day (Fritz, 1956:36). This fact is of special importance when disaster strikes, because there is an immediate and frantic effort of loved ones to locate those thought to be disaster victims.

The mass communications media not only quickly notifies the world of these events, but many times their versions are greatly dramatized, if not distorted. In addition, news reports usually do not give specific information about the exact location of a disaster, or details to indicate who has or has not been involved. Even in disasters with only a few hundred homeless, injured, or killed, the total number of personal welfare inquiries may be in the tens and hundreds of thousands (Fritz, 1956:22,36,37,63). Few public safety agencies, hospitals, emergency organizations, or governmental bodies are prepared for the deluge of inquiries after a disaster, and the results can be literally paralyzing.

Jammed Telephone Circuits When people hear of a disaster that might involve loved ones, the first response is to telephone them. If loved ones cannot be located where expected, information is sought by phoning hospitals, police departments, fire departments, relief agencies, newspaper offices, or the city hall. Since it only takes a small percentage of the population using the phone simultaneously to overload the system, phone lines in the disaster area quickly become jammed (Drabek, 1985b:13; Stallings, 1971:34).

EXAMPLE: Tornado, Waco, Texas, March 21, 1952. After the tornado struck, incoming calls were so numerous that outgoing calls were delayed for as much as 6 hours. Similarly, the communications resources of the telegraph office, the post office, “ham” radio operators, and the MARS (Military Affiliate Radio System) were inundated (Fritz, 1956:19).

EXAMPLE: Flash Flood, Big Thompson Canyon, Colorado, July 31, 1976. As word of the disaster spread across the country, concerned relatives deluged the Denver office of Associated Press, often blocking incoming reports from reporters at the scene (Fritz, 1980:195).

Community organizations considered sources of disaster information (police departments, hospitals, municipal offices) have their switchboards so flooded with calls that all communication in or out of the organization is prevented. Therefore, emergency procedures dependent on telephone communication cannot be carried out.

Traffic Congestion in the Disaster Area When loved ones cannot find the information they seek by phone, those within traveling distance try to seek it out in person.

EXAMPLE: Gas Main Explosions, Brighton, New York, September 21, 1951. When a city gas main pressure reducing valve failed, pilot lights of some gas appliances were extinguished by the

gas pressure surge. The houses then filled up with gas which then exploded when it reached the pilot light of another appliance or when someone turned on an electrical switch. Forty-one houses were damaged or destroyed and twenty-seven casualties resulted-three of them fatal. Getting in con-tact with all immediate family members was one of the first responses. At the time of the disaster, most of the men were away working in Rochester. When they heard of the explosions, they tried to call home. Most of them, unable to get through the jammed phone exchange, tried to drive back to Brighton. They soon found themselves tied up in the traffic jam, that developed. In many cases, even when the men eventually reached the edge of Brighton, they were stopped by road blocks. Despite all this, a number of them took to the back roads and were able to work their way into the disaster area (Fritz, 1956:11,13,15,16; Marks, 1954:Appendix B-2:36).

EXAMPLE: Tornado, Worcester, Massachusetts, June 9, 1953. Twenty minutes after a tornado swept through the city, the traffic jam on the roads leading to the area was formidable. It interfered with the passage of fire, police, ambulance, and other emergency vehicles. Complicating the traffic problems were “the hundreds of fathers, mothers, sons, and daughters of the disaster area residents.” They were abandoning their cars and running into the impact area to find and help their families (Wallace, 1956:74).

EXAMPLE: Atomic bomb explosion, Hiroshima, Japan, August 6, 1945. The city was evacuated after the explosion. But, less than 24 hours after the evacuation, “thousands of refugees came streaming back into the city … road blocks had to be set up along all routes into the city because there were so many people who wanted to search for missing relatives or inspect the damage(Fritz, 1956:12).

Similar examples can be documented from many other disasters. Hospitals, police departments, and other places of disaster activity are also swamped with people who go there trying to locate loved ones (Fritz, 1956:37).

Advice Adding to the disruptive effects of those seeking information about loved ones, are those seeking advice about disaster-related problems. Questions may be asked about such things as whether or not the callers’ homes are in an area threatened by flooding; whether or not food exposed to the chemical cloud can be eaten safely; and where the caller should go to donate blood. They often present organizations with requests for information which the organizations may not be prepared to provide and which require the diversion of resources to obtain (Quarantelli, 1965:110; Fritz, 1956:15; Raker, 1956:44; Drabek, 1968:49).

Management of Inquiries: Disaster Public Information Centers

Answering these questions is often impossible unless there exists a system for the various organizations to share information (see Fig. 9-3). For example, inquiries about missing loved ones may require the collection of information from the coroner, law enforcement agencies, public shelters, and local hospitals (Quarantelli, 1965:110; Quarantelli, 1983:83; Scholl, 1984:289; Yutzy, 1969:121; Lands, 1984:52). This requires the establishment of a central, multi-organizational public information office for the disaster. The responsibilities of this office are three-fold: 1) information for the disaster community (warning and instructions); 2) information for the press and dignitaries (discussed in Chapter 10); and 3) information for outsiders inquiring about loved ones.

Establishing a regional system of disaster public information centers can help in dealing with outside requests about loved ones. This system, composed of local information centers connected with regional centers, channels as many outside welfare inquiries as possible away from the centers of emergency activity.

Information on dead, relocated, and injured casualties is collected from designated officials at local hospitals, police departments, morgues, coroners offices, Red Cross, Salvation Army, and community shelters. It is then transmitted to regional centers in other parts of the state or country. Pre-arranged agreements with the media provide the public with toll-free numbers to these regional

information centers where they might learn if their relatives are fisted as known fatalities, or if relocated or injured, where they are now.

(click to enlarge)

Figure 9-3. The use of regional disaster information centers to divert public inquiries from emergency and public safety agencies.

The local information center in the disaster-stricken community also collects information that would allow others to learn if their loved ones were victims of the event. For example, information on the scope and severity of the event allows callers to determine if a loved one’s residence was in the seriously impacted area. If the event is an airline crash, the information includes the points and times of departure and arrival, the airline company and flight number, the passenger list, and the streets and block numbers in the crash impact site. This information is also provided to the regional centers and to the press. The provision of this detailed information in news accounts of the event helps to decrease the number of viewers who feel they may have a loved one in the disaster area.


Inquires about loved ones thought to be in the impact zone are not likely to be discouraged, but can be reduced or channeled in less disruptive ways, if the needed information is provided at a location away from the disaster area.


Disaster-stricken communities often have difficulties communicating with the public. Issuing warnings is one of the most important methods of averting the destructive consequences of disasters. In some cases, an effective warning process may depend on the cooperative interactions of multiple organizations: those who detect the disaster threat, those who decide that a warning should be issued, and those who convey the warning to the public. The public’s response to warning is not a simple stimulus-response reaction. Rather, members of the public often have to be convinced that they are in immediate, personal danger. The source, context, and repetition of the message can influence the warning’s influence on public behavior.

In disasters, news reports generate worldwide concern in those who think they may have loved ones in the impact area. The usual result is that organizations in the disaster area are inundated with inquiries about these persons. Although these welfare inquiries cannot be stopped, effective planning can reduce them or channel them so they are less disruptive.

PLANNING CHECKPOINTS Do those responsible for issuing warnings to the public understand that widespread panic is not a common problem in disasters, but that convincing people to evacuate is?


Does your community’s disaster planning and training address which organizations and persons are responsible for the various aspects of warning: detection of the threat, decision to warn, and dissemination of warning?

Does your warning process take into consideration the importance of the warning context? The legitimacy of the warning source? The importance of warning repetition and consistent, multiple warnings from different sources?

Does your planning include provisions to disseminate information that will help members of the public determine that they don’t have loved ones impacted by the disaster (such as information accurately describing the geographical boundaries of the disaster, the involved aircraft destination, flight number, and list of uninjured passengers)?

Do you have a regional system for collecting disaster victim information and providing it to the public at a site away from the disaster response activity?


Mcluckie B, The warning system in disaster situations: A selective analysis, Report Series 9, 1970. Available from: Disaster Research Center, University of Delaware, Newark, Del 19716.

Perry RW, Comprehensive Emergency Management: Evacuating Threatened Populations, 1985. Available from: JAI Press, Inc, 36 Sherwood Place, Greenwich, Conn 06830.

Quarantelli EL, Evacuation Behavior and Problems: Findings and Implications from the Re-search Literature, Book and Monograph Series 16, 1984. Available from: Disaster Research Center, University of Delaware, Newark, Del19716.

TelePatrol International, TelePatroI Management, Inc, P 0 Box D, Sunny Lane, Beach Lake, Penn. 18405, (800) 2554583.

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