3.1 ‘Deaf Ears': Why Good Communication Can Still Result in Bad Decision-Making

Tuesday, 12 January 2016: 12:00 AM
Room 333-334 ( New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center)
Brenda A. Mackie, University of Canterbury, Melbourne, Australia

‘Deaf Ears': Why Good Communication Can Still Result in Bad Decision-Making. The uncertainties inherent in weather-prediction mean that threat scenarios such as floods and bushfires often necessitate repeated warning messages in the absence of the actual event. Government and emergency management agencies have a two-fold problem because they want to avoid the accusation of panicking the public whilst running the risk of under-preparing them at the same time. As a result they may be tempted to err on the side of caution, downplay the severity of a potential disaster or delay issuing a warning because they are worried the public may get tired of the message. The taken-for-granted phenomenon known as ‘cry wolf' or ‘warning fatigue' describes the cynicism and apathy that can result from repeated warnings. Regarded by disaster theorists to be a ‘disaster myth', it nonetheless continues to be blamed by some for reduced vigilance, inadequate preparation and flawed decision-making. A case study from the Australian bushfire context established that warning fatigue is a multifaceted construct, and can influence risk perception in the context of uncertainty. The results from a warning fatigue measure (BWFM-R) conducted once a month over a 6 month period by residents of bushfire-prone Victoria, Australia enabled an operationalization of warning fatigue and showed that five variables combine in a unique way to produce ‘warning fatigue'. This paper suggests that if emergency and disaster agencies understand the complexities of warning fatigue and tailor their warnings accordingly, risk communication will become more effective, increasing public engagement and improving disaster response.
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