S155 A Survey of the Effectiveness of Warnings by Media and Public Officials for Evacuation of Hurricane Harvey

Sunday, 7 January 2018
Exhibit Hall 5 (ACC) (Austin, Texas)
Megan Montgomery, Metropolitan State University, Denver, CO

The research involves a survey of the effectiveness of warnings by media professionals and public officials in leading citizens to evacuate prior to Hurricane Harvey. On August 25, 2017, the Category 4 hurricane brought high winds, destructive storm surge and record breaking rainfall to southeast Texas. It is estimated 70 people died and more than a million people were displaced. According to a CNN report, emergency management officials rescued more than 120,000 people and many still remain trapped in their homes (Elam, 2017).

A published statement from the American Meteorological Society concerning severe weather messaging reads, “Informal education by the media in advance of severe weather occurrences helps prepare the public to respond properly during an emergency situation.” The statement includes a criteria of 5 things to be included in each warning in order for it to be effective. The criteria includes immediacy, accuracy, cooperation with a NOAA entity, balance and professionalism. (AMS Council, 2001)

In addition, research conducted by Robert Meyer from the University of Pennsylvania and others about the publics response to 2012 Atlantic Hurricane Season found that residents lack of evacuation came from “a widespread misunderstanding of the extend and nature of threats posed by tropical cyclones.” (Meyer et al, 2014). If so many people chose to ride out the storm instead of evacuating, some suspicion may be cast on the ability of those in the public eye to properly warn those in evacuation areas.

The goal of the research is to prove that some of the warnings prior to the hurricane from media and public officials would not be considered effective enough in inspiring people to evacuate during a hurricane. In order to test out this hypothesis a survey will be designed and issued to the public to test the effectiveness of warnings by the media and governmental officials. The survey will take transcriptions of 6 different warnings from 2 media professionals (1 on the national level and 1 on the local level), 2 from public officials (One state government official and one from an emergency management entity) and as a control, 2 NOAA agencies (1 from a local National Weather Service office and one from the National Hurricane Center). To get rid of bias, the names of who issued the warning will be excluded from the survey. Survey takers will be asked to rate each warning on a 1 to 5 scale (1 being strongly disagree and 5 being strongly agree) on the following criteria issued from the American Meteorological Society on how to properly warn in a severe weather situation: 1) Would you take action and evacuate based on this warning? 2) Do you feel a sense of immediacy from this warning? 3) Does the warning seem accurate to you? 4) Does the warning seem to indicate that person giving warnings is working with the National Weather Service or Hurricane Center for information? 5) Does this warning seem balanced and not overly exaggerated? 6) Does this warning seem professional? Survey takers will also be asked what their profession is and will remain anonymous. Based on the responses and data analysis, the survey should show which warnings would be considered effective in the public eye in terms of getting someone to evacuate and which ones would not.

More than 150 surveys will be given to people ranging in ages 18-65 from a range of professions. Only 50 will be chosen at random for analysis.

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