Hurricane Katrina Evacuation Risk Communication Influences

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Katrina Evacuation Influences i

Hurricane Katrina Evacuations Risk Communication Influences: Inconsistent and Confusing Messages, Lack of Trust in Information Sources, Selective Reporting by Media and Psychological and Social Factors

February 25, 2009 Risk Communications
EDMG612 B002 Win 09
Dr. Erich W. Randall

Katrina Evacuation Influences ii

Table of Contents

Introduction………………………………………..1 Risk Communication………………………………2
Inconsistent and Confusing Messages……………..3
Lack of Trust in Communication Sources…………4
Selective Reporting by Media……………………..6
Psychological and Social Factors………………….8
Conclusion………………………………………..11
Bibliography……………………………………...13

Katrina Evacuation Influences 1

Hurricane Katrina Evacuations Risk Communication Influences: Inconsistent and Confusing Messages, Lack of Trust in Information Sources, Selective Reporting by Media and Psychological and Social Factors

Hurricane Katrina hit the Southeast Gulf Coast of Louisiana on August 29, 2005 as a category 3 hurricane. It was the costliest and one of the top five deadliest storms in United States history. There were approximately 1,800 deaths and this number is disputed to be higher in some reports. Nearly all the deaths resulted because a large segment of the population in the city of New Orleans did not evacuate (Burton and Silver 2006). Why people stayed after being warned is the subject of many studies. There are numerous influences that played a role in the decision not to evacuate for these people. Some of the more prevalent ones are inconsistent, confusing or incomplete risk messages, lack of trust in information sources, selective reporting by the media, and psychological and social factors that affect how information is processed. The influences are all related to ineffective, poor risk communication in the planning stage as well as at the time of the event.

Katrina Evacuation Influences 2
Risk communication is a scientifically based discipline that deals with the dilemma between the risk that can kill people and the risk that alarms or causes outrage to them are often completely different. Risk communication became a formal study to overcome hurdles such as inconsistent, overly complex, confusing or incomplete risk messages; the lack of trust in information sources; selective reporting by the media; and psychological and social factors that affect how information is processed (Covello & Sandman 2001). Risk communication informs, persuades or warns people about health and environmental risks, and it analyzes problems and circulates findings on new knowledge (Reluca 2006). A well developed risk communication message and/or plan serves several purposes before, during and after a disaster. First, “prior to the event, it can serve to manage the expectations of the public regarding the capabilities and potential assistance provided at all levels of government; second it provides public information prior to and during the event to facilitate the safety and security of U.S. citizens; and finally, it can, if proactively and effectively used in conjunction with visible ongoing relief efforts, serve to increase the credibility of government and serve as a calming influence to the citizenry” (Murphy 2007). Risk communications that were used to influence people to evacuate before and during Hurricane Katrina are textbook examples of what not to do. Inconsistent, confusing and misinterpreted risk messages result in people making decisions based on rumor and unsubstantiated “facts”. It can also result in the decision to take no action at all. It is extremely important that all levels of government be consistent in their message of the risk and the level of hazard associated with the risk. They should be provided complete information while presenting three separate...
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