More than 300 people died as a result of the 2009 L’Aquila earthquake in Italy. The real tragedy was that better communications during the situation and response might have reduced the body count considerably.
That’s the viewpoint of U.S. researchers, led by Deanna Sellnow, a communications professor from the University of Central Florida. Her group examined the impact of the L’Aquila earthquake on the international scientific earthquake community of practice (CoP) and found that clear, timely information and response instructions can minimize casualties.
Study results were released in an article by lead author Sellnow in the Journal of Applied Communication Research, published by Taylor & Francis Group.
Scientists in the operational earthquake forecasting (OEF) community are growing progressively more adept at predicting a hit – but not as savvy at communicating the risk to the affected public.
As a result of the study, OEF scientists began to build stronger relationships with a diverse set of experts including risk communications professionals. They focused on improving performance by engaging with decision makers and the public to gain their support and educate them about earthquake forecasting. The scientists developed simple and precise public warning messages less likely to be misunderstood, and ensured that message alerts are timely and delivered through multiple communication sources and channels. And they began to promptly issue corrections or clarifications as needed, to minimize potentially deadly confusion.
Sellnow wrote, “This research confirms the importance of translating science into accurate and comprehensible messages delivered to non-scientific publics. The expanded community of practice that emerged as a result of the [L’Aquila] risk communication failure, which now includes communication social science experts, can serve as a model for other scientific communities that also may need to translate their knowledge effectively to disparate non-scientific publics.”
By David Searls, Earth.com Staff Writer
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