Social Inequalities in Disaster Preparedness Communication

Save favourite 30 May May 2018

The way authorities communicate societal risks and crises reveals a vulnerable and unequal society. This is part of the findings of an international study from the Risk and Crisis Research Center (RCR) at Mid Sweden University. Researchers have examined how authorities in eight EU member states communicate societal risk and crisis to the public.

– We see that the technology used to spread information, the message the information conveys and the way it is communicated shows not only examples of vulnerable populations, but also demonstrates social inequalities, says Erna Danielsson, associate professor in sociology and the study’s project leader.

The countries under comparison were Sweden, Estonia, Germany, France, England, Greece and Cyprus. The choice of EU member states reflects the full gamut of administrative systems in Europe, a relevant factor as the communication of risk by the public sector is part of public administration. The study shows that the communicated message is mainly geared towards traditional middle-class urban households. Additionally, even though most countries convey some information in other languages, the most complete information is conveyed in each member state’s majority language, which has the potential to exclude language minorities and tourists.

– Social media capture some groups but not all. Also, the message urging people to hole up at home requires resources and various expensive material necessities that one has to purchase ahead of time. Having the stock of several days’ worth of food and water for an entire family, as authorities recommend, requires significant storage space. Not everybody has these assets, says Evangelia Petridou, assistant professor in political science and main author of the report.

The study examines the actors involved in risk communication and the methods they use. The authors of the report have also looked at the language in which the information is offered; which risks are taken up in the different EU member states, whether there is information specific communication for different societal groups and whether there are evaluations of the risk communication process available to the public.

Generally speaking, authorities use digital media as a means for risk communication. Youtube is used by various countries. In Greece, a youtube clip urges families to have a contingency plan while in Estonia, the Estonian Rescue Board has a youtube channel with many subscribers.

–The risks EU member states take up are to a large extent contextualized—forest fires and earthquakes in Greece and Cyprus, acts of war in Cyprus, terrorist attacks as well as other risks in France, while all hazards are taken up in England, Finland. In Estonia, special attention is paid to house fires, while emphasis is put on disruptions in electricity supply and weather-related issues in Sweden, Finland, and Germany, says Evangelia Petridou.

An emerging trend in some countries’ risk communication is that material preparedness is privileged over the act of caring about one’s neighbor. This is not the case in all countries under comparison. Finland, for example, has maintained a solidarity message on their 72hr campaign and France has instructions of how to help family and friends.

– Indeed, risk communication in many countries is instrumental and stresses the material “stuff “one should have access to rather than what actions one should take. Additionally, most (though not all) countries’ self-protection guidelines are geared towards an urban environment rather than towards the inhabitants of rural areas, says Minna Lundgren, assistant professor in sociology.

The authors of the report suggest that more research is needed to examine the effects of different types of risk communication, campaigns and methods. The results of this report can be examined further in a more global context especially in connection to peoples’ prior knowledge and understanding of, and preparedness for, possible threats and risks.

The following researchers conducted the study: Associate professor Erna Danielsson, assistant professor Evangelia Petridou, professor Anna Olofsson, assistant professor Minna Lundgren, and PhD candidates Christine Grosse and Michael Röslmaier at Mid Sweden’s University Risk and Crisis Research Center (RCR).

Contact Person:
Erna Danielsson, docent och projektledare, +4610-142 81 32, erna.danielsson@miun.se


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