Emergency Management Agencies: Pilot for a Crisis Communication Analysis Assessment Test

While events such as the nuclear power accident at Three Mile Island and the advent of 24/7 news media in the 1980s first sparked interest in crisis communications, the discipline has become a critical need during the first half of this decade. The lessons of the September 11, 2001, terror attacks and, more recently, Hurricane Katrina should not be lost on public officials or public relations practitioners. One of those lessons is the need for accurate and timely communication with key stakeholders. Even within the state of Kansas, recent natural catastrophes (the spring tornado that destroyed Greensburg, for example, and the damaging summer floods and toxic oil spill that traumatized citizens in southern portions of the state) have contributed to higher levels of scrutiny of local EMA capabilities. A content analysis of the Emergency Management Agencies (EMAs) web sites for the 50 states and the District of Columbia was conducted between October 20, 2006, and January 9, 2007, in an attempt to determine the degree to which these web sites were targeted toward and meet the needs of journalists who go online seeking information. While journalists serve as a major source of information dissemination to the public, the study suggested that state EMA web sites were not what could be called “journalist-friendly.” The research suggested that when it comes to online communication, state EMAs more often direct their focus to internal publics – other public and private responding agencies – than they do toward journalists. It appears to support the supposition that emergency managers – or their web designers – view their public information responsibilities not as media relations, except in possibly the broadest and most literal interpretation of the term. The research certainly suggests that additional inquiry of such a supposition would be valuable. We propose additional investigation of the hypothesis that public information needs are not being met nationally by the state EMAs due to utilization of web sites that inadequately respond to the needs of journalists. The research would examine issues such as attitudes toward the use of social media, explicit and implicit purposes behind EMA web sites, and the role of public information in EMA planning. Overall, our research will focus on better defining the reasoning behind development of EMA online content. To that end, we are requesting funding for the following research activity: 1. Conducting a survey of state emergency management agency managers – or their website designers – to determine guidelines followed, or objectives established for their Internet communications. 2. Development of a system for ranking of the effectiveness of individual state EMA internet communication activity (to be called the EMA Internet Communication Effectiveness Assessment) that ensures construct validity. 3. Testing the efficacy of a nation-wide State EMA Internet Communication Excellence Program for meeting the on-going crisis communication needs of state EMAs through effective use of the internet.