THE EXPERIENCE OF THE MEDIA AND EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT ON THE MISSISSIPPI GULF COAST
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This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. CMS-9632458. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.
Communities that implemented an effective public information plan, which anticipated media and community needs, were much more effective in maintaining a good relationship between the media and emergency management than those which did not have or effectively implement such a plan. More importantly, communities with effective public information plans were far more effective in disseminating mitigation and response information to their constituents than the other communities. The former communities received praise from local officials and citizens, while the later received sever criticism.
Panic Flight. Average citizens, media personnel and disaster responders believe that when a disaster occurs [potential] victims will panic and engage in any behavior deemed necessary at the moment to facilitate their escape. Panic flight is viewed as a natural outcome of the intense fear experienced by [potential] victims, i.e., the intense fear automatically results in irrational flight, the running in any direction without thought given to a rational escape route. Evacuations are sometimes delayed, until it is deemed absolutely necessary, because officials do not want to cause an unnecessary panic. When the nuclear incident began at Three Mile Island, near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania in 1979, certain emergency personnel and political leaders cautioned nearby residents that there was no need to panic. When an evacuation was considered and then recommended for pregnant women and preschool children, officials suggested to their citizens that the voluntary evacuation be done in an orderly manner--that there was, once again, no need to panic. The Presidential Commission on TMI later learned that there had been some hesitation to call for any evacuation as they feared the behavioral response problems which they believed would ensue.
The research literature (Drabek, 1968; Quarantelli, 1981) has established that individuals do not attempt to flee when there is not a perceived avenue for escape. When there is a perceived avenue of escape, and when the opportunity to use it is seen as diminishing, there is a rational tendency to avail oneself of the opportunity to use it. This author lived within twenty miles of TMI when the 1979 incident occurred. When he was concerned about the impact of TMI on his young children, his family packed and left the area. Those leaving the area were not mindlessly fleeing in fear, they made a rational decision to be prudent and seek a safer location. This is normative, orderly behavior. It is not panic flight.
Looting. Looting is perhaps the most expected behavioral response to disaster. Both print and broadcast media personnel report on the alleged looting incidents, on the steps being taken to prevent it, and, alternately, on how unusual it was for the community in question to not be preyed upon by looters. The National Guard is usually activated ostensibly to protect against looting, in addition to performing other tasks. Pass systems are typically developed to keep individuals from entering the stricken area in order to keep looters out. What often occurs (Fischer, Schaeffer & Trowbridge, 1992) is victims are also prevented (or at least feel harassed) from returning to their homes to quickly save what property they can.
Many people refuse to evacuate because they fear their property will be stolen. They often arm themselves and threaten to shoot any unknown person entering their property. Some drown as a hurricane's storm surge impacts their home. During Hurricane Gilbert (Fischer, 1989), one city manager took very public precautions to prevent looting. Even though he knew that looting rarely occurs, he took such precautions primarily to convince citizens that it was safe to evacuate.
Price Gouging. When Fischer and Martin (Fischer, 1989) were in Texas during Hurricane Gilbert, they were watching a local evening news broadcast which reported that a couple of local merchants had been arrested for charging an exorbitant price for the plywood that residents needed to protect their windows during the pending hurricane. The researchers immediately telephoned the city police and asked how many had been arrested for price gouging. The response: "none." The broadcast had correctly reported earlier that the local city council had passed an ordinance that day to protect against price gouging. The broadcast media focused a fair amount of its hurricane coverage on this kind of expected deviant behavior. Citizens believe it commonly occurs, media personnel report it, further reinforcing the perception, and local leaders take steps to prevent and respond to it. It rarely occurs, however. When it does, it tends to be done by outsiders who may converge to the area. Local citizens and especially local merchants rarely exhibit such behavior during a disaster event.
Contagion. It is frequently believed that those who converge to the disaster scene, while they may not arrive with malice in their hearts, may join in the looting and price gouging as the deviance is believed to spread through the crowd like a contagious disease. People are believed to be caught up in the selfish frenzy of the moment, losing control, joining the mob as LeBon (1895, see Fischer 1998) had once described the emergence of collective behavior.
Martial Law. It has frequently been reported and expected that martial law is commonly declared in an effort to restore or maintain order in the aftermath of a disaster. The expected deviant behavior is viewed as rendering such a radical response as necessary and understandable. In fact, martial law has been declared only once in the United States in response to a disaster event.
Psychological Dependency. The perceived scene of the disaster area is usually one in which victims are too "out of it" to know what to do, they are often portrayed as being in need of direction. It is commonly believed that survivors are incapable of functioning at all after their experience (Fischer, 1988). For example, it is believed that residents must either be organized by outsiders in order to begin the body search, assessments of damage, assisting the injured, and beginning the cleanup. Actually, the survivors have usually been doing all of the above quite well before the emergency organizations arrive and take over. Some often feel resentful when these organizations take the credit for helping all these alleged psychologically dependent people who could do nothing for themselves (Quarantelli, 1976).
Disaster Shock. In conjunction with psychological dependency, survivors are also often perceived as being in a state of shock as a result of their experience. "Friends of a friend" of a victim often report that the survivor was so incapacitated that he sat on "the remains of his front porch for days, garden hose in hand, ready to wash the mud from the flood away, but was unable to move" (Fischer, 1988). Fischer also found other third person reports have claimed that survivors spent hours walking essentially in circles not knowing where they were, what happened, or what to do. Reporters often (mis)interpret the body language of those they observe at a disaster site. Some survivors may appear to be in shock, while they are actually exhausted and, therefore, are resting.
Evacuation Behavior. Ask a potential evacuee if he is concerned about evacuating from a city when the forecast is for a hurricane to impact the area and the likely response is:
Yes I am concerned, I don't want to join all those crazies as they flee, they'll crowd and push each other off the roads trying to escape the path of the storm . . . why, they might even pack a gun, and worse yet, use it! (Fischer, 1989)
Once again, deviant behavior is assumed. This stereotype has emerged in American society which permeates virtually all levels of public and private life. Average citizens believe it, media personnel believe it, screen writers and movie directors believe it, government officials and even many emergency preparedness personnel believe it . . . and worse, prepare for it as if it were reality. Hollywood versions of disasters typically portray a version of the above reinforcing this misperception for all who view their work (Quarantelli, 1972).
Shelter Use. Along with the belief that citizens flee an area when told to do so, it is commonly assumed that when they do leave they go to the designated public shelters. It is further assumed that the shelters are, therefore, overcrowded with the thousands of evacuees. Some shelters are fully utilized, but many, perhaps most, go under-used. Emergency planners who are aware of this tendency develop shelter utilization plans that open shelters on an "as needed basis," i.e., when the first shelter is filling, they activate a second, and so forth. This is the pattern that Fischer observed in Texas during Hurricane Gilbert.
Death, Injury & Damage Estimates. When the Loma Prieta (San Francisco) earthquake occurred during the 1989 World Series, the first published death count was 272. This figure was broadcast and printed throughout the United States, usually as the lead story or headline. Approximately two weeks later when the final official death count was determined it did not appear on most of the evening news programs. Some newspapers did report it, but the brief stories usually were found deep inside the paper. The final, official death count was 67. The pattern of overestimating is typical. While there are those occasions, e.g., Hurricane Andrew, where underestimates occur, the more common pattern is for death, injury and damage estimates to be dramatically revised downward some weeks after the event. In all fairness, it is difficult to get accurate information. Rumor affects the count. Sometimes the same people are counted two or more times. There is, of course, an advantage to having high property damage estimates in that the site is more likely to be declared a federal disaster area resulting in federal aid or low-cost loans for rebuilding.
The disaster mythology includes a belief in looting, price gouging, panic flight, contagious spread of deviant selfish behavior, the necessity of martial law, psychological dependency and disaster shock. Shelters are seen as overused and evacuations are seen as likely to contribute to panic flight. It is also assumed that the death, injury and damage estimates are essentially accurate. The research literature has established that these beliefs are largely myth, thus they are collectively characterized as the disaster mythology. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), disaster researchers, and well trained emergency personnel know the mythology is something that they must be aware of in order to anticipate the public's actual behavioral response, e.g., hesitancy to evacuate due to fear that their property will be looted. Well designed disaster plans attempt to counter the public's belief in the mythology and respond to the actual behavioral response their community will encounter during a disaster.
Examples of How Myths Do Not Hold. Hurricane Elena impacted upon Gulfport, Louisiana in September 1985 after threatening both Florida and Alabama. Gulfport has been the frequent target of hurricanes. As a result the city was probably as prepared as any impacted area has ever been. The Gulfport emergency management apparatus is very sophisticated with a state of the art Emergency Operations Center (EOC), a model written disaster plan, and highly trained emergency personnel. While the EOC responded to the hurricane's impact by managing the organizational response, there were, of course, many individual citizens who responded to their own and their neighbor's needs. After impact, the streets were flooded and blocked by debris for several hours. Electricity and water service were disrupted for several days. Normal time activities were interrupted for days or, in some instances, for weeks. While looting and price gouging were reported in the media, police records do not indicate any confirmed reports or arrests for such behaviors. The on-site disaster research field team observed that while the National Guard was called out to "prevent looting," its primary role was to direct traffic and help clear debris.
The National Hurricane Center, located in Florida, monitors the path of hurricanes which may threaten the United States. It alerts citizens of any possible impending impact in an attempt to enable potential victims to secure their possessions and find appropriate shelter either in their homes, at another site in the community or through evacuation to another area altogether. The problem with evacuations, however, is that in many communities, potential victims usually have a strong hesitancy to leave their homes for an evacuation location. Many potential evacuees risk injury or death by staying home to "ride it out." Quarantelli and Dynes (1972) note this tendency. Fischer, et al., 1993, observed the same pattern during a technological emergency when a residential community was threatened by potential toxic gases from a major fire in Ephrata, Pennsylvania, in May 1990. Fischer observed the same pattern during a major fire in Philadelphia in 1991.
Some areas regularly threatened by hurricanes develop a disaster subculture whereby citizens celebrate the impending storm by throwing a "hurricane party." These parties may involve going to the beach, beer in hand, to watch for "the big waves to come in." They may, alternately, take a keg of beer up to a nearby lookout to watch the winds blow in. These partygoers may become victims as the storm impacts the area. They had believed that the storm would not exceed anything in their past experience. When it does, the partygoers may be in trouble. When the volcano Mount St. Helens was threatening to erupt, a local television reporter asked Harry Truman (not the former president) "why don't you leave, you've been advised to evacuate in order to save yourself?" Harry responded that he had lived here for decades and never had a problem, "how bad could it be?" Harry died in the explosion and lava flow. He is buried under the debris.
If potential victims do evacuate, they tend to relocate with relatives or friends. The next most likely alternative is staying in a motel. Their least likely choice is the high school gym, the usual evacuation site provided by the community.
Survivors are often believed to exist in a state of shock as a result of their experience (Fischer, 1998). Third person reports have claimed that survivors spent hours walking essentially in circles not knowing where they were, what happened, or what to do (Fischer, 1998). The sociology of disaster literature (see for example, Quarantelli and Dynes, 1972), challenges this view that victims are usually overwhelmed by disaster shock and become psychologically dependent upon outsiders. Survivors have actually been found to normally behave quite rationally and are the first to respond to their needs and the needs of their neighbors.
Looting is perhaps the behavior most expected by the public and officials. Police departments usually talk about the fear and incidence of looting, the media report stories of its occurrence, and governors call out the National Guard to "protect against" it. Potential victims or survivors often report that they will not leave their homes because they fear looting. They paint signs which read: "DON'T LOOT OR WE'LL SHOOT!" While looting does sometimes occur, concern over it far exceeds the rate at which it actually takes place. Unfortunately, excessive time and resources are often expended on looting which could be better employed in mitigating against and responding to higher priorities.
When the average American visualizes a disaster scene, he thinks of the depraved behavior acted out by what is commonly seen as a selfish, self-centered human species which is believed to prey upon itself when disaster victims are vulnerable. We picture convergence of human vultures to the scene for the purpose of extracting victim's personal belongings. While there normally is a convergence, the first converging wave of citizens usually consists of emergency response personnel and average citizens seeking to honestly, altruistically help the victims. The second wave consists of those seeking to observe and personally survey the damage to the area. This second wave is not altruistic, but they are normally not seeking to separate property from the rightful owners. Normal time norms apparently direct many Americans to satisfy the self, but disaster time norms direct us to behave in a selfless fashion. Many confuse the two time periods and reverse the normative response evidenced by the majority of participants. Altruism is the norm during disaster periods.
The reality Americans perceive as a result of their use of the mass media is often incorrect, i.e., a misperception. Case studies will be presented which empirically illustrate the extent to which various "significant others" misperceive and how they unwittingly perpetuate such misperceptions to the news consumer. Such misperceptions often result in the allocation of scarce resources for imaginary problems. Adequate resources are often unavailable for combating the actual problems. A working knowledge of what really occurs is needed on the part of local leaders, emergency management personnel, and the residents of the community.
One very important caveat, the mass media has greatly reduced the level of flamboyant exaggeration in what they report as typical behavioral and organizational response to disasters. Fifty years ago, you may have read of the cadaver that had three fingers cut off by a looter stealing rings from a disaster victim. Such extremely exaggerated reporting is far less likely to occur today. However, since a larger portion of the news hole is now devoted to reporting disasters, the opportunity for myth perpetuation is greater today. As a result, a less than accurate image is still commonly portrayed in both the print and broadcast media (Drabek, 1986; Fischer & Bischoff, 1988; Fischer, 1989).
Soft versus Hard News. A hard news story is one which relates the basic factual information to the reader, e.g., disaster agent (flood, hurricane, tornado, chemical spill), duration of event (storm blew through the area for four hours), how long it took to restore essential services (the electricity was out for eight hours). A soft news story describes alleged behavioral aspects of the event, e.g., a search for a lost cat, search and rescue encounters, convergence activities. These news stories often focus on the tales the survivors have to tell about their ordeal. For example, the police chief of one town told reporters that looting threatened to become a problem but the National Guard was called out in time to forestall it (Fischer, 1998). When asked how many looters had been apprehended, the chief said, "none, but many were spotted by witnesses."
The greater the emphasis on soft, versus hard news, the greater the likelihood that myths will appear in the story (Fischer, 1998). As soon as the reporter ventures into the personal experiences of those who were there, the news story becomes more a news story. When the reporter makes the mistake of accepting statements as factually correct, he unwittingly passes on myths which reinforce the view that behavioral response to disaster is characterized by the breakdown of the norms of good citizenship.
Interview Incidence. It stands to reason, then, that as the incidence of soft news interviews increases, an increase in myth reporting results. One may wonder how myths could possibly come from the mouths of "those who were there." Survivors may sometimes exaggerate their experiences, sometimes report what they believe occurred because they believe in the disaster mythology, sometimes misinterpret events, or sometimes be misinterpreted. Local officials may also exaggerate, report what they believe occurred based upon reports to them, misinterpret and be misinterpreted. They also have a vested interest in their community being declared a federal disaster area making federal monies available for rebuilding. This is not to say that they would deliberately misrepresent events, but in their exuberance to do a good job it is possible to succumb to the exaggerations commonly making the rounds through the rumor mill.
Post Impact Period. When the soft news stories focus primarily on events occurring during the immediate post-impact disaster period, the incidence of myth reporting is greater than for any other period. Remember there are five time periods which comprise the life cycle of a disaster: the pre-impact period, the impact period, the immediate post-impact period, the short-term recovery period, and the long-range recovery period. It is during the immediate post-impact period that officials and survivors are most prone to be excited and to exaggerate. During this stage of the disaster life cycle normal time norms are usually suspended in favor of altruism. In the spirit of openness interviewees gladly share their perceptions of their experiences.
For most types of disasters, media personnel are not able to get on-site until after impact, so the likelihood is great that the interviewing of victims will occur primarily during the post-impact time period when the media rush to publish or broadcast news of the event. Reporters are trained to seek out the most dramatic settings and stories. Thus we tend to see the building that has been damaged most severely, conveying the image that this is typical of the damage sustained in the entire community. We tend to hear the story of victims who most dramatically relate their disaster experience. Once again, we end up with the perception that the account is both true and typical of disaster events. What is the end result? The disaster mythology is again perpetuated to an unwitting audience of readers or viewers. While the New York Times decries that it publishes "the truth so that it will make us free," the media, in general, may not provide us with that which does so.
News Hole Size. It should not surprise the reader to learn that when the reporter has more time or space in which to enumerate the activities reported by the survivors, the myth tally increases. When the number of mythical accounts being included in the news story increases, obviously the total number of myths portrayed will increase. Since 1944 the size of the news hole devoted to disasters has dramatically increased in newsmagazines. Only a few column inches were usually allotted to a hard news account of a disaster event in the 1940s, i.e., reporting the type of disaster agent, the location of the event, and the response of the local and state officials. In recent decades, the national print media has devoted an increasing number of column inches to disaster reporting. For example, in the aftermath of the 1985 Mexico Earthquake, Time Magazine devoted over 200 column inches to both hard and soft news reporting in the first of three issues published after the quake. The first issue featured the Mexico quake on its cover and as the major story of the magazine that week. As noted earlier, the more space devoted to disaster "news," the more likely we are to be exposed to myths.
Disaster Type. Another variable impacting upon variation of the publication of disaster myths is the type of disaster, i.e., natural versus technological. Fischer and Bischoff (1988) found that the print media was much more likely to publish myths when reporting on natural disasters. When the disaster was technological in nature, e.g., chemical spill, transportation accident, nuclear power plant radiation leak, the media was much less likely to portray myth. To the extent that technological news stories focus on interviews of survivors during the post-impact period, myths are perpetuated. What usually occurs, however, is that the news stories focus on what happened during the pre-impact and impact time periods. There is the tendency to want to recount events leading up to the airplane crash in an attempt to explain why it occurred in the first place (blame-fixing). Similarly, when a nuclear power plant leaks radiation into the air, the media focus on what happened, why and what to do now to protect oneself. Early interviews focus on what experts have to say, since the survivor cannot provide a technical explanation for what happened. Hard news reporting usually occurs, soft news reports are far less frequent. It is not until the latter part of the disaster life cycle that reports focus more on the effects of the event on local citizens. For example, the early media reports on TMI were concerned with describing the extent of the radiation venting, the degree of danger resulting from exposure to it, and what went wrong in the first place. In time, the focus of an increasing percentage of the TMI news stories focused on the emotional stress of those living within twenty-five miles of the power plant.
We can therefore expect a different response by the media depending on whether the disaster agent is natural or technological. In most cases the natural disaster will be presented in accordance with the mythical model; and, the mythical model will not be portrayed for technological disasters--unless the story's focus is on the post-impact disaster period. During this time period myths are likely to be perpetuated for the technological disaster as well.
Local Print and Broadcast Media. Reporters from any medium or locale were found to widely believe in the disaster mythology themselves. Yet, when myths or exaggerations did occur, the local print media was found to be the most accurate, the local television broadcast media closely followed, while the network news reporting was judged to be the most likely to exaggerate. If reporters subscribe to the disaster mythology, then why the difference in reporting accuracy? The news gathering and reporting behavior of local print and broadcast news personnel was primarily governed by an altruistic norm. They sought to gather and disseminate the information their community needed in order to adequately prepare themselves and to protect the community from impact. Even though most local news personnel believed in the mythology, the accuracy of their reporting was enhanced by their organizational approach to the news. They tended to devote large portions of their coverage to the prepared statements of emergency management spokespersons. Hence, the accuracy of their news depended upon the accuracy of these sources. They were found to be accurate in the communities under study.
National Media Reporting. The news gathering and reporting behavior of network and national print news personnel, on the other hand, was primarily not governed by an altruistic norm, but by a self-interest norm. They were not part of the community, but converged to it for the purpose of covering the storm. The network media particularly functioned as pack animals (Scanlon, 1978) and gathered in herds along the coastal beaches of those cities deemed most likely to be impacted. They tended to bring interviewees to their satellite locations and sent film crews around the area to obtain dramatic video to use as a backdrop for their summarized versions of the community's response. The network productions were far more staged than the local news. The network audience was seen as being more global and though the reporters themselves would not perceive it to be true, an entertainment ethic was a underlying focus driving those reporters who converged to the impact site. As it became clear that the storm would not directly impact directly the Texas coast, they had to go ahead and gather "good pictures" and portray the drama they expected of such an event. They were there to cover the big story, and they created, staged, and broadcast as big a story as they could. As a result, the weather was exaggerated; evacuation rates and the number of sheltered evacuees were exaggerated. Deviant behaviors of the disaster mythology were more likely to be noted. They staged events that they thought were indicative of what was really happening. Even when officials are not mistakenly reporting such behaviors, reporters asked if any had occurred, implying that their occurrence is normal and to be expected. The trouble with their organizational approach was that they were wrong about what they thought typically occurs. Their perception of reality, however, framed the news story they created and portrayed to their consumers. Myth perpetuation is the direct result.
While reporters from all mediums sought the command post view (Quarantelli, 1981) of the disaster, local reporters (both broadcast and print) devoted more of their reporting to what the local officials were saying than the network reporters did. In the case of Gilbert, this facilitated greater accuracy, as many of the officials were very knowledgeable. The network crews sought to manage their news to present the story that they believed accurately portrayed what occurs in such a disaster. Their creative efforts, however, tended to result in greater inaccuracy. Their erroneous definition of the situation, coupled with the organizational structure allowed them to stage what they sought to broadcast, produced the more fabled version of the news story.
Summary. First, the media was fairly accurate in their overall portrayal of the behavioral response to the threat posed by Hurricane Gilbert. They were particularly accurate when it came to portraying rational behavior in preparation for the storm, in portraying the usual disaster subculture behavior, and in portraying the usual altruism. Second, the media was found, however, to exaggerate the evacuation rates, shelter populations, and the gravity of weather changes. Third, the disaster myths most often perpetuated were looting, price gouging, and panic. And fourth, variation in accuracy was observed between the various media forms. Reasons suggested for this variation center around three themes. (1) Most news personnel subscribed to the disaster mythology. Their belief in the mythology influenced their view of what constituted reality. Their news gathering and reporting was influenced by their perspective, i.e., the mythology was reality to them which. The story they sought to gather news on, conformed to their view of reality, i.e., myths. Variation in organizational approaches to gathering and reporting news affected the extent to which the belief in the disaster mythology framed the accuracy of news reporting, however. (2) Norms governing local versus network news gathering and reporting affected accuracy, in that the local media were more altruistic while the network organizations were more self-serving. (3) Differences between the organizational approaches to news gathering and reporting resulted in greater or lesser control of what constituted news, and hence, affected accuracy. The greater the control, the greater the inaccuracy, for control resulted in managing the news to reflect the (mythical) perception of the behavioral response to Gilbert.
Local media personnel were governed by a norm that defined their role as being the information gatherer and disseminator to help save their community (an example of the altruism typically experienced by most would-be victims). Local news organizations tended to serve as a conduit for disseminating the information the local emergency management officials wished the public to have. These news organizations would broadcast the entire press conferences held by local emergency management officials. The local print media would devote major stories to reprinting the transcripts of these press conferences. Accuracy was therefore dependent upon the degree to which local officials subscribed to an accurate or mythical view of the behavioral response to disasters. The network organization personnel functioned as pack animals, i.e., they traveled together when gathering the news, focusing more on avoiding being scooped than on getting the scoop. They would often set their cameras and satellite dishes away from the EOC and other emergency response organizations, preferring more picturesque settings like the seacoast. Once their satellite dishes were set in place they tended to bring interviewees to their location. This practice gave greater control of the news making process to the networks. Network personnel were governed by a norm defining their role as that of managing the news to provide a good picturesque story for their viewers. The news they created tended to conform to their perception of the behavior they expect during a disaster. Greater control over news management resulted in greater inaccuracy.
Wednesday, September 30, 1998. Published and broadcast media were monitored from 6:00 a.m. through 8:00 a.m. from the hotel in New Orleans. This researcher left New Orleans for the Mississippi Gulf coast. He toured the impacted areas of Gulfport, Biloxi, and Pascagoula. After locating the Jackson County EOC in Pascagoula, he interviewed the assistant to the Civil Defense director and the county public information officer. Outside of the EOC he encountered a reporter from the local television station who agreed to be interviewed. The reporter shared that the Governor would be having a press conference at the National Guard Armory in an hour. Realizing that print and broadcast media from various organizations and emergency management personnel from local, state, and national levels would likely be at such an event, this researcher drove to the armory. Arriving a half hour before the scheduled press conference he found several local emergency management personnel present and began to conduct interviews. The press gradually arrived. Print media reporters milled around together. Television cameramen placed their cameras side-by-side and their reporters milled around together. Since the principals were more than half an hour late arriving, the researcher was provided with almost an hour and a half to interview media personnel and emergency management personnel. These interviews included reporters from three different local television stations, a reporter from CNN, an AP reporter, and reporters from two local newspapers. Interviews were also conducted with three county supervisors, the state emergency management director, the region FEMA coordinator, the region FEMA public information officer; and brief conversations were held with Senator Trent Lott and FEMA Director James Lee Witt. Some of the interviews were conducted after the press conference.
While traveling between locations, the researcher monitored the local radio station broadcasts to assess the nature of the broadcasting related to Georges. He also periodically accessed Web sites for NBC, CNN, the local television station (WLOX), and a local newspaper (The Sun Herald) in order to monitor reporting on the Internet. He visited grocery stores that were open in order to conduct brief interviews with customers re their perception of the usefulness of the media's reporting during their experience with Georges. Similar interviews were conducted at sites in the various communities where organizations, Salvation Army, Red Cross, Baptist Disaster Relief Services, local businesses, set up distribution sites to give away ice and food to those in need. Upon returning to the motel (after a long, tiring, yet fruitful day), the researcher monitored print and broadcast media reporting.
Thursday, October 1, 1998. Monitored print and broadcast media reporting between 6:00 and 8:00 a.m. Telephoned two local newspapers to arrange obtaining copies of newspaper issued from Friday, September 25 through Monday, October 5, 1998. Librarians from both papers agreed to send the requested copies complimentary to support the research effort. Telephoned video librarian at local television station, WLOX. Discussed desire for copy of broadcasts before, during, after impact. Arranged to meet at station Friday morning.
Traveled to Harrison County Civil Defense EOC in Gulfport. Conducted in-depth interviews of Civil Defense Director, County Supervisor, and Public Information Officer. Toured Gulfport, Biloxi, and Pascagoula to assess current state of emergency. Visited Biloxi municipal EOC but found it to be closed. Later discovered it was open briefly as a command post during height of event. Traveled to Jackson County Civil Defense EOC in Pascagoula. Conducted in-depth interviews of Civil Defense Director, County Supervisor, and Public Information Officer. Visited food and supply distribution sites in both counties: Salvation Army, Red Cross, Mississippi Baptist Disaster Relief, and several distribution sites set up by local businesses. Interviewed personnel at each re their interaction with media, their perception of how the media was helpful and problematic with respect to their mission during the current event. Spent evening monitoring broadcast media reporting.
Friday, October 2, 1998. Monitored print and broadcast media reporting between 6:00 and 8:00 a.m. Traveled to Biloxi to meet video librarian of WLOX-TV. Interview and discussion of round-the-clock reporting this station broadcast beginning on the Saturday preceding impact and continuing through Tuesday after impact. Explained goal of current study, sought cooperation of this station to obtain copy of the entire round-the-clock broadcast. Agreed to pay up to $250 to help defray expense of the tapes and the copying process--but asking cooperation considering goal of such research. The station would eventually decide on only release a purchased copy of their edited special on the storm experience-much to the disappointment of the research team.
Continued impromptu interviews of citizens in shopping mall to determine their perception of media during event, the extent to which they were aware of media reporting, if they based decisions upon such information, etc. Returned to Harrison County Court House in Gulfport. Checked in to see what may be new with experience and perception of CD personnel. Began organizing field notes with help of laptop computer. Returned to motel to continue field note organization and development on laptop. Checked Internet sites for news bulletins. Then spent rest of afternoon beginning to conduct content analysis of local newspaper reporting. During evening monitored television broadcast reporting.
Saturday, October 3, 1998. Monitored print and broadcast media reporting between 6:00 and 8:00 a.m. Returned to Pascagoula as river was reported as rising due to upstream flooding. Found several print and local broadcast media and conducted interviews. Monitored broadcast news coverage during evening news broadcasts.
Sunday, October 4, 1998. Work continued on developing field notes, continuing content analysis of newspapers, and drafting field report. Traveled to New Orleans International Airport for flight back to Baltimore. Baltimore flight arrived at approximately 8:10 p.m. Traveled to Millersville, Pennsylvania, arriving at approximately 10:45 p.m.
Monday, October 5, 1998. The field report was completed. Plans were made for further data gathering and data analysis. The two research assistants began assisting the principal researcher in planning and conducting the content analyses to be conducted on print and broadcast news stories and to compile the interview data.
Content Analysis of Print Media Reporting. A content analysis was conducted for the news articles published pre-impact, impact, and post-impact time periods by The New York Times, USA Today (both national papers), The Sun Herald, and The Mississippi Press (both local papers). A total of 268 news stories were examined.
Content Analysis of Broadcast Media Reporting. A content analysis was completed for the news segments broadcast by NBC, CNN (both national markets), and WLOX (local television station). While the video taping of the NBC and CNN broadcast segments was incomplete, a fortuitous cross-section was examined. A fortuitous cross-section of news stories from WLOX was also examined and was supplemented by the special produced by the television station during the recovery period. A total of 95 news segments were examined.
Content Analysis of Media Web Sites. A content analysis was conducted while in the field for several the websites of NBC, CNN and WLOX.
While the local broadcast media were found to parallel their accurate portrayal of behavioral response found ten years earlier, the national media were found to have changed somewhat-improving! There appear to be two reasons for this, one perhaps by chance, the other perhaps by design. CNN was less likely to emphasize deviant behaviors commonly ascribed to the disaster mythology when compared to their coverage of Hurricane Gilbert. Why? They provided a much smaller percentage of the news hole to Georges. Their Hurricane Georges coverage focused more on damage, weather, flooding problems, evacuations and less on elements of the disaster mythology. This may not have been a deliberate strategy or the result of an increased awareness of what constitutes the likely behavioral response, for they did also focus on the deployment of the National Guard for security purposes (implying the likelihood of deviance). Hurricane Georges just was not perceived as the threat that Hurricane Gilbert had been perceived to be during the post-impact period. Media coverage in general of Georges was a mere shadow of that which descended on the Texas Gulf Coast in 1988.
On the other hand, NBC news coverage was significantly improved from that typical of the networks ten years earlier. During Hurricane Gilbert, the usual reporting format for network news was to recreate what the reporter perceived to be the typical behavioral challenges faced during a major emergency or disaster event. The reporting by NBC's Robert Hager, was that of a science teacher trying to educate an unknowing public. Those watching Hager's reports would have benefited whether they were within Georges' grasp or not. Those who were not would be better prepared to their own possible future victimization by another storm. For example, Hager demonstrated that where he was standing would likely be well under water in 24 hours as the storm surge preceding Georges would flood the area in which he was standing. Detailed analysis was provided demonstrating what a storm surge is, how it is dangerous and why residents should evacuate. He even noted that many hesitate to do so, but outlined the reasons why it would be better to err on the side of safety. Instead of following an entertainment norm, this NBC coverage embraced a public service norm. Robert Hager's reporting on Hurricane Georges should be held up as a model for television broadcasting everywhere.
Print Media. As with Hurricane Gilbert, the local and national print media tended to report on the behavioral challenges rather accurately during Georges. They focused on weather, mitigation activity, damage, response and clean up activities. There was some focusing again on deviant behavior, primarily looting, but also alleged concern for price gouging. As with Gilbert, the local print media focused more, however, on disseminating information from local authorities which would help survivors. The national print media, on the other hand, focused more on the overall story line of how the storm was progressing and impacting the area. Both local and national print media gave some effort to the public service norm in including information in their news stories that was educational in terms of the need for evacuation when called upon to do so.
Websites. While in the field, the principal researcher accessed the websites of local and network broadcast media to conduct a content analysis of their news coverage. News summaries were found at these sites which focused on damage, storm trends, flooding as well as cleanup activities. Hard news was the primary focus, with little soft news. Virtually no elements of the disaster mythology were observed.
Other communities did not celebrate the same experience. During Georges there were citizens who felt they watched television news which helped their neighboring county, but not their own. In these communities both reporters and emergency personnel felt antagonist toward one another. The reporters claimed emergency management tried to limit access to information, attempted to exclude them and saw them as they enemy. These emergency personnel did not like the way they were portrayed, or actually overlooked, in the local media coverage. In fact, one local official was widely expected to retire now "after the bad experience" he had been through with the press and how the public critically responded to his efforts as a direct result.
Why the differences between these two types of communities? The emergency personnel in the first community experience were found to be very knowledgeable about the needs of the press during a disaster or major emergency. Part of their planning had included how to provide the press with continually updated information of the type they needed. Regular press conferences were scheduled in a timely fashion. Emergency management had educated itself as to how to feed the press and implemented plans to do so successfully. The press provided emergency management personnel with information in return and they appear to have tried to do their best to help emergency personnel get their information out to the public. In the other community experience, emergency personnel had not prepared to feed the media, did not trust the media, and tried to shun them. The press, in return, shunned these emergency personnel which made it virtually impossible for them to get information out to their citizens. When these emergency personnel were portrayed in the media at all, it was not in a good light. The second experience also appeared to this researcher to be far less prepared in any number of ways for dealing with a disaster event. There may be many reasons for the different apparent levels of preparedness including the economic differences of the two communities. However, one conclusion was drawn by the research team: a viable plan, implemented during disaster time, which includes working with the media to meet the combined needs of the press and emergency management results in a winning outcome for the press, emergency management, and, most importantly, the community at large.
The print and broadcast media reporting was remarkably accurate in the sense that reporters focused on those issues and challenges which researchers and practitioners have found to be most important to focus on during emergency time periods. While misinformation was disseminated and while some behaviors commonly found to be exaggerations or mythical in nature were released by the media, these problems appeared to be less of a problem than what has often been found in the past. As in the Gilbert study, reporting did seem to follow a pattern of turning the press and camera over to the local officials. If the local officials provided accurate information, accurate information was likely to be reported. The local media, as part of the impacted area, responded in a rather altruistic fashion trying to share mitigation and response information that was of use to their neighbors.
National Print and Broadcast Media. The greatest change may be found among the national media, particularly the television networks. The focus was different in two respects. Less time was devoted to the story (which may have led to an accidental reduction in myth portrayal) and an educational (as opposed to an entertainment) norm was introduced by at least one news reporter. Instead of merely recreating the reporter's perception of the behavioral challenges experienced in a disaster, reporting shifted somewhat to providing information that current and future potential victims would find helpful in understanding the danger of the storm surge, flooding, and the need to evacuate.
Importance of Disaster Time Media - Emergency Management Relationship. The importance of preparing to involve the media in information dissemination during emergency time was found to be very apparent in the Mississippi Gulf Coast experience with Hurricane Georges. When emergency management prepared for and aided the press in information gathering and dissemination a working partnership of mutual respect was formed. The outcome? The community benefited. When emergency management had not prepared for or aided the press in their information gathering and dissemination the outcome was far less effective for the media, emergency management or the community.
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Newspaper:_______________________ Publication Date:____________________ Column Inches:___________________ Page(s):_____________________________ Disaster Period of Reporting:  Pre-Impact  Impact  Immediate Post-Impact  Short Term Recovery  Long Term Recovery News Type:  Hard News  Hard News Emphasis with some Soft News  Equally Hard & Soft News  Soft News Emphasis with some Hard News  Soft News Indicated Sources of Information: # of Times Reporter Him/Herself Emergency Management Personnel Citizen (from Community) Other (who?_____________________) Reporting Themes # of Times Weather Information Damage Injury/Death Mitigation Activities (boarding up, evac) Response Activities (help, food distribution) Deviant Behaviors (loot, price gouge, panic) Other (what?____________________)
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