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Source: Massey University

Winners of the Excellence in Emergency Communication Research award for 2019 (left to right): Dr Emma Hudson-Doyle (Massey), Dr Sally Potter (GNS Science), and team lead Dr Julia Becker (Massey), from the Joint Centre for Disaster Research.

Academics from the Joint Centre for Disaster Research have won an award for a project investigating emergency communications and information needs during the Christchurch earthquake aftershocks.

The researchers were recognised at the Annual EMPA (Emergency Media and Public Affairs association) Awards for Excellence in Emergency Communication last week, taking out the 2019 Research Award. The team included Dr Julia Becker and Dr Emma Hudson-Doyle (both from Massey University); Dr Sally Potter (GNS Science and a Massey PhD graduate); Dr Sara McBride (United States Geological Survey (USGS) and Massey PhD graduate); Dr Ann Wein (USGS); and Professor Douglas Paton (Charles Darwin University and former Massey staff member).

Their paper, titled When the earth doesn’t stop shaking: How experiences over time influenced information needs, communication, and interpretation of aftershock information during the Canterbury Earthquake Sequence, New Zealand, appeared in the International Journal for Disaster Risk Reduction, published by Science Direct. The research relates to a prolonged period of aftershocks following a 7.1 earthquake near Darfield, Canterbury, on 4 September, 2010. Those aftershocks preceded the devastating 6.2 quake on 11 February, 2011 which was centred closer to Christchurch, killing 185 people.

The team conducted research to “better understand aftershock information needs for agencies and the public, and how people interpreted and responded to such information.” 

They set out to address little-researched issues related to “people having limited or no understanding of the complex nature of seismic processes, including the reality that aftershock sequences represent significant sources of risk that can persist for long periods of time.”

There were three themes among the key findings: the need to provide education and training about aftershocks before an earthquake sequence, providing a diversity of information for different audiences, and the importance of using empathy in aftershock communications. 

“We found that a wide range of information was needed from basic facts about aftershocks through to more technical information, and in different formats (maps, tables, graphs, text, analogies). Information needs also evolved throughout the sequence, and differed depending on people’s roles and experiences, and the phase of impact, response and recovery communities were in,” the authors say in their report.

“Interpretation of aftershock information was influenced by a variety of factors including how understandable and relevant the information was, whether people had prior knowledge or experience of aftershocks, whether the information was personalised or contextualised, emotions and feelings, credibility and trust, and external influences.”

They recommended that given that such a diversity of evolving information is required, “it is imperative that geoscientists strategise how to provide such information before a significant earthquake occurs.”

Their findings have been applied to both GNS Science, GeoNet, and USGS practice for communicating aftershock forecasts.

The Annual EMPA Awards for Excellence in Emergency Communication were established to recognise those who have made a significant contribution to emergency communications in Australia and New Zealand. The EMPA, an Australian and New Zealand organization, supports the evolution of effective communication and community engagement before, during and after emergencies. Visit their website for more information.

The Joint Centre for Disaster Research is an international centre for research and teaching in disaster risk and emergency management and is a joint venture between Massey University’s School of Psychology and GNS Science. 

Read full open-access paper here: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2212420918312792  

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