Volume 19 Issue 2, 2004

Communicating during Emergencies in the United States

Jane A. Bullock, George D. Haddow, Richard Bell

Peer-reviewed Article

Archived Article


Communicating with the public is one of the critical tasks facing emergency management agencies (EM Agencies). Reaching the widest possible audience with the most up-to-date, credible information can save lives and property, reduce public fears and anxiety, and maintain the public’s trust in the integrity of government officials. We recently conducted a survey of how EM Agency communicators had fared during a number of national disasters and terrorist attacks. Our concern about the adequacy of Agency communications planning has been heightened by a striking change in the intensity of media coverage. In describing their work with the press, our respondents used imagery very much like that they applied to the emergency event itself. They found themselves swamped by a veritable “tidal wave” of reporters almost literally beating down their doors. In this article we review the findings of our survey and interviews, and lay out the principal suggestions we received from a cross-section of EM Agencies on putting the personnel and infrastructure in place to execute robust, flexible communication plans.