Disaster mode: mapping media use, dependency, and gratifications through the preparation and impact phases of a severe weather event

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University of Alabama Libraries

When natural disasters affect human populations, effective communication is key to response and recovery. This study seeks to understand how and why people use various media in the early stages of severe weather events. A survey (N=289) was distributed online to participants, who answered a series of questions about their normal media use, as well as their media use during the preparation and impact phases of a severe weather event. Results show that the most drastic change in media consumption occurs in the preparation phase, in the hours leading up to the event. There was very little change in media use, dependency, or gratifications sought between the preparation phase and the impact phase. Use and dependency was increased significantly in the preparation phase for TV News and Local Radio. Online News Sites and Apps ranked highest in use throughout the event, although there was a significant decrease between each phase. There were also significant decreases in use and dependency for Facebook and Twitter, which rounded out the top five media types used during a severe weather event. Follow-up tests revealed that much of the reason for the overall decrease in media use and dependency throughout can be attributed to loss of power and Internet access during the event. The results of this study show that the most common gratifications sought in the preparation and impact phases of a severe weather event involve reducing uncertainty and maintaining a social connection with friends and family. The findings of this study contribute to a larger field of disaster communications research and provide evidence for the validity of uses and gratifications approaches to such research.

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