Government Media Policy and the Media during Hurricane Katrina Disaster

Impact of Government Media Policy and the Media on a Community during Hurricane Katrina Disaster

Abstract

Hurricane Katrina disaster occurred in 2005 in Orleans leaving more than a thousand people dead. The National Hurricane Center held interviews with various media houses thirty hours before the incidents. The agency also posted information on its website for the public to access. In the U.S, various agencies including FEMA and Department of Homeland Security among others work together in the time of disaster. Some media sources spread the rumors that there was a lot of lawless in New Orleans in the aftermath of the disaster, making public scared to go there and rescue victims. In the future, there is the need to include social media as a way of communication with the mass to ensure the warning against impeding disaster reaches as many people as possible. It is also important to have alternative methods of communication for use in case a disaster destroys the existing infrastructure.

Introduction

Effective communication during crisis plays a crucial role in determining the success of the response agencies in saving lives and properties. One of the most remembered disasters in the United States is Hurricane Katrina. Although the response to this disaster was hampered by communication problems, media can be said to have played a crucial role in providing vital information regarding it. This paper will explore the impact of media and government media policy during the Hurricane Katrina disaster.

Research on the Hurricane Katrina Disaster, the Role of Media, and Risk Communication

A disaster is any catastrophic event that causes a great loss of lives or properties. During Hurricane Katrina, the media can be said to have prayed a vital role in informing the public about safety measures they should take. The popular media was the major source of information about the hurricane. Before Hurricane Katrina reached New Orleans, the residents and the officials were issued with accurate information about it, 36 hours earlier (Baker, 2014). The National Hurricane Center is indicated to have conducted over 400 media interviews where they warned people of the impending danger (Adkins, 2010). Risk communication helps in shaping how the members of the public perceive risk, how they act in the face of a disaster as well as how they respond to the disaster. When people are fed with false information about a given disaster, they may make the wrong decision and expose themselves to risk.

Research Objectives

The major objectives of the research include:

  1. Explore the national response framework and plan as well as the challenges in mitigation, preparedness, and recovery during the Hurricane Katrina disaster.
  2. Explore the sources of disaster information, types of media content, types of reported rumors, and strengths and weakness of media, and public response about the Hurricane Katrina disaster.

National Response Plan and National Response Framework

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), is the major emergency response body in the U.S. The national response framework (NRF) guides how the U.S responds to different types of disasters. The framework states all the support functions in case of an emergency and describes the organization of support from the federal partners, non-government organizations, and private sector. The NRF ensures a well-coordinated mobilization of resources and stakeholders for easy management of the disastrous event. The framework is divided into the local and federal levels. The local level comprises the initial responders in case of a disaster (FEMA, 2020). In case the local level responders are overwhelmed; the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) provides resources or operational coordination for support by the federal government.

Methods and Approaches

Different types of disasters are approached differently. The type and the extent of damage caused or threat of damage from a given event determine the approach that would be used to manage it. In the case of the hurricane Katrina disaster, a national emergency response plan was activated. Through its website and press interviews, the national hurricane center communicated to the public about the measures they should take to ensure their safety (Cook, 2015). Despite the efforts by the government agencies responsible for the management of disaster to communicate with the public, Hurricane Katrina demolished communication infrastructure, a factor that hampered rescue operation.

Sources of Disaster Information

Sources of information about a disaster mainly include the government agency or any other organization that may be working with the government in response to the crisis. The information may be given through a press conference where the concerned government agency informs the public about what to do and the extent of damage that has been caused by a disaster or through press interviews. The type of information released should not only inform the public but also instill hope in those who may be affected. The affected individuals can as well be interviewed to provide information regarding a given disaster. The message about Hurricane Katrina was made available to the public through mass media and the national hurricane center’s website (Cook, 2015). However, after it hit New Orleans, communication infrastructure was destroyed; a factor that made the coordination of rescue activities difficult.

Types of Media Content about the hurricane Katrina Disaster

Since different types of media were used to give information about Hurricane Katrina, different types of content were utilized. Press briefings reached the public through television, radio, and newspaper. One can, therefore, conclude that videos, audio, and images were the main types of media content utilized during the crisis. Images were mostly used to show people the extent of damage caused by the hurricane and mobilize organizations and individuals to help the affected individuals (Cook, 2015). Video and audio content was mainly used to inform the members of the public about the effort being made by the government agencies and other stakeholders to protect its citizens.

Types of Reported Misinformation and Rumors

During a crisis, some people spread false information to either scare people or influence their perception of the situation at stake. Among the rumors spread during the Hurricane Katrina disaster included that incidences of crime and violence had increased in the area; a factor that scared people who were willing to rescue the victims. These rumors are dangerous as they can either scare people, cause panic, or they can make people not take the necessary measures; leaving the vulnerable persons in distress (Steelman, & McCaffrey, 2013). In the US, radio and television are the most controlled media in the country while print media can print almost anything without being questioned. According to the US constitution, the airwaves are public and as the custodian of public resources, the government controls them (Dunwoody & Peters, 2016). Therefore, print media is more likely to spread rumors than radio and television.

Reported Mitigation, Preparedness, Response, and Recovery Challenges in Dealing with Hurricane Katrina Disasters

As far as preparedness is concerned, the Army Corps Engineers FEMA can be said to have not been fully prepared despite having been warned early enough by the weather forecasters. There were no enough emergency supplies prepositioned before the storm started. Another challenge that hampered response is the fact the storm demolished communication infrastructure making response difficult. Without a communication network, the coordination of activities between rescue teams was compromised. Indecisiveness was also evidenced during the incident. There was no well-established body recovery plan and bodies stayed for days before they were collected. The governor of Louisiana and FEMA blamed each other for this failure as they waited for each other to contract the task of body collection (Warrick, 2018). Other challenges that hampered recovery included fraud and abuse which was evidenced during the compensation of the affected individuals. There was a large number of people who were compensated and yet were not affected by the disaster (Warrick, 2018). These problems can be eliminated in the future by taking warnings from the weather forecasters seriously and mobilizing resources on time not when the disaster has already caused the damage.

Strengths and Weakness of Media and Public Response

The media has both strengths and weaknesses when it comes to communicating information related to a disaster. Among its strengths of the media noted during the Hurricane Katrina disaster included that it played a role in educating the public about measures they should take to remain safe should the magnitude of a disaster be more than anticipated. It also helped people vacate areas that were considered most vulnerable. Without media, it would have been a bit difficult for the government agencies to collaborate with the other stakeholders to respond to the disaster. Among the weaknesses of media is that they lacked information about what was happening in New Orleans during the disaster and some media sources scared the potential rescuers of unlawfulness in the region (Boin, Brown, & Richardson, 2019). Scary news about the region affected by a disaster could have psychological impacts on the members of the public whose relatives or friends are victims and who may be willing to go and help them.

Recommendations to Improve Communication Plans and Media Coverage for Future Disasters

The future communication plan should include having media houses air only the information obtained from the legal agencies managing a disaster. This way, false information from unreliable sources would be stopped. The media should also be in the frontline to educate the members of the public about the rumors circulating and arm them with the true information. Plans for the future should include social media as a potential source of information as it can help people of goodwill know people who may need their help. This is important considering that response to a disaster is not only about the government but collaboration between it and its citizens. In 2005, when hurricane Katrina occurred, Facebook was barely and year old and Twitter was non-existent (Boin, Brown, & Richardson, 2019). The news coverage should not include graphics that may cause panic among the members of the public (Kapur, Bezek, & Dyal, 2016). Having a central source of information from where all other media takes news and spread it to the citizens can help greatly in preventing the spread of false information. The government can also help by using strict orders to the social media users against posting information or images that may cause panic.

Conclusion

Communication during a time of disaster plays a vital role in informing the members of the public about the extent of damage caused and the steps being taken by the government to protect them but also how to protect themselves. The major types of media content used during Hurricane Katrina included print, video, and audio content. In the US, the disaster response occurs at the local and federal levels depending on the magnitude of the incident. The future communication plan should involve collaboration between all the stakeholders including the government, public, and media firms to ensure that no rumors or misleading information spread.

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