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Better communication may reduce earthquake death toll: study

How and what scientists communicate to each other and to the the public during tremors can eliminate chaos and confusion during the natural disaster, researchers said.

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Clear, timely and controlled information to public about risks posed by an earthquake, and conveying actions needed to protect themselves may be key to reducing death toll, a new study suggests.

How and what scientists communicate to each other and to the the public during tremors can eliminate chaos and confusion during the natural disaster, researchers said.

A major problem is that scientists are unable to predict when, where and with what strength the next earthquake will strike. Instead, they use 'probabilistic forecasting' based on seismic clustering.

Earthquake experts have long grappled with the problem of how to convey these complex probabilities to lay persons.

Researchers from the University of Central Florida in the US examined the impact of the 2009 earthquake in L'Aquila, Italy on the international scientific earthquake community of practice (CoP).

Key tasks included a review of the failed communication crisis and a detailed analysis of an operational earthquake forecasting (OEF) Decision Making workshop.

The findings showed a significant shift in the earthquake scientists' approach to communication.

Researchers transformed their goal from being focused solely on probabilistic modelling to actively forming strong partnerships with a diverse range of experts, including risk communication experts.

This research confirms the importance of translating science into accurate and comprehensible messages delivered to non-scientific publics, said Deanna Sellnow, a Communication Professor at the University of Central Florida.

The expanded community of practice that emerged as a result of the L'Aquila risk communication failure can serve as a model for other scientific communities that also may need to translate their knowledge effectively to disparate non-scientific publics, researchers said.

Recommendations of the study included engaging with decision makers and the public to gain their support and educate them about earthquake forecasting.

The researchers also recommended developing simple and precise public warning messages that are less likely to be misunderstood and ensuring message alerts are timely and delivered through multiple communication sources and channels is also needed.

Minimising the potential negative impact of inaccurate and misleading messages by issuing corrections or clarifications promptly is advisable, they said.

The research was published in the Journal of Applied Communication Research.

 

(This article has not been edited by DNA's editorial team and is auto-generated from an agency feed.)

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