Hurricane Florence and disaster preparedness: Investigating risk through the intersections of technical communication and user experience

Cosgrove, Samantha
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This dissertation investigates the relationship between government emergency agencies and the communities they serve by analyzing risk communication strategies between groups. The goal of this research is to ensure the needs of communities are reflected in government communications channels, and that emergency managers (EMs) and agencies are supported by current scholarship and practice in disciplines that study risk. In this two-part study, theories and methods from technical communication, risk communication, and user experience were used to understand the relationship between and the experiences of North Carolina Emergency Management (NCEM) and the public during Hurricane Florence in 2018. Part I of the study relied on Spinuzzi's Topsight as a modified framework to conduct an organizational analysis of NCEM during Hurricane Florence. Part II of the study relied on methods of user experience and grounded theory to conduct qualitative user interviews of NC residents who experienced Hurricane Florence. Results of Part I indicate a need for standardized, on-site EM training, but Part II calls for localized user testing to determine the needs of individual communities. Scholars in technical communication can bridge the gap between theory and practice by involving EMs in research and user testing. Collaboration with EMs can, in turn, improve pedagogical practices in technical communication programs as graduates can apply real-life scenarios to their courses in user experience. For researchers outside of technical communication, the study offers an interdisciplinary framework for studying risk and relationships between stakeholders. Finally, this study supports the relevance of remote user testing in a post-COVID world. Future research suggestions include use of the framework with modified interview protocols and inclusion of other usability testing along with user interviews.

emergency management, interviews, risk communication, technical communication, user experience, user testing