Disaster Communication via the Information Superhighway: Data and Observations on the 1995 Hurricane Season

November 1996 (VOL. 14, NO. 3)

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Although both researchers and practitioners haven been using the internet to communicate information on disasters, few systematic studies have assessed the type of information that is or should be communicated via this medium. This paper presents an exploratory, yet systematic study of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)’s coverage of the 1995 hurricane season via e-mail and the World Wide Web. An overview analysis of the 1995 hurricane season that FEMA distributed 184 e-mail messages of which 138 were hurricane-related and 46 were nonhurricane-related. Following this overview analysis, a case study is presented on FEMA’s coverage of Hurricane Opal, which was associated with significant impacts in Florida. The focus of analysis in the case study is a type of e-mail message called the situation report (sitrep) which id used by FEMA to communicate information on disasters. The number, timing, and content of sitreps issued by FEMA for Hurricane Opal are analyzed and the results used to discuss the agency’s communication efforts via the internet.