Project HEROIC is a collaborative, NSF funded effort by researchers at the University at Albany, Jeannette Sutton (PI), and the University of California-Irvine, Carter Butts (PI), to better understand the dynamics of informal online communication in response to extreme events. Through a combination of data collection and modeling of conversation dynamics, the project team aims to understand the relationship between hazard events, informal communication and emergency response.
The nearly continuous, informal exchange of information — including such mundane activities as gossip, rumor, and casual conversation — is a characteristic human behavior, found across societies and throughout recorded history. While often taken for granted, these natural patterns of information exchange become an important “soft infrastructure” for decentralized resource mobilization and response during emergencies and other extreme events. Indeed, despite being historically limited by the constraints of physical proximity, small numbers of available contacts, and the frailties of human memory, informal communication channels are often the primary means by which time-sensitive hazard information first reaches members of the public. This capacity of informal communication has been further transformed by the widespread adoption of mobile devices (such as “smart-phones”) and social media technologies (e.g., microblogging services such as Twitter), which allow individuals to reach much larger numbers of contacts over greater distances than was possible in previous eras.
Although the potential to exploit this capacity for emergency warnings, alerts, and response is increasingly recognized by practitioners, much remains to be learned about the dynamics of informal online communication in emergencies — and, in particular, about the ways in which existing streams of information are modified by the introduction of emergency information from both official and unofficial sources. Our research addresses this gap, employing a longitudinal, multi-hazard, multi-event study of online communication to model the dynamics of informal information exchange in and immediately following emergency situations.
Vos, S. C., Sutton, J., Gibson, C. B., & Butts, C. T. (2020). #Ebola: Emergency risk messages on social media. Health Security. 18(6). https://doi.org/10.1089/hs.2019.0158
Sutton, J., Renshaw, S. L., Vos, S. C., Olson, M. K., Prestley, R., Gibson, C. B., & Butts, C. T. (2019) Getting the Word Out, Rain or Shine: The Impact of Message Features and Hazard Context on Message Passing Online. Weather, Climate and Society 11(4) 763-776.
Olson, M. K., Sutton, J., Vos, S.C. , Prestley, R., Renshaw, S. L., & Butts, C. T. (2019) Build community before the storm: The National Weather Service’s use of social media. Journal of Contingencies and Crisis Management 27(4) 359-373.
Jeannette Sutton (2018) Communication Trolls and Bots Versus Public Health Agencies’ Trusted Voices American Journal of Public Health. 108(10) 1281-1282.
Vos, S. C., Sutton, J., Yu, Y., Renshaw, S., Olson, M. K.*, Gibson, C. B., & Butts, C. T. 2018) Risk Communication: The Role of Threat and Efficacy Risk Analysis. 38(12).
Sutton, J Spiro, E., Johnson, B. Fitzhugh, S., Gibson, B. & Butts, C.T. (2013) Warning tweets: serial transmission of messages during the warning phase of a disaster event Information Communication and Society, 17(6), 765-787.
Sutton, J., Spiro, E. S., Gibson, B. C., Fitzhugh, S., Johnson, B., League, C., & Butts, C. T. 2015) What it Takes to Get Passed On: Message Content, Style, and Structure as Predictors of Retransmission in the Boston Marathon Bombing Response. PLoS ONE, 10(8), e0134452. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0134452
Sutton, J., Gibson, C. B., Phillips, N. E., Spiro, E. S., League, C., Johnson, B., Fitzhugh, S. M., & Butts, C. T. A cross hazard analysis of terse message. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 1112(48), 14793-14798.
Public health and emergency management agencies are on the front lines of informing and educating the public about the science of virus transmission and prevention. In response to a threat such as COVID-19, their mission requires the communication of accurate and credible information to local populations using a variety of media channels. Increasingly, social media is a critical component of their communication toolbox - but using it to rapidly and effectively inform the public in a crowded media environment remains a significant challenge.
Renshaw, S.L., Mai, S., Dubois, E.V., Sutton, J. & Butts, C.T. (2021). Cutting through the noise: Predictors of successful online message retransmission in the first 8 months of the COVID-19 Pandemic. Health Security. 19(1): 31-43.
Joan Donovan & Jeannette Sutton
My guests today are experts in the ways that risk communication works--in the ways that public officials push important information out to the public, but also in how information is manipulated.
This project focused on research on public understanding of tsunami warning messages. Using NOAA tsunami warning products, we conducted focus groups with a population that was unfamiliar with tsunami hazards followed by a public survey. We found that tsunami messages must be conveyed using plain language, and public education is necessary for increasing understanding of the threat and protective action intent. We also learned about reasons that people may not be willing to click on an informational URL as part of a message: it could be spam, malware, or other content that is false or dangerous to the receiver.
by Hamilton Bean, Brooke Liu, Stephanie Madden, Dennis Mileti, Jeannette Sutton, Michele Wood
This project sought to determine the optimized message contents of imminent threat wireless emergency alert (WEA) messages delivered over mobile communication devices. This report presents findings for the first WEA messages disseminated about imminent threats (i.e., first alert messages) from two research phases with U.S. adults: (1) eight experiments, seven focus groups and 50 think-out-loud interviews; and (2) a survey of an actual “real world” severe flood in Boulder, Colorado. It also integrates findings from across study methods and provides actionable guidance and considerations for optimized message contents of imminent one-hour-to-impact threat alerts delivered over mobile communication devices.
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