Researcher to explore informal disaster communication

January 25, 2011
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Jeannette Sutton portrait

Jeannette Sutton, senior research associate, UCCS Trauma, Health and Hazards Center

Faculty researchers at UCCS  and the University of California Irvine will study the role of online informal communication in disasters as part of a $750,000 grant from the National Science Foundation.

The two universities will create Project Hazards, Emergency Response and Online Information Communication or HEROIC to understand the role and effectiveness of informal communication. Among the topics to be studied is the role of micro blogging sites such as Twitter.

Principle investigators Jeannette Sutton, senior research associate, UCCS Trauma, Health and Hazards Center, and Carter T. Butts, associate professor, Sociology, University of California, Irvine, are currently studying events surrounding the April 20 Deepwater Horizon oil spill along the U.S. Gulf Coast. The two bring a combination of disaster response expertise, online communication and social dynamics to the project.

“This project aims to study the dynamics of information exchange during and following emergency situations from official sources and members of the public at large,” Sutton said. “By understanding this process, we hope to improve emergency communication and to save lives.”

Data collected by the project team will allow researchers to examine information communicated across different types of hazards, communities and time periods. The project will develop predictive models of online communication following natural disasters and emergency events. Researchers also hope to create a database of information on hazards that will include resources about official response to emergencies, details of natural disasters and corresponding losses, and the role of informal communication.

The initial project will run until 2013. Additional information about the project is available at www.heroicproject.org

The Trauma Health and Hazards Center at UCCS is part of the National Institute of Science, Space and Security Centers. Other centers include the Center for Homeland Security, the Center for Space Studies, and the Center for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Education.

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