Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Department of Environmental Sciences

Document Type



Natural disasters are increasingly costly for the United States. The literature suggests emergency managers may improve disaster outcomes and enhance disaster resilience by supplementing their official public-communications methods with more bi-directional communication tactics using social media. This study aims to understand how social media is used within the “whole community” of emergency management in areas affected by recent hurricanes. The first research objective examines how social media is used by governmental and non-governmental organizations across the four phases of emergency management (preparedness, response, recovery, mitigation). The second objective is to identify challenges governmental and non-governmental groups have encountered and strategies they recommend addressing these problems. The third objective is to examine how social media was used by disaster responders specifically during the response phase of Hurricane Harvey in 2017. We conducted a survey of 269 organizations in areas affected by Hurricanes Isaac and Sandy in 2012 to address research objectives one and two, and for the third objective, surveyed 64 organizations who contributed to the rescue and response efforts during Hurricane Harvey. The first survey found respondents representing government-related organizations use social media more during the response and the preparedness phases, while non-governmental groups report more social media activity during the recovery phase. This finding suggests that organizations performing primary and secondary roles in emergency management play complementary roles in risk and crisis communication with the public. The results also suggest that the emergency management community primarily uses social media to “push” information to the public through established communication networks and could benefit from additional efforts to “pull” information from their networks. Survey respondents report greatest concern about challenges external to their organizations, with the accuracy of information found on social media to be most concerning. The third research objective finds generally high levels of social media use among Hurricane Harvey responders, but also evidence of technical challenges including an inability to convert web-based communications to dispatchable missions due to limited functionality of their 911 systems. The results of the study provide insights regarding uses, challenges, and strategies to improve social media for the whole community of emergency management.



Committee Chair

Reams, Margaret A.