Academic journal article Asian Social Science

Crisis Communication Failure: A Case Study of Typhoon Morakot

Academic journal article Asian Social Science

Crisis Communication Failure: A Case Study of Typhoon Morakot

Article excerpt

Abstract

In 2009, Typhoon Morakot was the deadliest typhoon to impact Taiwan in recorded history. Around 700 people were either killed or lost in the catastrophe, while damage to agricultural, public construction and business losses amounted to NT$110 billion (US$3.5 billion). The purpose of this study is to examine the crisis with Typhoon Morakot and how governmental agencies respond to the needs of the citizens. Throughout the stages, three main themes of Taiwanese government's response to Typhoon Morakot emerged: 1) ignoring the warning signs in pre-crisis stage, 2) failure in crisis response in crisis stage, and 3) taking corrective actions in post-crisis stage. The findings demonstrate a need to develop culturally and ethnically competent crisis response to minority population. It is important to note that the necessity of community participation during reconstruction is essential.

Keywords: Typhoon Morakot, crisis communication, crisis leadership, best practices in crisis communication

1. Introduction

Taiwan is no stranger to natural disasters, having experienced earthquakes, typhoons, floods, and landslides every year. Typhoon Morakot in 2009, however, was the deadliest typhoon to impact Taiwan in recorded history. It hit the island on August 8, 2009, dropping three meters of rain on the southern areas in three days. The heavy rainfall led to severe flooding and massive mudslides. Around 700 people were either killed or lost in the catastrophe, while damage to agricultural, public construction and business losses amounted to NT$110 billion (US$3.5 billion). It appeared that the Taiwanese government was ill prepared for the Typhoon Morakot, since many residents were not evacuated successfully. Even though the heavy rainfall caused the disaster, management of the crisis and communications were slow and poorly coordinated at all levels of government which only highlighted the government's weaknesses. Typhoon Morakot exposed significant flaws in the government's preparedness for catastrophic disasters and the capacity to respond to them.

Consequently, President Ma and his administration faced enormous criticism and were blamed by the disaster victims. The government's poor crisis response became the focus of intense public and media criticism. In particular, this typhoon disaster showed the importance of effective crisis communication to the public. The public demanded to know what happened before, and during the crisis, and who should be held accountable in the aftermath of crisis.

Researchers have extensively examined crisis communication from both the organizational and political perspective for over the last two decades (Benoit, 1995; Coombs, 2007; Seeger, Sellnow, & Ulmer, 2003). However, crises as a result of natural disasters have received less systematic attention (Sellnow, Seeger, & Ulmer, 2002). Moreover, there are fewer published cases and analyses of crisis communication among government agencies and political representatives than there are in a corporate/business context (Avery & Lariscy, 2010). This study is an attempt to fill that gap. Given the scale of natural disasters, many individuals deem the government as a responsible party and tend to blame the government for failing to provide adequate protection against a natural disaster (Abney & Hill, 1966). Typhoon Morakot provided a unique opportunity for studying the role that communication plays in a government's effectiveness in responding to disaster. The purpose of this study is to examine the crisis with Typhoon Morakot and how governmental agencies respond to the needs of the citizens. Most importantly, this article addresses the lessons the Taiwanese government should have learned from Typhoon Morakot and how to prevent the same issues in another natural catastrophe.

2. Literature Review

2.1 Crisis Communication

Coombs (2007) defines a crisis is "the perception of an unpredictable event that threatens important expectancies of stakeholders and can seriously impact an organization's performance and generate negative outcomes" (p. …

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