Mass Media Use by College Students during Hurricane Threat

By Piotrowski, Chris | College Student Journal, March 2015 | Go to article overview

Mass Media Use by College Students during Hurricane Threat


Piotrowski, Chris, College Student Journal


There is a dearth of studies on how college students prepare for the threat of natural disasters. This study surveyed college students' preferences in mass media use prior to an approaching hurricane. The convenience sample (n=76) were from a university located in the hurricane-prone area of the central Gulf of Mexico coast. Interestingly, reliance on the Internet and TV were the main media weather sources (76% vs. 70%), closely followed by the use of radio (50%). These results are consistent with disaster research based on general population samples. Moreover, only 30% of these college students felt well-prepared in the event of a hurricane and, alarmingly, only 50% were familiar with the state's official disaster web-site, FloridaDisaster.org. These findings have implications for effective mass media communication strategies directed at the younger generation during natural disasters.

Introduction

Scientific research on the human impact of natural disasters has proliferated over the past 2 decades (Rodriguez et al., 2007). Research attention has centered on investigating the detrimental aftermath of hurricanes. With respect to college and university samples, the majority of these studies have focused on psychological morbidity factors or adaptive coping in the wake of major hurricanes such as Hugo, Andrew, Opal, Wilma, Ivan, Rita, and Katrina (see Davis et al., 2010; Hirth et al., 2013; Lemieux et al., 2010; Munson et al., 2010; Pecchioni et al., 2011; Pickens et al., 1995; Piotrowski & Vodanovich, 2008; Plummer et al., 2008; Scott et al. 2010; Teasdale et al., 2013; Watson et al., 2011). Surprisingly, there are relatively few studies on how college students plan and respond during the hurricane warning and hurricane watch phase of major tropical events. For example, Senkbeil and Schneider (2010) investigated levels of basic knowledge and competency regarding characteristics of hurricanes and tornadoes in a sample of University of Alabama students.

A critical factor in collective and individual response to approaching hurricanes is the timely dissemination of advanced official warnings to threatened populations. A hurricane watch or hurricane warning usually gamers keen public attention. Thus, mass media use or preferences by community residents, in hurricane-prone areas, have been the subject of research interest over the years (Barak, 2010; Morehead 2011; Piotrowski & Armstrong, 1988). Bates et al. (2006) obtained survey data from college students at several educational institutions in the southeastern U.S. with regard to the use of information news sources in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. However, a comprehensive search of the literature identified only one study on college students' use of media during the approach phase of a threatening hurricane (see Juric, 2006).

This lack of available research on higher educational samples (with regard to preparation for a disaster threat in the hurricane-prone area of the Gulf Coast) served as the major rationale for the current study. To that end, preferences in mass media usage by college students in the event of an approaching hurricane were investigated.

Method

The city of Pensacola, Florida is centrally located on the northern Gulf of Mexico and has been hit by several major hurricanes (Frederick in 1979; Opal & Erin in 1995; Ivan in 2004; Dennis in 2005) over the past several decades. Thus, this coastal area is very in tune with threats of tropical storms. The University of West Florida, with about 12,000 students, is located approximately 6 miles from the coastline.

The author (C.P.) developed a brief survey form on strategies used before and after experiencing a hurricane, based on his extensive research on the human response to hurricanes. This study reports on the survey section devoted to 'media usage & major concerns'. The central question, "If a hurricane approached the area, how would you keep abreast of weather developments", reflected the issue of mode of media preference. …

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