Wildfire Response Operations: Intentional Fear Reduction through Social Media Updates
27 Pages Posted: 22 Mar 2021
Date Written: March 10, 2021
The increase in extreme weather disasters over the past ten years, combined with the increased usage of social media in transmitting information during these disasters, has led to a growing need to understand the implications and best practices in utilizing social media to inform those at-risk. People panic during natural disasters, and a first method to enable rational response is to reduce fear and anxiety. We examine whether the information provided from an organization with an authoritative, reliable reputation through social media could help reduce public fear. Two studies form our research. First, through an exploratory study on wildfires in California, we find empirical evidence that increased operational transparency, i.e., informing the public about the operation activities, does negatively influence fear, such that fear decreases when information is posted by the premier authority on wildfire fighting. Second, drawing from operational transparency theory and theories on expertise and reputation, we conduct an online experiment to reveal underlying mechanisms that are effective in reducing fear. Our results suggest that highlighting expertise in social media posts reduces fear. This same information also increases user intention to heed warnings from this authority. Our findings provide actionable strategies to relief organizations. Of particular import is that this intervention requires little or no additional cost to organizations, making it a feasible solution for agencies that face budget shortages while they struggle to fight the consequences of climate change.
Keywords: Disaster, Operational Transparency, Climate change, Expertise, Social Media
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