Communicating the sciences of Disaster Risk Reduction: media stories surrounding the Canterbury earthquakes of 2010-2011


Bryner, Vivienne Frances (Vivienne)


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Communication of disaster risk reduction (DRR) should be participatory, democratised and scientifically robust according to ideals enshrined in the United Nations’ International Strategy for Disaster Reduction Hyogo Framework for Action and Sendai Framework 2015. The mass media are a vital pathway for transferring knowledge about DRR. This thesis explored the media communication of science for DRR in New Zealand. A methodology was developed for comparing survey results with academic and mass media content about earthquakes (Chapter 3).

A review of communication of DRR under the above communicative paradigm identified seven key elements of ‘best-practice’ communication (‘7Ts’), and yielded sixteen features (‘16Cs’) of ‘well-regarded’ communication (Chapter 4). This thesis focused on assessing communicated content in terms of three of the features, considerateness, completeness and comprehensiveness (Chapters 5, 6 and 7).

Complete and comprehensive understanding of DRR is shown to involve the range of stakeholders involved in DRR, consideration of the natural, built, social and economic environments, and recognition of the disciplinary diversity of sciences that contribute to DRR knowledge. A framework was developed to classify all DRR actions according to twelve DRR-communication topics. Other frame sets that may be used singly or collectively to analyse for completeness were also presented.

Considerate science communication engages the community and asks what they need to know. Communication that is well-regarded is ‘effective’, ‘ethical’ and exhibits ‘best-practice’. Survey and in-depth interview of 493 New Zealanders showed citizens concur with, but also extend what is already known from the research literature of wider global community expectations of communication.

Framing analysis was used to analyse four DRR-related data sets quantitatively for completeness, as per frames described in Chapter 3. Media content, survey and interview results, DRR-related research knowledge, and authorities’ pre-earthquake advice were analysed. This enabled the framing of topics communicated in the mass media before, during and after the Canterbury earthquakes to be compared and contrasted with current understandings from DRR-related research. The media items were geoscience-, hazard-, event- and consequence-focused, containing only limited mention of how individual and community vulnerabilities might be reduced. Areas for potential improvement were suggested for the 155 earthquake-related story types identified in New Zealand online print, television media and women’s magazines. The content-related recommendations combined existing natural hazard and disaster media research findings with what survey respondents indicated they needed (Chapters 5-7).

Greater acknowledgement of scientific uncertainties, and more discussion of the risk cost-benefit trade-offs being made on behalf of citizens, as well as the reasoning behind other related decision-making, was requested by survey respondents. Less emphasis on probability by journalists and scientific or expert sources, when discussing risk, seems warranted, as do a greater emphasis on disaster causes, recovery, and concepts of self- and community-efficacy in DRR. Given that audiences had difficulty gaining broad perspectives in DRR, I conclude more evidence-based information from a wider range of social and physical sciences is needed. Communication should focus on resilience, on solutions rather than problems, and recognise the importance of community innovation, adaptation and leadership in preparation, avoidance and mitigation.

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850 pages A4

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Open Access

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Bryner, Vivienne Frances (Vivienne), “Communicating the sciences of Disaster Risk Reduction: media stories surrounding the Canterbury earthquakes of 2010-2011,” Otago Geology Theses, accessed May 26, 2019,