The utility of situational theory of publics for assessing public response to a disaster prediction

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The study of public response to disasters is a relatively recent discipline that developed following the passage of the Earthquake Hazards Reduction Act of 1977. Because earthquake prediction is an inexact science, few formal predictions have been issued, which has limited the opportunity to study public response to predictions. The purpose of this study was to examine the utility of public relations theory, specifically situational theory of publics, for assessing response to the New Madrid earthquake prediction. Situational theory demonstrates that there is not a single, general public for disaster predictions as has been assumed in studies of disaster response. Instead, multiple publics develop in response to a prediction based on how members of those publics view the situation. Contrary to previous findings that believability and personalized risk are correlated constructs, high personalized risk was associated with high constraint recognition regardless of belief in the prediction. Based on the findings, suggestions are proposed for the development of more effective messages for communicating with publics at risk.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)489-508
Number of pages20
JournalPublic Relations Review
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1998

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Communication
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management
  • Marketing


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