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Risk Communication, Crisis Situations, and Saving Lives through the Intriguing means of Research


Taylor Gibbons

Risk Communication & Resilience Intern


I came to this internship knowing three things: 1) I want to help improve the society in which we live, 2) I will probably never see a battlefield, and 3) I am going to fill this moral goal through extensive research. I excelled in the risk communication and research methods courses I took prior to this internship, but I didn’t really know what START had in store for me. After working rigorously on the internship application process, I was eager to embark on this new journey. When I first sat down with my program manager, Holly Roberts, I soon realized that I’d be jumping in to the sphere full-throttle – and I couldn’t have been more excited for the challenges ahead.

There are numerous vital elements of risk communication and resilience that drive research within the field. Some of the questions we ask include:

  1. How can an organization effectively disseminate important health and safety information to the public?
  2. What constitutes effective communication?
  3. Through which mediums, uses of language, and by whom is the dissemination of information most successful, and in which particular context is this situation most effective?

One of the many projects we’re working on right now involves the violent tornado outbreaks, extreme flooding, and the harsh weather conditions of 2015 in the heart of Oklahoma. Keep in mind, it rarely rains in Oklahoma and amidst the extreme flooding – there were tigers. Oh yes, there were tigers. On May 6th, an anonymous tip warned weather forecasters that a local tiger safari in Tuttle, OK had been damaged by the tornadoes and the holding chambers for the animals had been compromised. This information quickly swept to social media where the hashtag “#Tigernado” took Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook by storm. Shortly after, word got out that the tigers weren’t on the loose at all – somebody played a hoax on the people of Oklahoma! Although tigers weren’t on the loose, how have social media managers and leaders in risk and crisis communication responded to this new, freely available forum to spread important health and safety information?

There is existing research (including a publication by our very own research affiliate, Julia Daisy Fraustino) examining how organizations can effectively use humor to spread important health and safety information even farther than before. There is; however, little information in the field emphasizing how an organization can capitalize on a manmade hoax to accomplish the same goal. Currently, the Risk Communication & Resilience team is collecting data on the organizations that engaged with the “#Tigernado” hashtag (news agencies, police departments, etc.) and examining how they may have used the hoax to their advantage to help spread safety information regarding the flooding, tornados – or even an encounter with wild tigers.

Since social media has become a dominant player in immediate access to information, examining this media from a crisis communication perspective is even more critical. This project, which we refer to as “Tigernado”, has become one of the most interesting and salient research studies I’ve had the privilege of working. I am excited not only for the experience and the connections that START has gifted me, but I am now part of a team that I have been striving to join since I first heard of its manifestation. A third of the way into my time here, the extraordinary people I’ve met have already aided, shaped, and refined my ambitions for the future. If there’s a lesson to take from this post today - it’s to strive for what you love, because the opportunities that arise might just guide your aspirations and perspectives to constitute your own personal success story.