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Researchers from START’s Training in Risk and Crisis Communication (TRACC) Program earn Top Paper Awards

Just as a survey endorsed by the National Emergency Management Association identified the need for the federal government to help train emergency managers how to best use social media, researchers for START’s Training and Risk Crisis Communication (TRACC) Program have earned Top Paper Awards for their research on the topic.

The first award came from the National Communication Association (NCA) for a paper titled, “We Are All Sikhs: A Case Study of Community Response and Renewal,” by Michael Paquette and Shuying Shi, doctoral students in the University of Maryland Department of Communication.

“This paper illustrates how various government agencies, faith-based organizations, and community organizations worked together to respond to a hate-motivated shooting,” Paquette said. “By creating a more networked community through building relationships and providing opportunities for learning and community healing, emergency managers can be more prepared to allow for recovery in the face of tragedy.”

The second award came from the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC) for a paper titled “A Complexity Approach to Teaching Crisis Management: Crisis Event Simulation in the Public Relations Classroom,” by Julia Fraustino, a doctoral student in the University of Maryland Department of Communication; Stephanie Madden, START research/project coordinator; and Dr. Brooke Liu, Associate Professor of Communication at the University of Maryland and START affiliated faculty member.

“Participants’ communication decisions, such as choosing particular audiences, crafting messages, and selecting traditional or social media platforms for information dissemination and dialogue, impact the path the simulation takes in response,”

Fraustino said. “Research participants reported that the simulation exhibited characteristics of real-world crises that cannot otherwise be as effectively approximated in traditional classroom activities including responding to traditional and social media in real-time.”

While the NCA conference paper provides an opportunity for training participants to learn about audience analysis and engagement in a recent, unanticipated community disaster, the AEJMC conference paper informed the development of TRACC’s simulation module.

Led by Liu and Dr. Kate Izsak, the TRACC program is a two-year effort funded through START by the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate’s Resilient Systems Division. It aims to put scientific research to use in developing and delivering a theoretically rigorous and practical training for risk and crisis communicators in the United States.

TRACC’s first three modules build knowledge in crisis planning, audience analysis & engagement and media relations. The crisis communication simulation serves as a capstone experience for participants to apply training knowledge gained without real-world consequences through using the ICONS Project’s interactive online simulation platform.

As a preliminary part of the project, START researchers conducted an extensive literature review alongside survey and content analysis research and garnered input from subject matter experts to formulate a report on the current state of risk and crisis communication training.

“That report revealed several gaps between the information and skills risk communicators reported needing and their current training options – gaps that TRACC is now positioned to fill,” Liu said.

TRACC also uses data and information from previous START reports, including “Social Media Use during Disasters,” which provided data about why the public uses social media for risk communication.

TRACC researchers hope to expand the program beyond the START pilot, noting that the training itself can be adapted to multiple audiences.

Both papers will be presented at conferences in Washington, D.C. later this year. In addition, TRACC program researchers will present a second paper at the AEJMC conference this August: “If You’re Ready for a Zombie Apocalypse, Then You’re Ready for Any Emergency: CDC’s Use of Social Media and Humor in a Disaster Preparedness Campaign.”