Human behavior in crisis

Adequate crisis communication is one of the most important aspects to stop crises from escalating due to inadequate population behaviour. To succeed, it needs to follow well-established good practices and guidelines to be successful and prevent inadequate actions of the population:  Information about threats should be timely, specific, consistent, accurate and clear, communication with the public should already start before a crisis to build trust, information about the crisis situation should not be withheld from the public but shared as honestly and openly as possible. Also, different communication strategies need to be employed with respect to different groups of citizens (e.g. ethnic groups) and messages to strengthen self-efficacy of the recipients need to be included. Although sociodemographic factors (e.g. gender, age) and environmental (e.g. physical cues) and social factors (e.g. group dynamics) have been found to influence individual response to an emergency, they become less influential when a warning message contains certain specific characteristics relating to content (mentioning source, type of threat, possible actions and reasons for these actions, time to act), structure (order of content: problem – location of problem – actions), language (no technical or flowery language), visual design (e.g. size and colouring) and acoustic design (not only using audio signals, using a live voice message speaking not too fast and not to slow). The survey conducted for this deliverable showed that the participants would mostly prefer the voice of a known authority (e.g. mayor) if receiving a voice message in case of a disaster. Furthermore, the population should be informed about potential cascading effects of a disaster (e.g. power blackouts due to a storm) and the consequences of their actions.

EMAUG conducted a vignette study, interviews with professionals, a literature research and a virtual reality study to explore human behaviour during cascading events.