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DESIGNING CRISIS COMMUNICATION
Pure information is not enough for tsunami experienced people. Communication needs to deal with the feelings also. Especially elderly women expressed in the focus group this opposing attitude of not even talking about future disasters. How to deal with that antagonism via media? Elderly people might have difficulty in hearing or seeing the messages designed for disaster mitigation. Their memory and physical strength causes challenges, as one elderly lade expressed ‘don’t hear anything, it’s not clear any more’, ‘I don’t understand much’, ‘I was shaking myself, could not take clothes’.
In crisis communication, public messages are designed and produced in order to create specific responses by the public. The key is to make messages that audience for all ages, educational and vocational backgrounds will understand, and understand so well that they are able to behave accordingly.
Communications research is needed to find out how people picture the disaster, what their natural responses are, before, during and after the disaster. Focus groups discussions for tsunami survivors in North Sumatra were conducted in 2007 to find out, firstly, reactions to the earthquake and tsunami, and secondly, how the resilience was created in the imminent disaster. Five focus groups were conducted, two for elderly women, one for younger women, one for elderly men and one for younger men.
Reactions to the earthquake and tsunami in the December 2004 disaster can be best described by the cosmology episode defined by Weick (1993) as the situation when the orderliness of the universe is called into question. North Sumatrans are used to experiencing earthquakes, but the claim of ‘ocean is rising’, declared by children and adults, when they saw the tsunami wave, was shattering the orderliness of the universe of many people. Reactions to this cosmology episode varied from active participation to passive sitting and chanting. Men and women described the event differently; old people described it in a different way than young people. Old women’s reactions were the most religious, while the old men’s reactions concentrated most on the family; such as looking for the family members.
Besides reactions, I analyzed at the focus groups especially from the viewpoint of how resilience was created. According to Weick (1993), resilience is created by either improvisation, or by social construction (virtual role systems), or by the attitude of wisdom (not to be so sure about anything), or finally, by intersubjectivity; and respectful interaction.
One would expect social construction and intersubjectivity to be high in the Sumatran community, which is based on close social relationships in the family and in the village. Those elderly women that were outside from their house at the beginning of the tsunami event, saw either people running or hearing ‘ocean is rising’, and started running themselves too. One elderly lady that was alone in the house, however, was afraid of the water so much that she didn’t go anywhere. With the exception of this lonely elderly woman, all the other elderly women expressed analysis of the situation via other people, and surrounding people’s reactions to the water, or to the sounds of approaching tsunami wave (explosions). Two elderly women showed wisdom in their opinions, the other expressing that we need mental readiness to face the coming disasters, the other acknowledging practical wisdom, what to do at the event of earthquake (get out of the house), and at the event of water rising (look for a strong piece of wood).
Improvisation refers to creative, unorthodox behaviors during disasters; referring to the idea that not everything can be planned and predicted, and that smart improvisation in unpredicted situation helps. Among the elderly women’s group, the tendency is quite opposite to improvisation: to live and act according to the accustomed and traditional way; that is to chant and pray at the time of disaster. Disaster as a Judgment day was described by several elderly people, and their attitude is that you can not predict disasters, or actually you should pray that disasters do not come, or if they come, ‘it is the will of Allah’, ‘the one who decides is Allah’ and we need to chant, pray and surrender to His will. This strong trust in the Lord appeared many times in elderly women’s conversations.
‘We pray to the Lord. Apart from that who can we put our hope in?’ ‘I prayed, Allah, my Lord, save me. Give me strength’. Elderly people recognized having some fear of the future disasters, but in facing the fear, they emphasized the need to surrender to the will of Allah, looking for the Quran and reading Yasin prayers, and this religious observance takes the fear way. At the time of disaster, according to tradition, the elderly women were told to go to the mosque, but they were not told to run at time of disaster. According to tradition, chanting is favored at the time of disaster, since it helps to achieve calmness. There is also a belief that when the island drowns, the Judgment day is near. One elderly lady expressed the belief that if there is repentance, the disasters will be less probable to happen.
In conclusion, I think there are several challenges in designing disaster mitigation messages for old people; to start with, the mental blockage of dealing with disasters – there are attitudes that people do not even want to think and talk about coming disasters, and they do not understand the concept of preparing for the disasters. The other challenge is language being used in creating the messages – it needs to be simple, clear, and understandable, with good audio discrimination qualities. The messages need repetition, or practice, for example repeating by your own words, or making rhymes of them, so that elderly will remember them in emergency.
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