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Emotional Health-Related Challenges While Communication in a Disaster or Crisis

Suzanne Horsley Crisis Communications UA

Almost daily, a new public relations crisis pops up in the news. Think United Airlines, Pepsi and even Alabama state government.

If professional communicators in disaster areas say the wrong thing or give the wrong advice, the consequences can be dire. To make matters worse, communicators often are personally affected by the disasters and/or are overwhelmed with what they’ve seen, and this impairs their decision-making skills, crisis-communications expert Dr. Suzanne Horsley told Alabama Media Professionals members at the group’s monthly meeting May 11.

“People are making strategic communications decisions while they’re under a lot of stress,” said Horsley, associate professor of advertising and public relations at The University of Alabama. After noting a lack of attention in research – including her own – to communicators’ mental-health challenges in large-scale disasters, Horsley tackled the subject in a recent project. She interviewed people who served as communicators during natural and man-made disasters, Red Cross staff members, disaster mental health counselors and psychologists. Highlights of the results were shared at the meeting.

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