Media Uses in Disaster Situations: A New Focus on the Impact Phase

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Abstract

The media, in the sociology of natural disasters, are mainly viewed as management tools used to influence people's preparedness and response to natural disasters. As a consequence, research in this area has been limited to the warning, preparedness, and recovery phases. Through interviews with residents of eight communities in Mayagüez, Puerto Rico, impacted by Hurricane Georges in 1998, this paper shows that through integrating mass communication research to disaster theory we can obtain a more accurate picture of the media–audience relationship during natural disasters. In addition to the manifest functions of providing information, the media also have latent functions in disasters, which consist of emotional support and companionship. The media also help isolated individuals to feel connected with the “outside world.” These functions are most salient in the impact phase of disasters. These functions are also particularly crucial as they have been shown to reduce the negative effects of stressful life events.

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