Planning for Spontaneity: The Challenges of Disaster Communication Fieldwork

  • J. Suzanne Horsley University of Alabama


This methodological article explores the intersection of qualitative fieldwork methods in crisis communication and disaster management. While crisis communication is a popular topic of research in the public relations genre, there is relatively no methodological work to serve as a precedent for a participant-observation study of communication during an unfolding disaster event. Likewise, disaster management literature that is based in qualitative fieldwork methods has not examined the communication practices of a disaster response organization. This article explores the various challenges in conducting fieldwork in real-time disaster communication and describes how the researcher overcame those challenges to conduct a participant-observation study of the American Red Cross’ communication efforts during the 2009 Red River Valley floods in Fargo, North Dakota, United States.

Author Biography

J. Suzanne Horsley, University of Alabama
Assistant Professor Department of Advertising and Public Relations