Planning for Spontaneity: The Challenges of Disaster Communication Fieldwork

J. Suzanne Horsley


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.

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