ABSTRACT

After a large earthquake, geoscience agencies deliver information to public audiences about earthquakes that have recently occurred and aftershock forecasts about what might happen. We conducted focus groups and interviews about geoscience communications during the 2010–2012 earthquake sequence in Christchurch, New Zealand. Recorded experiences contain information about the public’s appetite for scientific earthquake and aftershock information, psychological and psychosocial states that affect communications, increased demands for geoscientists’ time and expertise, and multiple communication roles and responsibilities during the Canterbury earthquake sequence. Results of a preliminary analysis reveal that public consumption of geoscience information changes throughout the sequence and differs with respect to ways of coping.

We confirm the need to accompany earthquake information with advice on protective actions, psychosocial support, and self‐care strategies but find it necessary to distinguish between crisis and risk communication regarding the balance of these types of information; initially, people are more focused on the crisis than the science. We conclude that when geoscientists are planning and preparing to communicate during an earthquake sequence, they may be able to more effectively utilize their resources if they (1) appreciate the complexity of psychosocial aspects affecting communication of earthquake information and aftershock forecasts and are trained to communicate with compassion and refer to qualified sources, (2) understand diverse and evolving needs within the public for scientific information and prepare ahead for challenges that reduce attention to aftershock forecasts, and (3) understand the benefits of coordinating communication roles and develop relationships with other responding agencies (e.g., health and welfare, emergency management). It appears that clarifying the communication roles and responsibilities of responding agencies and integrating messages into joint statements is where crucial effort is needed. As such, geoscience communications can be improved by coordinating geoscience, emergency management, and mental health messaging ahead of time and practicing these communications during moderate earthquake events, scenario planning, and exercises with earthquake sequences.

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