Information Preference and Information Supply Efficiency Evaluation before, during, and after an Earthquake: Evidence from Songyuan, China

1. Introduction


What is a disaster? “A serious disruption of the functioning of a community or a society at any scale due to hazardous events interacting with conditions of exposure, vulnerability and capacity, leading to one or more of the following: human, material, economic and environmental losses and impacts” [ 1 ]. Earthquakes are one of the most difficult hazards to be predicted and can result in massive casualties, property losses, and loss of municipal infrastructure. It is important for individuals to acquire sufficient earthquake disaster information so that, when faced with an earthquake, they are able to make the right decisions and take rapid actions with regard to mitigation measures and adjustments [ 2 13 ]. Research on the public’s disaster information acquisition content and channel preferences may help to improve the efficiency of information supply. For example, if a communication channel is found to be effective in motivating the public to respond proactively to risk information, but is used sparingly, its effectiveness is limited [ 14 15 ]. Alternatively, if the public is eager to learn about some aspect of the risk, but the information is not available when it is released, the communication is also a failure. However, research on public disaster information preferences is often underappreciated [ 11 13 ].


Information plays an important role in disaster management and is an indispensable resource in disasters [ 15 ]. The theme of the World Disasters Report 2005 [ 16 ] is “Information in Disasters”, and it systematically reviews the functions, sources, and channels of emergency information. Previous studies on earthquake disaster information mainly focused on two areas. The first area is research on earthquake disaster information classification. Information classification is distinguishing and classifying information in line with certain principles and methods according to the attributes or characteristics of the information content, establishing a certain classification system and arrangement order [ 17 ]. Chinese scholars have conducted many studies in the field of earthquake emergency information classification [ 18 24 ]. For instance, Nie et al. [ 18 ] proposed a classification system for basic earthquake emergency data. Su et al. [ 19 ] divided earthquake emergency information into seventeen categories. Bai et al. [ 20 ] classified earthquake emergency site information into four categories: earthquake information, disaster information, emergency response information, and disposal benefit information. Based on the historical earthquake disaster experience, emergency rescue experience and relevant national standards, on-site disaster information was divided into nine categories by Zhu et al. [ 21 ]. Dong et al. [ 22 ] categorized earthquake emergency disaster information into four categories, namely seismic information, earthquake zone background information, disaster information, and emergency response. Zhang et al. [ 23 ] ordered earthquake emergency disaster information into six categories. Su et al. [ 24 ] divided earthquake emergency information into eight categories. In addition, Sapountzaki [ 25 ] and Fokaefs [ 26 ] proposed that earthquake emergency information be grouped into four types of messages. See Table 1 for details.

The classification of earthquake emergency disaster information provides an important reference for our research. However, to summarize the above literature, we found that:

(a) The earthquake disaster information mentioned above only referred to earthquake emergency information after earthquake disasters, and there was a lack of attention paid to information prior to the earthquake. Risk communication spans every phase of the (disaster) risk management cycle, not only the emergency [ 26 ];

(b) All the earthquake disaster information was collected and extracted from the internet, and such indirectly acquired information cannot reveal the information needs of general public in detail;

(c) It was unclear who the users of the earthquake disaster information were. The users may have come from the government category (i.e., government decision-making departments or decision makers), the industry category (i.e., industry information departments or industry information practitioners, or scientific research and engineering technicians), or the public category (i.e., social public groups or individuals, or mass media) [ 27 ]. There is a lack of clarification on the information audience.

The second area is research on the earthquake disaster information needs of a certain group. Jeffrey [ 28 ] explored the preferences of information needs in three phases: before, during, and after a crisis, while Rego [ 29 ] studied the information needs of disaster managers before and after disasters. Yang and Liu [ 30 ] investigated the basic orientation and characteristics of the information needs of the public in a crisis situation, taking the 12 May earthquake in 2008 as an example, and concluded that the public’s information needs were differentiated at different stages of the earthquake. Sha and Xu [ 31 ] constructed an information analysis framework for emergency information needs based on the activity theory. Lei et al. [ 32 ] proposed a general and systematic framework for emergency information needs. Wang et al. [ 33 ] preliminarily summarized the information needs of earthquake emergency rescue, and put forward some suggestions on the information acquisition of major earthquakes and catastrophes. Zhou et al. [ 34 ], taking the Ms5.1 Sichuan Qingbaijiang earthquake as an example, studied the information product’ needs of earthquake emergency personnel and scientific research personnel. Zhang et al. [ 35 ], taking the members of the earthquake relief headquarters at all levels in Yunnan as the research objects, analyzed their earthquake emergency information needs. Most of the above studies used direct investigation methods to obtain data and to accurately acquire earthquake disaster information needs for a specific population; however, an evaluation of the difference between information need and supply was lacking.


Numerous sources of information are involved in crisis communications, providing information to both at-risk and general audiences [ 36 37 ]. However, selecting the most effective channels can still be challenging. Traditional mass media mainly refers to television, radio and newspapers and magazines. Mass media has been found to be the most utilized channel of information dissemination during disasters [ 12 43 ]. Among them, radio is considered to be the most frequently used information dissemination channel in crisis events [ 12 46 ]. Furthermore, of course, there are studies which show that television remains the most common channel that audiences use in times of crisis [ 26 49 ]. Compared with traditional media, social media is also considered to be an important channel [ 50 56 ] for risk information due to its interactivity and speed. In addition to traditional media and new media, another information dissemination channel that cannot be ignored is interpersonal communication, which mainly refers to communication and dissemination among family members, friends, and neighbors. This informal information channel is considered to be one of the most important information sources during disasters [ 14 58 ]. Moreover, short message service (SMS) is applied widely by agencies worldwide [ 59 ], for instance, the US federal emergency management [ 60 61 ], Swiss National Weather Agency [ 62 ], and the Meteorological Service of New Zealand [ 61 ]. Most studies have focused on the information acquisition channels at one stage of a sudden crisis event [ 14 ], and discussion of the integrity of information disseminated channels has been missing.

To address these issues, this paper attempts to discuss the following issues:

(a) From the perspective of the needs of residents in earthquake-stricken areas, we attempt to explore their earthquake disaster information preferences, that is, what information content is needed and how this information should be disseminated. Finally, we propose the ideal composition of main disaster information at different stages of an earthquake;

(b) Risk communication efficiency based on whether the residents’ information needs are being met. We develop an information deviation index (IDI) to evaluate the difference between the information needs and supply.

This study is presented in six sections. Following the introduction, Section 2 introduces the crisis stage analysis theory through a theoretical lens. Section 3 introduces the study area, the use of the questionnaire-based survey, the research indicators and the data analysis techniques employed. The research findings are highlighted and discussed in Section 4 and Section 5 . The Section 6 presents our conclusion, and discusses the limitations, future studies, and the implications of this study.

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