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Communicating Seismological Uncertainty to the Public: A Case Study in Oklahoma

Georgia Halkia, & Lisa Grant Ludwig

Published August 8, 2018, SCEC Contribution #8331, 2018 SCEC Annual Meeting Poster #318 (PDF)

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Over the past decade, seismicity in Oklahoma has increased dramatically. Communication research shows that people receive information from various channels and, based on their values and perceived risks, will decide if preparing for a disaster is worthwhile. Newspapers play an important role in society by informing the public about what is happening. We analyzed newspaper coverage of Oklahoma seismicity to understand how newspaper coverage and interviews with seismologists affected preparedness efforts. We performed a qualitative content analysis of newspaper articles utilizing Lexis Nexis Academic search engine. The date parameters were selected to capture a period of increasing rate of induced seismicity. The articles consisted mainly of news, editorials, and opinion pieces (N=314). We followed a grounded theory approach to develop themes, and utilized risk communication theory to gain a deeper understanding of the meaning of the written messages. The major themes identified were uncertainty over cause and risk, and non-consensus over regulating the oil industry. There were several key scientists and experts that were identified through this analysis and played an important role in communicating their knowledge to the people of Oklahoma through newspaper media coverage. Most of the articles captured conflicting views of stakeholders, in addition to lack of certainty from the experts. Risk communication research suggests delivery of uncertainty and conflicting messages deteriorates trust between experts and community members and minimizes their risk perception. The relatively low level of earthquake preparedness in Oklahoma suggests that the seismological information communicated did not persuade the people to take or demand action.

Key Words
Induced seismicity, Oklahoma earthquakes, Research communication

Halkia, G., & Grant Ludwig, L. (2018, 08). Communicating Seismological Uncertainty to the Public: A Case Study in Oklahoma. Poster Presentation at 2018 SCEC Annual Meeting.

Related Projects & Working Groups
Communication, Education, and Outreach (CEO)