Political Communication in Disasters: A Question of Relationships


  • Hamish McLean Griffith University, Australia
  • Jacqui Ewart Griffith University, Australia




politicians, communication, disasters, emergency management


Politicians are both a help and hindrance in the provision of information to the public before, during and after disasters. For example, in Australia, the Premier of the State of Queensland, Anna Bligh, was lauded for her leadership and public communication skills during major floods that occurred late in 2010 and in early 2011 (de Bussy, Martin and Paterson 2012). Similarly, New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani was praised for his leadership following 9/11. This is in contrast to the poor performance of political leaders during Hurricane Katrina (Cole and Fellows 2008, Olson and Gawronski 2010). Political actors’ lack of credibility and their poor situational awareness contributed to the problems. The involvement of political leaders in disaster communications is also problematic from the perspective of emergency agencies. For example, politicians who move their communication position from supportive to tactical can take over the role of providing official disaster information, such as evacuation warnings, without sufficient expertise, credibility or situational knowledge. This paper builds on the expanding body of research into the politics of disasters by exploring relationships with political actors from the perspective of emergency managers. Drawing on interviews with emergency agencies in Australia, Germany, Norway and the UK, we firstly examine when and what a politician should communicate during disasters and secondly, offer six principles toward a roadmap of involving political actors in the disaster communication process when life and property is at stake.


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Theme: Cultures of Disasters