Date of Award

Summer 2019

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Communication & Theatre Arts


Lifespan and Digital Communication

Committee Director

Thomas Socha

Committee Member

Brenden O'Hallarn

Committee Member

Katherine Hawkins


Hurricane Harvey (HH) is considered to be the first natural disaster where social-network applications to request help surpassed already overloaded 911 systems (Seetharaman & Wells, 2017). Increasing interpersonal connectivity via Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites correspond to an increasing need for researchers and responders to recognize how people use social media platforms to connect, share, and receive information especially during times of crisis such as natural disasters. Heightened public perceptions and expectations of response efforts in the digital era make it especially important for first responders to evaluate, monitor, and adapt to these shifts in communication. Disaster-relief groups and emergency responders are looking for help to navigate in this new landscape in order to better serve their constituents and explore new, innovative ways to improve both their efficiency and their empathy. Emergency-response managers must act fast to prevent incorrect or misleading information from reaching the public. Some organizations are expressing interest in social media as a potentially cost-efficient way to disseminate information and official communication. However, as research has shown, innovations take time to diffuse (Rogers, 2003). In this thesis, I examined the diffusion of social media in the ways the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) (first responder) and the public communicate during crises. Moreover, I examined facilitative and inhibitive factors shaping the diffusion of digital innovations within the USCG. I conclude that the pacing of the diffusion of social media among everyday users is incredibly rapid and, concurrently, is pressuring crisis communication systems like the USCG to quickly adopt these new innovations. I further conclude that Hurricane Harvey should function as a historical catalyst, a clarion call, that government agencies should incorporate social media and associated digital media to improve their future emergency response operations because lives will depend on it.


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