Year of Publication

2011

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Dissertation

College

Communication and Information Studies

Department

Communication

First Advisor

Dr. Timothy L. Sellnow

Second Advisor

Dr. Derek R. Lane

Abstract

Little is known about the role of public health public information officers (PIOs) during public health emergencies. This study uses interpretative methods to learn about the organizational structures that facilitate and constrain emergency risk communication efforts during public health emergencies. Interpretive thematic comparative analysis of PIOs experiences and reflections about their involvement in the 2009-2010 H1N1 response will be used to illustrate how social interactions between and among PIOs, public health staff, and representatives from other agencies create implicit and explicit structures that facilitate and constrain emergency risk communication. The application of three specific concepts from structuration theory, namely, agent, duality of structure and institutionalized processes will be key in the exploration of the role of the PIO within the context of emergency planning and response.

Participants in this study were individuals from Kentucky, North Dakota, New Jersey and California who served as a PIO during the 2009-2010 H1N1 pandemic influenza response. The study’s findings suggest that social interactions between organizational members, in addition to the organization of public health systems in each state, contribute to the similarities and differences in the enactment of the PIO role. Further, this study also suggests that the permeability of emergency response plans, another type of organizational structure, facilitate and constrain PIOs’ emergency risk communication efforts. Finally, this study also suggests that the involvement of PIOs in emergency planning and exercises impacts the types of relationships that are created and maintained before and during emergency responses.

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