September 1, 2014  

Current weather

Scattered clouds, 93.2 °F

Southern Miss Geography Team Studies Emergency Communications in Diverse Mississippi Communities

Main Content
Southern Miss Assistant Professor Bandana Kar, left, and Associate Professor Joby Bass. (Submitted photo)

How can emergency officials communicate effectively with the most at-risk populations on Mississippi’s Gulf Coast? That is the question two University of Southern Mississippi professors are working to answer. 

Assistant Professor Bandana Kar and Associate Professor Joby Bass, faculty members in the Department of Geography and Geology, are directing the project. Doctoral student Joslyn Zale of Sinking Spring, Pa. and master’s student James Dickens of West Monroe, La. are also supporting the project.

According to Kar, “Many residents of Coastal counties live in low-income, high density, low-lying areas without ready access to computers, smart phones, or other modern communication tools and speak only Vietnamese or Spanish.”

Kar and Bass, working in the USM Geoinformatics and Hazards Research Lab, have turned their attention to this problem, with support from the Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate.

“The primary goal of the research is to identify the best communication platform and message format to alert these vulnerable residents of approaching hurricanes, tornados, or other emergency situations, in enough time for everyone to take necessary precautions,” said Bass. 

The team is not just researching the subject, they are also going out into the community to get to the heart of the problem by talking to both citizens and emergency personnel.  “Our team is combining laboratory work with extensive surveys and interviews with at-risk populations and emergency managers along the Coast,” said Kar. 

“We have already identified vulnerable neighborhoods that are not in range of emergency sirens, and populations without access to emergency messages in the languages they speak,” said Bass. “Recently, we visited the Vietnamese Moon Festival in Biloxi provided to reach out to target groups.”

Kar says recent catastrophes such as Hurricane Katrina and the BP Oil spill have proven we need a way to communicate to these populations. 

Kar and Bass hope by working with both the citizens and emergency responders, their work will aid in indentifying a system that will allow these populations have access to emergency information in times of emergency and crisis.

For more information about the work Kar and Bass are doing, email bandana.kar@usm.edu or joby@usm.edu.  For more information about the Department of Geography and Geology, visit http://www.usm.edu/geography-geology or call 601-266-4729.