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Sue Atkinson


I am a strategic communication consultant and PhD candidate at the News & Media Research Centre in the University of Canberra, Australia. I am also an associate researcher with Natural Hazards Research Australia. My current research project is focused on understanding people's communication needs and behaviours in natural disaster contexts and how community communication ecologies spontaneously form to support community responses.

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I was born and raised in Canberra (unusual I know) before heading off to other places such as Melbourne to do my first degree and to Japan to work and study. I was an Australian Federal public servant for 25 + years working across diverse subject matter such as international relations, law enforcement, refugees and resettlement. I lived in Japan on and off for 9 years and speak Japanese fluently. Since 2015 I have been working as a strategic design consultant in Canberra and Japan while studying at the University of Canberra.

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My PhD Project

The frequency and intensity of natural disasters are increasing due to climate change. The enormous impacts of natural disasters are not just physical but have long-lasting adverse impacts on individuals and communities. The composition and nature of our communities are also changing and people's experiences in responding to a natural disaster vary enormously.

It's critical that people get timely and accurate information to make - sometimes life and death - decisions - about whether they stay or go. People reach out to others in their communities to find information they need. I am working to better understand how this happens as it is critically important in natural disaster research.

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My PhD Project

June 2023

I am into the second year of my PhD and will be starting my interviews and focus groups in June. I am planning to talk to community members who experienced either the 2022 floods in Brisbane or the 2019-20 bushfire season in the Eurobodalla Shire in southern NSW. I am keen to hear about how you went looking for information, where did you go, and did you find what you needed? Did you use digital technology or old-school face-to-face?

If you would like to be involved, I would love to hear from you. Please fill in the contact form below or write to me at the News & Media Research Centre address.   



March 2023

Social media has become an integral channel for official agencies to communicate with citizens in a natural disaster crisis and increasingly time, effort and money are being spent on improving social media strategies and practices. However, there is much less research focused on understanding how people engage with official social media content, a significant piece of the crisis communication puzzle. As the use of social media for crisis communication in natural disasters is increasing and the amount of information threatens to overwhelm people, understanding how people engage with official social media content is vital. Using quantitative content analysis, this study examined the use of Facebook by two Australian emergency response agencies during a specific bushfire event and explored how the attributes of social media content are related to user engagement with the information. The findings show that the two agencies had markedly different approaches which resulted in differences in user engagement.

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January 2021

This study investigated official communication using Facebook during the Orroral Valley bushfires from these two emergency services agencies and considers to what extent messaging demonstrated the characteristics of effective crisis communication, including application of the National Framework for Scaled Advice and Warnings to the Community. A content analysis of over 600 posts revealed marked differences in approaches. The study revealed the benefits of using a combination of text, images and infographics in communication activities. Suggestions are provided about how social media could be used more effectively by truly connecting with communities to improve community preparedness and resilience.


News & Media Research Centre

University of Canberra

Building 9, Level C, Room 10

11 Kirinari Street

Bruce ACT 2617

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