Intercultural Emergency Communication: Making Sense of Intercultural Communication Competence in Emergency Response Contexts

Andrew S. Pyle

Advisor: Katherine E Rowan, PhD, Department of Communication

Committee Members: Timothy Gibson, Mark Hopson, Xiaoquan Zhao

Research Hall, #162
April 07, 2014, 02:00 PM to 11:00 AM


Emergency responders working in many parts of the United States, as well as those who work internationally, often face difficult intercultural communication situations. There are few metropolitan areas where a single language is spoken or where a single ethnic group comprises the population. Communities in the United States are becoming more culturally diverse each year. Individuals working in law enforcement, healthcare, social work, emergency response, or any organization that has a diverse work force or conducts cross-cultural business are likely to face an emergency or crisis in an intercultural context. Research has also shown that crisis events and major disasters and emergencies are on the rise (Sellnow & Seeger, 2013). Communication researchers have called for more information in intercultural crisis communication (Falkheimer & Heide, 2006; Lee, 2005). The author conducted in-depth interviews with individuals who work in intercultural emergency response contexts, with the goal of making sense of what challenges individuals in these contexts face, and what they associate with effective and ineffective intercultural communication. The author found that participants are cognizant of cultural norms and needs when they deploy internationally, and that they have a strong desire to respect those norms. However, responders would benefit from increased training in specific heuristics and techniques to increase their flexibility in diverse cultural contexts. The findings provide implications for future research in a wide array of communication contexts.