We found that hands-on use of this device during our research allowed us to experience some of the benefits and applications of this technology (in addition to just researching the perceptions of the tools). A number of different vendors offer different approaches and capabilities, but most of these have in common a capability for interacting and communicating not only verbally but with visual (text, data, images from disaster sites, and body-facial images of individuals, groups, and team interaction capabilities).
At first glance, these new high tech video communication technologies seem to have a number of useful and desirable attributes (a conclusion that is supported by our study of the minority number of those in our field who have already adopted such tools) and there is evidence that suggests that there is a reasonable ROI projection for the investment in such tools is currently available from several vendors and providers. While many professionals in this field have a wide assortment of the latest gadgets, electronics, and recovery technology devices, only a small segment have adopted and deployed these particular instruments.
Our study sought to investigate the perceptions of those in our field regarding the most important communication factors during crises and disaster recovery as well as the perceptions about the role for video communication tools in planning, management, and disaster recovery processes.
The SurveyWe first reviewed the scholarly and professional literature for consistent themes regarding crisis communication and video/visual communication. Several themes emerged, and these were explored in a survey we designed to determine how crisis management practitioners viewed video/visual communication. These themes were:
- Communication factors that would be extremely beneficial in crisis situations.
- Kinds of activities that are enhanced through visual technology in a crisis.
- The desirability of putting video technology in place.
- Barriers to adoption of video technology.
Results and FindingsThe largest number of those surveyed had video experience of only about once per year (see fig. 1). Roughly two-thirds of those surveyed had some kind of type video experience with a little more than 20 percent using video on a “regular basis.”
Communication Factors That Are Extremely Beneficial In Crisis SituationsThis theme was addressed by examining general communication activities. These were narrowed down to several items that reoccur throughout practitioner and scholarly literature. The literature strongly suggests that crisis communication will be benefited from non-verbal information, a degree of small talk, the ability to see emotions, and having the means to assess stress. Crisis professionals were asked which of the activities they would identify as “extremely beneficial in crisis management.” Figure 2 (on the following page) depicts a large positive response for all of these categories.
Assessing stress was the most positively viewed item with 93 percent of the respondents agreeing that it would be “extremely beneficial” to visually “see” others in order to assess the effects of stress. Small talk was included because its support was strongly suggested by the literaterature. While this was the least supported category it still had the majority of disaster profesionals deem it as extremely beneficial.
Benefits of ‘Seeing Others’ When CommunicatingThe second theme was addressed by determining the kinds of activities that would benefit from being “able to see others while communicating.” The extant literature suggested a wide range of positive categories – each of which the majority of crisis professionals validated as being beneficial. While all categories were supported by more than 50 percent of the respondents, there were three distinct tiers of support (see table 1).
Placement IssuesThe third theme we investigated was the question about adoption probability for these emerging video communication tools. This question was expanded to three areas which included advantages of prior placement, concurrent placement, and current levels of video access. The first element was addressed in the query: “What is the desirability of putting technology like this in place prior to a crisis or disaster?” Then participants were asked if the technology had not been put in place prior “would it be beneficial to have it made available during a crisis?” Figure 3 shows that 80 percent of crisis professionals thought that the video technology should be adopted before a crisis event occurred. Even in the midst of crises over two-thirds of professionals surveyed thought adoption would still be beneficial.
Crisis practitioners who were regular users of video were also asked if their current levels of video adoption were sufficient to deal with most crises at their organization. Only about a third of those surveyed responded positively. The rest were roughly split between being unsure and disagreeing entirely. Marginal users were asked if their levels of video-based communicative mediums were sufficient to deal with most crises at their organization. Only 23 percent thought that it was sufficient, with 77 percent either not knowing or believing it was insufficient.
Adoption IssuesCrisis professionals who did not regularly use video tools were asked why they perceived as barriers to deployment and those which used video were asked why their companies did not have a more widespread utilization of the technology. Among the responses was “limited distribution of technology among other individuals,” which ranked first. Items are grouped below to give a sense of how widespread the barriers to adoption were within the crisis community. Most of the items are not surprising. What may be useful are the items that were not common including knowledge, “trialibility,” and complexity. These have been traditional barriers to diffusion of innovations and were not found to be wide spread in regard to video.
Table 2 reports the perceived barriers to adopting video communication technology for disaster recovery and crisis management applications. No single barrier was cited by the majority of non-adopters. However, some barriers were more common than others. Limited distribution of the technology and costs were among the very common barriers cited for non-adoption of these communication tools.
Summary of Survey FindingsOverall the crisis professionals seemed to have views consistent with the extant literature, and most of the themes were addressed in the expected directions. Certainly the results should be viewed from the perspective that this survey had input from more than 300 crisis professionals mostly from larger corporations with the majority having had some video experience.
Several elements of communication were largely supported as being “extremely beneficial” in crises events. Assessing stress was the one element that was almost universally agreed upon. Visual communication also was largely endorsed as beneficial and advantageous in a wide range of activities that facilitated crisis coordination. “Establishing trust or confidence,” “where accurate information is essential,” and “during various negotiations” were supported by considerably more than 70 percent of those surveyed.
The deployment of video was perceived to be beneficial both prior to and during crisis events by regular users of video/visual technology. The majority of negligible users thought they needed more video support. One surprising difference was that regular users had a higher number of respondents see “lack of IT infrastructure” as an obstacle than negligible users. Greater familiarity with the technology and higher mobility of the regular users are speculated as reasons for the difference.
Key Finding: Non-verbal Communication in Crisis InteractionThe practitioner and scholarly literature reviewed supported the finding that non-verbal elements (e.g. seeing emotions, the ability to engage in small talk, and assessing stress), should be viewed as extremely beneficial in crisis situations. This conclusion was strongly supported in the practitioner survey. A surprising finding in this regard was the level at which video/visual communication was positively valued by study respondents in assessing the stress levels of communication partners. Most of the factors enhanced by video/visual were seen as extremely beneficial (in the range of 56 to 74 percent). However, a remarkable 93 percent of those surveyed agreed that being able to assess stress was extremely beneficial in crisis situations. This appears to be a significant dimension of crisis communication that could be impacted by the use of video/visual tools.
Video Placement and CrisesVideo-based communication-facilitating technology was desired to be in place ideally before a crisis occurs, but if that was not possible, two-thirds of the respondents agreed that it should be acquired during an event. A slim majority of regular users of video or visual mediums thought that their levels of video adoption were sufficient to handle most crisis situations. Forty-five percent were not sure or disagreed entirely. These results should be tempered with the fact that most large companies have crisis plans that are woefully in need of revision.
A number of reasons were given as why video was not more fully utilized in the companies surveyed. “Limited distribution of technology among other individuals” and “cost” were cited as the most prevalent reasons. However, the barriers listed seem to be lagging behind the current state of affairs in cutting-edge video technology. Some of the differences may be attributable to current levels of knowledge concerning video distribution and IT infrastructure.
While some of these assumptions have proven accurate in the past, video communications have advanced greatly in recent times allowing for more flexibility and ease of use. The ability to transverse firewalls for example can allow for additional video systems to be placed in remote locations such as the home, remote office, or secondary telework locations. This flexibility would also have an impact on the users’ incorporation of this technology into crises as well as day-to-day operations when not in an emergency.
Video conferencing has become almost as elementary to users as the telephone. Internet firewalls can now be traversed more safely than ever before for video conferencing with continuing advances in communication technology. The costs of video conferencing have dropped dramatically, and costs are more realistic for end-users. Outdated perceptions of the function, cost, and access to video conferencing technology will probably give way to the emergent realities of current products and capabilities. As of yet, wide spread dissemination does not seem to be the norm.
The above attributes of video are validated both by research and industry professionals. With so many crisis events precariously balancing between success and failure on the slimmest of margins, it would seem that video added to current communication technologies might tip the scales in the right direction.
Robert C. Chandler, Ph.D. is a professor and chair in the communication division at the Center for Communication and Business at Pepperdine University. He is an expert in organizational and business communication, crisis communication, communication priorities for pandemics and other public health crises, behavioral and psychometric assessment and appraisal, leadership, multicultural diversity, organizational integrity, employee ethical conduct, and business ethics. He is a frequent speaker, presenter, and trainer in a wide range of organizational and corporate communication settings. Dr. Chandler is an accomplished scholar with more than 100 academic and professional papers, more than 40 publications, and he is the author or co-author of several books including “Crisis Communication Planning,” “Terrorism: How Can Business Continuity Cope?,” and “Managing the Risks for Corporate Integrity: How to Survive an Ethical Misconduct Disaster.”
J.D. Wallace, Ph.D. is an associate professor of communication at Lubbock Christian University and formerly the chair of the Human Communication and Technology Division of the National Communication Association. He is an expert in organizational communication, training and development techniques, computer-mediated communication, virtual teams, assessment, and appraisal. His most recent publications have been in the areas of avian flu, data-drilling, and online research methods.
"Appeared in DRJ's Spring 2007 Issue"