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Tuning in to Survive: Media and Disaster Mitigation in Post-Yolanda Philippines

  • Author(s): Guyton, Shelley
  • Advisor(s): Schwenkel, Christina
  • et al.
Creative Commons 'BY' version 4.0 license

“We did not know we would be swimming,” residents of San Jose Beach neighborhood in Tacloban City, Philippines told me, reflecting on Typhoon Yolanda wave surges. However, storm surge warnings circulated in official state updates. How could they have not known? Something was lost in communication. This dissertation shows how low-income coastal dwellers experience inequality within the disaster communication infrastructure of the Philippines, and examines the stakes involved in typhoon communication as a tool for survival in a time of global climate change. Communication gaps and assumptions made in disaster media have created the conditions for death, injury and property loss. I show in this dissertation that vulnerability and inequalities are not only experienced in disaster, but are also produced within the disaster mitigation and relief infrastructures. This dissertation is based on long-term ethnographic research conducted in Tacloban City, Philippines in the years after Super-typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) caused extensive death and destruction in the region. Communication is an integral part of experiencing disaster. Residents of the Philippine Islands receive on average 19 typhoons every year. Typhoon alerts help affected people prepare for and survive oncoming typhoons. Beyond that, media like television and radio help interpret state-issued alerts to the public, or act as hotlines to answer questions. While these alerts are produced with the expectation that the message will make its way to all residents equally, that is not the reality. Residents across the Philippines experience disaster communication in different ways—according to their relationship to the infrastructure (access to media, their relationship to their local government, and more). This project asks: How do people experience the disaster communication infrastructure unequally? How does infrastructural inequality affect the ability of families and neighborhoods to respond to and survive a typhoon? I show throughout the dissertation that vulnerability and inequalities are not only experienced in disaster, but are also created in the space of disaster and media infrastructure. In particular I consider how vulnerabilities are produced through lived interactions with the disaster media infrastructure, historically-rooted marginalizations from infrastructure, and experiences of temporality through media and disaster.

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