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




Pyle, Andrew S.

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Emergency responders 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, and research has shown that crisis events and major disasters and emergencies are on the rise (Sellnow & Seeger, 2013). However, emergencies are generally not analyzed as intercultural communication events (Falkheimer & Heide, 2006; Lee, 2005). Consequently, the goal of this study was to explore the extent to which individuals highly involved in such events, emergency responders, make sense of the intercultural dimensions of their work. In-depth interviews were conducted with 19 emergency responders who deploy internationally. All interviewees were asked about the challenges they face, particularly in intercultural emergency contexts. Results showed that emergency responders were aware of cultural differences and highly alert to the emotional and physical pain of those they were attempting to assist. Further, they were cognizant of cultural norms and had a strong desire to respect local values. In addition, they were aware of the importance of partnering with those whom they were assisting, rather than "taking over" from the local emergency managers. Participants seemed relatively unaware of their own cultural perspective or lens, i.e., that their views are based on cultural perspectives, just as much as those they are attempting to assist. Further, while they were enthusiastic about the importance of training for their work, they frequently cast intercultural communication training in the category of "security and safety," rather than as training to increase available communication options for managing difficult contexts.



Communication, Communication, Crisis, Cross-Cultural, Emergency, Intercultural