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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Investigating communication and warning channels to enhance crowd management strategies: A study of Hajj pilgrims in Saudi Arabia
by Taibah, Hassan, Ph.D., University of North Texas, 2015, 143; 10034413
Abstract (Summary)

The global increase in the number of mass gatherings and crowded events has brought with it new emergencies and unintended consequences for public administrators and first responders. Crowd managers attempt to overcome these challenges by enhancing operations, alleviating financial losses, keeping event organizers safe from liability and, most importantly, keeping the attendees safe. Effective communication among and between officials and guests has been identified as a key element in this process. However, there is a lack of risk communication studies, especially about heterogeneous crowds that congregate at religious events.

With this gap in mind, this research aims to investigate the use of major communication channels available and/or preferred by Muslim pilgrims in Makkah, Saudi Arabia during Hajj to gauge their effectiveness in communicating risk information. This annual religious pilgrimage was chosen because it attracts over 2 million pilgrims from more than 140 countries, most of whom speak different languages and belong to different cultures but perform the same rituals at the same time.

This dissertation seeks to answer three broad research questions: “what are the most popular communication channels used by pilgrims,” “what are the weaknesses of the current communication strategies,” and “what can be done to improve risk communication among pilgrims, and between pilgrims and authorities to enhance crowd control and crowd management strategies.” The protective action decision model (PADM) is used as the theoretical framework to understand the influence of six factors (environmental cues, social cues, information sources, channel access and preferences, warning messages, and receiver characteristics) on risk communication.

In collaboration with the Transportation and Crowd Management Center of Research Excellence (TCMCORE) of Saudi Arabia, a convenience sampling strategy was employed to interview 348 pilgrims in the Prophet’s Mosque area, during the Hajj of 2013. The surveys were conducted in Arabic and English and included pilgrims from different backgrounds and countries. Data analysis included an evaluation of the correlation between the use of risk communication channels and receiver characteristics, message content, and information sources.

Findings highlight low percentages in the overall use of communication channels. It also demonstrated an over-dependence on channels that foster the passive top-down communication strategy (such as TV stations, messages at mosques, billboard, text messages, and pamphlets), while marginalizing channels that foster the horizontal and bottom-up strategies (such as bilingual staff outreach and social media). The findings also show the differences in risk communication channels used by pilgrims from different socio-demographic groups.

The study concludes that adopting bottom-up and horizontal strategies is key to effective risk communication. Additionally, crowd managers must recognize the importance of social media and use this medium more proactively. They can also work towards increasing the overall effectiveness of risk communication channels by addressing the impact of information sources, channel access, and receiver characteristics to better suit the needs of pilgrims. Finally, the study states the limitations and future research directions.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Arlikatti, Sudha
School: University of North Texas
Department: Public Administration
School Location: United States -- Texas
Source: DAI-A 77/08(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Management, Communication, Middle Eastern Studies, Public administration
Keywords: Collaboration, Crowd management, Emergency management, Hajj, Risk communication, Saudi Arabia
Publication Number: 10034413
ISBN: 978-1-339-53704-7
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