Term of Award

Fall 2023

Degree Name

Doctor of Public Health in Public Health Leadership (Dr.P.H.)

Document Type and Release Option

Dissertation (open access)

Copyright Statement / License for Reuse

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.


College of Public Health

Committee Chair

Samuel Opoku

Committee Member 1

Raymona Lawrence

Committee Member 2

William Mase


Introduction: Rural Hospitals (RHs) have distinctive characteristics that constitute unparalleled challenges. One of those challenges is the ability to communicate effectively in a disaster, impacting the various effects on the affected society. Research has shown that effective emergency preparedness and response (EPR) communication is paramount when communicating informed details about emergent events. Despite the evolving complexities of communication and the technology associated with disaster communication, very few studies have successfully investigated RHs communication systems before, during, and after a natural disaster. The purpose of this study was to examine and assess RHs communication systems and to highlight the strengths, identify any gaps, areas for improvement, and best practices utilized by RHs pre/post and during a natural disaster. Findings included preparedness and response efforts.

Methods: 24 semi-structured interviews were conducted with RH leaders, which comprised 12 females and 12 males with expertise and knowledge in emergency preparedness and disaster communications. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Crisis and Emergency Risk Communication (CERC) Model was applied to examine RHs disaster communication systems and participants' knowledge of the communication platforms/systems used at their facility and in their community to deliver information in an emergency. Emerging themes and sub-themes were identified from the participant interviews. Rapid Qualitative Data Analysis was utilized to analyze and code the interview transcriptions.

Results: Many participants reported being aware of or familiar with emergency preparedness and communication models or plans used at their hospital for disasters; however, outdated emergency operation and communication plans, platforms/systems, staffing, and funding continue to pose challenges for RHs in this area.

Conclusion: The study results provide insight into the importance of RH communication and communication systems, operations, platforms, and partnerships needed during crises, natural/man-made disasters, and emergencies. Although the focus of this research was to examine “natural disaster” communication and information systems/technology in RHs, several hazards that can and have led to disasters were identified by participants that present challenges to how they prepare to communicate and respond before, during, and after a disaster or catastrophic event. Overall, these findings could serve as an outline for the implementation of enhanced communication platforms/systems, development of a standardized communication model, improved emergency operating protocols in disasters for RHs, increased funding, addressing challenges with healthcare communications, public health emergency communications in the United States, and on a national level.

Research Data and Supplementary Material