Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Geography & Environmental Studies


Faculty of Arts

First Advisor

Brenda Murphy

Advisor Role

Thesis Supervisor


Hazards, both natural and technological occur on a fairly regular basis. Timely and accurate communication of information before, during and after a disaster is essential for saving lives and property. This theme is the focus of this Master's thesis, in which the August 14th, 2003 blackout is used as a case study to assess how information is provided to the public during disaster events. More specifically, the thesis evaluates how agencies within the City of Toronto communicated risk information to the public. A news release analysis and interview analysis were then conducted to determine how closely the information in news releases issued from August 14th-August 21st, 2003 followed the criteria outlined in the academic literature. Eighty one news releases were analysed. These news releases were analysed first for overall content related to emergency risk communication. The daily theme of the news releases changed from a focus on safety and updates to appeals to conserve as the aftermath of the blackout progressed. The news releases were then divided into ten categories, with similar agencies being grouped together. These ten categories were analysed for information that was included in emergency risk communication, as suggested from the literature review. The ten categories were: Province of Ontario, City of Toronto, transportation, communication, hydro, hospital, police, humanitarian/volunteer, and other. It was found that overall, the provincial releases met very few criteria, as most releases were too short to include important information suggested from the literature. The miscellaneous category, “other” produced the news releases with the most complete information. The other eight categories fell in between these two. There were thirteen interviews undertaken with people who were involved in disseminating risk communication to the City of Toronto after the blackout. These interviews were undertaken to determine how the agencies that issued these releases decided what information was important. In addition, these interviews highlighted the fact that few agencies had a template for writing a complete news release, and information the literature suggested was important, was not deemed important by some interviewees. This thesis contributes to the academic literature regarding risk communication by showing that the information in the academic literature is not being applied on a practical level by authorities who communicate risk to the public. In conclusion, there are seventeen recommendations that have been suggested to allow risk communication authorities to improve their communication.

Convocation Year


Convocation Season