Posters and Word-of-Mouth Communication

A shattered house with a poster giving information on the safety and the whereabouts of the residents (Chuo-ward, Kobe)

When the Great Hanshin Earthquake happened, a high-tech emergency communication system in the Hyogo prefectural office proved utterly useless because of the electricity power cut. The communication system which the Kobe municipal government had been proud of as a symbol of a modernized and highly developed information society also became almost unworkable. Lifelines such as electricity, water and gas supply were destroyed, and there was no means of transportation nor telephone service. People in the quake-hit areas were deprived of every means of livelihood.

The only accessible information source was mass media such as TV, radio and newspapers. However, necessary information for daily life such as where to get water and food, the situation of hospitals, and so on, were not easy to obtain. It was hand-written posters and word-of-mouth communication that displayed a great effectiveness to exchange such information and to let the others know of a family's safety.

Everywhere in the quake-affected area, posters were seen under the eaves and on the gates of shattered houses with a message such as "A is OK", "B is staying at C". In the society where multimedia and technology innovation are widely propagated, such primitive means of communication proved most effective for the people.

Necessity of Information Sharing

When the quake-affected people were feeling anxious and frightened with the prospect of an upcoming aftershock equivalent to the main tremor, TV coverage was mainly about the risk of the aftershock and "What if it happened in Tokyo?" Those who depended on mass media for information only grew more restless.

On the other hand, those who went out to get water with poly bottles or to buy food could, while queuing up with other people, exchange information for daily life such as "which hospital is in service", "where to find spring water", "the sento (public bath) over there is open". Such exchanging and sharing of information for daily life helped people regain composure.

Though the amount of information TV and radio provided was overwhelmingly large, it only made the viewers and listeners more and more restless. On the contrary, those who got daily life information gradually subsided though the amount of information was far less. It was proved in the great earthquake-affected areas that the quality of information is greatly influential on human psychology, and that people become restless from general and universal information but feel easy from daily life-related information.

Earthquake-affected people looking at the hand-written posters at an evacuation center (a primary school in Kobe city)

(AZEFU Tetsushi)