Megan Archer

Project title: The Role of Urban Parks in Crisis Communications: A Content Analysis of Local Park and Recreation Department Online Communication Strategies During a Public Health Emergency Using COVID-19 as a Case Study

Degree: MPH | Program: Environmental and Occupational Health (EOH) | Project type: Thesis/Dissertation
Completed in: 2022 | Faculty advisor: Nicole Errett


The COVID-19 pandemic was declared an international public health emergency on 30 January 2020 by the World Health Organization (WHO). To slow the spread of the virus, governments across the United States implemented physical distancing interventions in the form of stay-at-home orders. Studies have shown that the subsequent quarantine strategies used to decrease the prevalence of the disease have resulted in mental, social, and economic impacts on populations. With the cancellation of many social activities and the ongoing closure and reopening of indoor recreational spaces, parks and green spaces became a critical resource for reducing exposure to physical and mental stressors, and a means to maintain social connections. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the role that parks, open spaces, and natural landscapes can provide, including a wide range of ecosystem functions as well as providing services essential to public health and urban sustainability under climate and health crises. Many parts of the world were plagued by other public health crises and disasters during the ongoing pandemic, such as King County, Washington which experienced record-breaking heatwaves, expansive wildfires, and civil unrest that was proliferating across the country and the world. These public health emergencies further highlighted the importance of local park and recreation departments, green spaces, and park and recreation amenities. Despite the need for immediate information dissemination to wide audiences while meeting health guidelines to social distance, gaps still exist in our understanding of the effectiveness of using online communication methods to share public health information and policy updates. This study will conduct accessibility, dissemination, and content analyses on King County local park and recreation department online communication platforms – websites and social media platforms – to identify strategies used to disseminate credible public health information. Insights from this study will inform local governments and local parks and recreation departments on actionable efforts to improve emergency communication and coordination response efforts during an emergency or public health crisis. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic provides an opportunity to track local responses to a global health crisis, identify how public health information is disseminated to the public, and influence existing narratives surrounding the role that local parks and open spaces play in promoting community and climate resilience. In addition, insights from this study can inform local emergency response efforts to improve community, climate, and disaster resilience in King County and across the United States.