The Importance of Communication During Disaster Management


Emergency management in times of disaster

A crisis is defined by a series of events occurring rapidly and unplanned in an area that you manage. The importance of excellent communication can not be stated enough, because all your decisions as the emergency manager are based on the information gained from all the responders and witnesses to the disaster.

In fact, a good emergency management plan will have a dedicated communication position and their sole responsibility is to coordinate all the other communication to provide the manager with a single stream of communication.

I have witnessed a manager trying to control a crisis, while using a company mobile phone, his personal mobile phone, a radio handset and people nearby speaking to him. Where do you think his ability to actually manage this crisis was?

First failure point in disasters is the communication systems

It is strange to see just how many managers rely on mobile phones as the company communication system during a disaster. Take a second to think about how long a mobile system stays functional for during a disaster until it is overloaded with users and crashes.

This is where the importance of selecting the right communication equipment is highlighted. If the equipment fails, it doesn’t matter how skilled your emergency management team is, they cannot talk to each other passing on vital data.

Consider reviewing your emergency equipment for;

  • Do your company mobile phones have all employees numbers in the contact list
  • Do you have spare batteries, fully charged and ready to go for all phones relied on during the emergency
  • Will your landline phone system still be in use if the power/computer goes down
  • How do you manage multiple conversations on your mobile without hanging up on each other.
  • Does everyone on the response team have their communication equipment with them at all times

The second failure point is lack of efficiency using the communication equipment

When conducting practices it is easy to speak slowly and clearly with all waiting patiently for you to finish. This is no way to practice for emergencies.

Try this instead. Give everyone a radio/phone and tell them all to walk briskly around a decent sized park or oval nearby for a minute or two.

You move to the middle and then call them. Ask them to describe what they see quickly as they walk past the different objects. Listen to what happens next. If this doesn’t instill in you the importance of good communications during a disaster nothing will.

What you will experience is;

  • Rapid breathing as adrenalin kicks in and people rush their spoken words
  • Some cutting over others as they are not listening to the comm’s but thinking about what they will say next.
  • A lot of dead radio space as people are trying to understand how to describe what they see to you and forgetting that they have the phone/radio on

As a direct result of this little experiment you will also get a taste of what it will be like to try and listen to 10-20 different messages coming at you in the centre.

How to improve your communications

Assign callsigns and radio codes for building names and locations for example so that you reduce the time each person stays on the network.

Assign a Communications Leader to handle all inbound and outbound calls by becoming the centre spoke and allow you to make decisions and not take messages.

Good emergency management means everyone has a role to do and someone needs to be responsible for ensuring your communication systems will stand up to the challenge. Don’t just focus on fire extinguishers and first aid kits as these will do no good to you, if you cannot get the messages to your emergency team.

Even just four people in your communication system means there are eleven channels of communication that messages will flow along. Imagine how many communication channels need managing for 20 response staff.

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