How would your organization cope? Preventing communications chaos in a disaster

Flow chatyFour recommendations for emergency teams and services.

A major natural disaster could happen at any time; how would your organization cope in the wake of a hurricane, an earthquake or tsunami? Emergency teams must consider everything that can go wrong in a major disaster and plan their strategy accordingly. Lives depend on it.

“You are completely blind without situational awareness, and you won’t get situational awareness without receiving information,” says John Hamilton, Director of Civil Defence and Emergency Management, New Zealand.  “You must plan well to avoid having to make it up on the day. You need to think about the structures, the connections, and your priorities. Think about what’s the worst that can happen and have plans and critical communications networks in place. Make sure they are robust enough to survive an emergency situation so that you can communicate.”

These four points could make all the difference to you, your organization and your community:

1.    Know your priorities and who is in charge
In the initial search and rescue period, emergency teams and support services must have lines of communication open to report the severity of the situation and to enable coordination of an emergency management strategy. Much real-world experience points to the primary importance of reliable communications, and the complications and confusion caused by communication breakdowns.

2.    Know what you are dealing with
Determining the scale of the emergency immediately after the disaster is imperative. Knowing where help is needed most is vital to the disaster relief operation. However, in major disasters like earthquakes and hurricanes, fixed-line telecommunications and power are often disrupted.

3.    Ensure you can manage the demand for information
According to the Disaster Resource Guide (Newton & Mindszenthy, n.d.), when incidents occur, organizations are judged not only by what is done, but by how those actions and initiatives are communicated.

To bring a crisis under control emergency agencies need to manage the information flow both internally and externally. The communications plan must be simple, easy to understand and shared across the organization. It is important, before disaster strikes, to establish databases of the people who will need to be communicated with.

4.    Update your strategy often; calculate the risks, be ready for the unexpected
Advanced planning with lots of practice will lead to fewer fatalities and minimize loss of property and damage to infrastructure. But agencies come unstuck when unexpected disasters strike where they are ill-prepared and resourcing is inadequate.

Read more:
For more information read our White Paper “Race against time. Emergency response – preventing escalating chaos in a disaster.” This paper provides practical information for emergency teams and critical emergency services yet to experience a significant disaster or catastrophe. It also highlights the many important roles in an emergency and looks at what needs to be communicated, and what are the real priorities.


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