When disaster strikes, prompt and accurate communication is vital. Developing a disaster communication plan ensures everyone involved has the information they need. A disaster communication plan outlines how to distribute information during a crisis and ensure everyone is on the same page.
The Importance of Disaster Communication
By developing a comprehensive disaster communication system and implementing it before an emergency strikes, organizations can be better prepared to manage crises and ensure the public receives timely and accurate information during chaotic times.
Having a solid crisis communication plan is essential for effective disaster management. A disaster communication plan should define clear objectives, processes, and strategies for delivering information in an emergency. It should include proactive and reactive communication protocols to ensure critical information reaches the public as quickly and accurately as possible.
The Purpose of a Disaster Communication Plan
Developing a disaster communication plan is essential for quickly and accurately relaying information during an emergency. Without a plan, people can become overwhelmed and unable to communicate clearly and swiftly.
The development of a disaster communication plan should be part of any organization’s emergency management strategy. This plan should be tailored to the organization’s specific needs. It should include media monitoring, message construction, and audience engagement.
Communication plans should include details on how to deliver messages, including social media, press releases, website updates, and other means of communication. Moreover, the plan should consist of roles and responsibilities for those delivering messages and provide guidelines on handling potential criticism from the public.
Having a well-developed disaster communication plan ensures that information is adequately distributed during times of emergency, allowing the public to make informed decisions based on up-to-date data. This can minimize panic and confusion and supply much-needed direction during times of crisis.
Disaster management best practices
Effective disaster recovery plan
8 Steps to Developing a Successful Disaster Communication Plan
Disaster communication experts should craft messages carefully before disaster strikes for maximum impact. The following disaster communication steps allow for effective plans to be made.
- Anticipate Possible Disasters
While it may be impossible to foresee the exact time and nature of a disaster, communication, and disaster experts can put together lists of potential scenarios based on past disasters and their effects and any environmental and social information they have on the community. For example, if disaster officials are developing a plan in an area prone to wildfires, they should prepare for the possibility of future wildfires and their effects. Or those operating in earthquake-prone areas should plan for the impacts of earthquakes.
To effectively prepare for disasters, officials may perform disaster risk assessments, utilizing qualitative or quantitative information to discern the intensity and nature of future disasters. Disaster officials should document findings from risk assessments and use them to create communication plans that account for the most likely scenarios.
- Assemble a Team and Select Spokespeople
Everyone must know what to do for a disaster communication plan to run smoothly. The communication plan team should present a cohesive strategy with consistent, accurate information. For this reason, it is integral to assemble a team of responders and identify spokespeople for specific aspects of the plan. Spokespeople should:
- Be well-informed about the disaster
- Display genuine empathy
- Be prepared to field any questions regarding the disaster
- Have decision-making authority
- Establish a Coordinated Plan of Action
Disaster communications and management officials will likely need to collaborate with other teams, such as emergency responders, local authorities, and others. The disaster response should include a concerted plan that accounts for the contribution of all involved parties.
The disaster communication plan will lay out roles and responsibilities for each group, which means that there should already be established processes and protocols before the communication plan is publicly shared to minimize confusion. This can help present a unified front in the wake of disaster and ensure that the public stays reassured by the disaster response and informed on who is handling what.
- Create a Clear Message
During crises, communities need information they can use. Disaster communication should adhere to the following best practices:
- Use familiar and simple terms that everyone can easily understand
- Avoid technical jargon
- Identify spokespeople that the community knows and trusts
- Emphasize critically “need to know” information
- Use visuals, such as maps and diagrams
- Provide updates promptly
- Communicate with an authoritative but empathetic tone
- Identify Stakeholders and Tailor Messaging
Crisis communication must be adapted to different audiences. Disaster managers should identify potential stakeholders and customize their messaging, ensuring their communication is suitable for different groups, e.g., survivors, media, government agencies, etc.
Communities are often composed of diverse individuals whose first language may not be English. Emergency management officials should tailor crisis communications to include all languages used in their communities.
Disaster management officials must demonstrate cultural competence in all communications, creating messaging that is accessible and easily interpreted by the specific audiences they need to reach.
- Stay Up to Date
Disaster management officials must communicate quickly. Regular updates help establish credibility and trust between the general public and communication officials.
Individuals and families should receive timely, accurate information during emergencies to make informed decisions that may save lives.
To help the public keep on top of the latest information, disaster and crisis management officials can offer press conferences through various media outlets to deliver timely updates.
Once the disaster has been mitigated, communications and disaster management officials must come back together to analyze the communication plan to recommend future improvements.
- Strategize Social Media Use
According to the Pew Research Center, fifty-five percent of U.S. citizens turn to social media for their news. To reach the broadest possible audience, disaster management officials must include social media in their communications.
For example, disaster communication plan officials can use social media to communicate quickly when information is ready to be released or post detailed information, such as infographics or step-by-step instructions for times of emergency, on Facebook, Twitter, etc.
In addition, disaster management officials should counter misinformation on social media.
- Build an Accessible Disaster Communication System
Communities need accessible crisis communication to stay safe and connected. Ensuring that disaster communication systems are accessible is not just beneficial — it is imperative.
Some people may find specific communication channels suspect. For example, in recent years, social media platforms have become more politically polarized, which may undermine the ability of disaster planners to reach members of the public across the political divide. Others may rely on those same channels exclusively.
For this reason, disaster communication plans should incorporate a strategic mix of information channels to make communications as accessible as possible.
The Next Step
Disaster Communication Plans are one of the many facets of Disaster Management. If you care about rehabilitating survivors in the wake of a disaster or are a strategist trying to prevent or mitigate the impacts of disasters, your work is critical to communities. We would love to support your mission by offering our disaster case management software which is specifically designed as a DCM platform. If you wish to use modern tools to assist your efforts in disaster case management, contact us to understand how we can help you.