Assess Available Channels

The first step in selecting the channels for your communication response involves knowing what channels are available and accessible to the intended audience. A range of communication channels may exist, with some being more accessible than others depending on the context and situation. Broadly speaking, communication channels can be divided into five main categories.

  1. Mass Media
  2. Mid Media (also known as “traditional” or “folk” media)
  3. Print Media
  4. Digital and Social Media
  5. IPC

Each of these channel categories is described in detail later in this section.

In addition, Community Mobilization (discussed in Unit 3) is an approach that can use several of the above communication channels, such as mid media and IPC, to engage all sectors of the community to prompt individual, family and community action. More information about the important role that Community Mobilization has in emergency communication, and about how it can be used, can be found in Unit 3: Community Mobilization.

Telephone Help Lines

A special mention needs to be made with regards to telephone lines, which, in this I-Kit, are considered a separate channel category due to their versatility and the peculiarities of their uses. Phone lines can be hotlines or “warm lines,” meaning that they can be used for emergency purposes to supply essential information (hotlines) or for more in-depth answers to general questions and for support (warm lines).

In the Ebola outbreak in West Africa in 2014 and early 2015, phone lines proved to be useful tools for disease surveillance and the dissemination of essential information.

They have the advantage of being easily accessible in countries with a good phone infrastructure, and can replace the use of health facilities for issues that are stigmatized, such as Ebola. Phone lines can also be helpful tools for monitoring and surveillance, providing a source of public health surveillance data that can help detect epidemics and monitor the evolution of the outbreak.

The table below provides information and key actions to consider in regards to phone lines and their different uses during the different phases of an emergency.

Emergency Phase Action Phone line Uses

Conduct an assessment of telephone services and relevant infrastructure within the country. This will allow the quick activation of the phone line at the onset of the emergency.


  • Telephone services
  • Infrastructure and equipment
  • Location and staffing
  • Partner engagement and roles
  • Guidelines on manning the phone lines
  • Monitoring of calls, data collection and questions received
  • For known and expected emergencies, develop a series of key messages with essential information (symptoms, treatment and prevention)
At this stage no operational phone line is likely to be needed.
Initial Phase

Activate the phone line immediately. Consider:

  • Bringing together partners
  • Reviewing/developing essential key messages
  • Training and deploying identified staff
  • Putting in place supervision and quality assurance mechanisms
  • Collecting and monitoring data from the calls
  • Communicating to the general public the existence and uses of the phone line

Hotlines provide essential, lifesaving information to callers either through trained callers or recorded messages. Monitoring the calls received is a surveillance tool that gives insights into the evolution of the emergency.

Health service providers and community mobilizers can use the hotline to alert regional and national health services about emergency cases.


Continue manning the existing phone lines and review information provided by personnel to ensure it continues to respond to the needs of callers. Consider:

  • Reviewing messages if necessary
  • Assessing whether a support/counseling service is necessary
  • Conducting further training of staff
  • Reviewing surveillance data collected from calls
A hotline may still be necessary as there may be pockets in the country that are still severely affected by the emergency. However, there may also be a need to start introducing a warm line to provide more in-depth information to callers, as well as support and counseling, if required.

Review the uses of the phone line and assess whether to turn it exclusively into a warm line or reduce the size of the team and phone lines. Consider:

  • Reviewing data from calls
  • Assessing staffing needs
  • Conduct training for staff on counseling
  • Providing support and supervision to staff
At this point, it is likely that, although the emergency is under control, individuals are still emotionally affected by what they have experienced. In this phase, a warm line providing support and counseling will be needed.

Review all areas of the phone line mechanism to assess its effectiveness and areas of improvement. Consider:

  • Speed at which it was activated
  • Staffing capacity and skills training
  • Trends in number of call and types of calls
  • Need for maintaining a smaller warm line to continue providing support to those who survived the emergency
A warm line to provide ongoing support to survivors of the emergency and to act as a surveillance tool to detect potential new outbreaks.

Advance Preparation

Knowing what channels exist and are currently functioning is essential in determining the channel mix of any SBCC campaign. During an emergency response, however, time constraints may limit the ability to assess what communication opportunities exist and how audiences wish to receive information. It is therefore recommended that such scoping work be carried out in advance.

Moreover, some approaches that are known to be effective in emergency settings, such as channels that garner trust and promote two-way communication between the community and service providers, require time to set up. Having knowledge of mobilizer networks in advance would greatly help the development of an effective and rapid communication response.

If an assessment of channels is done in advance, the programmer will then only need to focus on how the audience’s media landscape and habits may have changed as a result of the emergency.

Tips for Assessing the Media Landscape

When conducting an initial assessment of the media landscape and available communication channels for the emergency response:

  • Refer to the information you gathered through the rapid needs assessment and audience analysis (Units 2, 4 and 5) to review the audiences’ preferences and habits.
  • Keep your intended audience(s) in mind and obtain information about the channels that have been used to successfully reach them in the past. This should be based on past impact, audience needs and preferences, as well as channel availability.
  • Obtain information from national and international partners working on emergency response as well as organizations and agencies working in media and communication. The worksheets in Unit 1: Coordination & Mapping should help you identify partners in the media and communication sector. Examples of sources of information on media and communication include local television, radio stations (both national and community radio), press offices, advertising agencies and published media analysis studies. Gather this information at government-run meetings so the information you gather is representative of the national context.
  • Consider approaching local and international organizations working in the field to obtain data about IPC channels. Examples include program reports, clinic-based data and government statistics.
  • Verify that identified channels are functioning. For example, radio may be an effective channel with a large listenership, but programming may only happen if and when fuel is available for the generator.
  • Consider channels both at the national and local level. In some countries, regional differences in culture and lifestyles may warrant the use of different communication channels.
  • Consider that the emergency may have altered the availability of some communication channels and obtain the most up-to-date information about each.
  • Conduct an assessment of telephone services, their coverage and uses. This information will help determine whether mobile technology (for example for sending text messages with key messages), or phone lines are a viable communication channel. Use the preparation phase also to buy-in support from phone companies and set up working agreements on how to operate in the case of an emergency.

In summary, every communication channel has its advantages and disadvantages, and different channels are appropriate for different communication objectives. The table below provides a general summary of which channels are more suitable to which situation. It is important to note however, that this table is provided for general guidance only and that there is always a degree of flexibility in how communication channels are used. They can therefore be versatile depending on the messages, context and approaches. Importantly, although some channels may be more appropriate for certain settings and information requirements, a mix of channels is necessary to achieve maximum impact, as discussed later in this Unit.

ChannelIn an emergency context, this channel is most appropriate for…
Mass Media

  • Raising awareness across audiences (informing and educating)
  • Modeling behaviors
  • Reducing stigma and taboos
  • Communicating with low literacy audiences
  • Obtaining wide regional and national reach

Mid Media

  • Engaging communities
  • Promoting discussion and reflection among communities about the issues being addressed by mid-media activities 
  • Modeling behaviors

Print Media

  • Supporting other communication channels
  • Providing more detailed information on a particular topic that individuals can look through at home
  • Providing information about personal and confidential issues
  • Engaging with policy and decision-makers

Digital and Social Media

  • Communicating with young people
  • Obtaining a large reach (if Internet is widely available and accessible)
  • Promoting discussions through chat rooms / email exchanges etc.
  • Providing information about personal and confidential issues

Interpersonal Communication

  • Creating a two-way communication process with the audience
  • Engaging community members and creating community action plans
  • Promoting discussion, reflection and challenging dominant norms Informing and educating (increase knowledge)
  • Imparting skills
  • Discussing sensitive topics

Exercise: Assessing Available Communication Channels

Worksheet 7.1 provides a template that can be used to carry out an initial assessment of available communication channels in the context of an emergency. It allows for the recording of key information that will help with the selection of appropriate channels for reaching the intended audiences.