What Is Unique about SBCC in Emergencies?

Emergency communication preparedness through an SBCC approach focuses on:

  • Identification of mitigation measures at the individual, community and societal levels
  • Participatory design of communication and policy interventions which are theory-driven, evidence-based and locally contextualized
  • Promotion of social and behavioral approaches to reduce risk and impact of the health emergency

Although the principles and key steps of SBCC interventions are the same in emergencies as in other situations, there are some distinctions about communication during emergencies that are worth noting.

For example, during emergencies, the imperative is to act quickly to bring the outbreak under control and minimize loss of life. As such, there is less time to prepare and execute activities, which are generally built on stakeholder collaboration and guided by rapid needs assessments. Ideally, preparatory activities, such as setting up coordination systems and social mobilizer networks, or identifying important epidemiological and social information, should already be in place as part of a preparedness plan to inform a rapid response.

Preparatory activities may include putting into place knowledge management tools and techniques that can be utilized quickly and relatively easily such as Net-Mapping, card sorting, communities of practice (both online via social media and traditional), peer assists and after-action reviews

Further, although continuous monitoring is an integral part of any SBCC intervention, during an emergency this needs to be done more frequently to assess how the situation is evolving and adjust activities and messages promptly as needed.

Emergency communication strategies tend to cover shorter timeframes and need to be reviewed and adjusted regularly.

Finally, emergencies are characterized by five different phases:

  • Pre-crisis
  • Initial phase
  • Maintenance
  • Resolution
  • Evaluation

Each of these phases has specific communication requirements. The table below describes each of these five stages, highlighting their corresponding communication needs.

Emergency Phases and Corresponding Communication Needs
Emergency Phase Description Communication Activities
Pre-crisis Acknowledges that many disasters can be anticipated and some activities can be prepared in advance. Some locations are prone to known disasters and specific actions can be implemented for preparedness. Even in areas where disasters are less predictable, preparatory activities can be undertaken and systems can be put in place to support a rapid and effective response should an emergency occur.
  • Conduct mapping exercises to identify partners and stakeholders.
  • Set up a social mobilization and communication coordination mechanism.
  • Create trust among stakeholders.
  • Collect social and epidemiological data to produce a summary of key household behaviors and practices to use for the development of key messages.
  • In areas prone to known disasters, prepare culturally and contextually appropriate key messages that can be rapidly disseminated.
  • Develop communication protocols and an action plan.
  • Set up a system for an emergency helpline, including location, protocol and staffing structure.
Initial Phase Emergency is confirmed. Anxiety, panic and rumors are likely to spread among affected communities and, if not addressed properly, can lead to denial or the adoption of unhealthy practices.
  • Confirm outbreak/emergency through appropriate channels.
  • Identify media focal person.
  • Mobilize partners, leaders, social mobilizers and other stakeholders (identified in pre-crisis phase) to disseminate information quickly.
  • Activate feedback loops and two-way communication mechanisms between national coordination system and communities.
  • Conduct rapid needs assessment to determine key barriers and inform messages Develop key messages and provide accurate information using credible and trusted sources.
  • Develop SBCC strategy with key activities.
  • Develop and begin implementing M&E plan to ensure ongoing monitoring of activities.
Maintenance Emergency is stable or progressing at a slower rate. Flare-ups and aggravations are still possible, especially because affected communities may get complacent or be discouraged by the slow resolution. Feedback from stakeholders and communities is essential to inform communication activities and messages that are in line with contextual realities and respond to need.
  • Develop emergency communication plans with all stakeholders (including health partners and the incident management team) that clearly explain key recommendations and how to make decisions based on risks and benefits.
  • Monitor information from social mobilizers, spokespeople and audiences to detect new behaviors and rumors.
  • Review/adjust key messages and activities to respond to needs identified through regular monitoring of information from social mobilizers and other partners.
  • Reinforce positive behaviors that are being adopted.
Resolution During this phase, the emergency is under control and its progression is slowing down. Communication is key in ensuring that members of affected communities do not become complacent, thinking that they are no longer at risk.
  • Reinforce positive behaviors and highlight the continued risk.
  • Conduct process evaluation to assess the effects of SBCC activities and use the information to review the approach as necessary.
  • Continue liaising regularly with social mobilizers, spokespeople and partners to gather information about how communication activities are being received and about any new factors that needs to be addressed.
  • Develop communication campaigns to promote understanding of the need for new desired behaviors to end the current emergency and prevent future ones.
  • Consider the communication and psychosocial support needs related to survivors of an emergency or outbreak.
  • Assess the landscape to determine issues that need to be addressed as a result of the emergency or outbreak (e.g., health system failures, mistrust in health systems and effects on livelihoods) and consider the roles that communication needs to play in recovery plans that may be developed.
Evaluation This phase indicates that the emergency has ended and provides the opportunity to carefully review how the communication strategy was implemented during the emergency. It is important to identify successes and lessons learned to shape future preparedness and response. These efforts are essential to monitoring and evaluation efforts described later in Unit 9.
  • Gather, examine and record promising practices, successes, challenges and lessons learned from all partners.
  • Share findings with partners and stakeholders, including affected communities.
  • Make recommendations and implement changes as needed to address issues more effectively should a similar crisis occur in the future.
  • If recovery plans are developed, work with stakeholders to coordinate communication efforts related to recovery and health systems strengthening.