Prepare an Emergency Response Plan for the First 72 Hours
The first 72 hours are critical for containing an emergency that can quickly spread out of control. As mentioned above, the central coordinating mechanism for emergency communication – the communication pillar – will liaise and coordinate closely with the national emergency response mechanism and district/local level response teams throughout the response. However, it is imperative that a core group of stakeholders agree in advance to take the lead on executing key measures as soon as disaster strikes, and that their roles and responsibilities are clearly understood by the core team and all key stakeholders leading the response. It will be important to have a response plan in place that addresses actions in the first 72 hours, the roles and responsibilities of key stakeholders, and what needs to be in place before then to act quickly. This will help to mitigate any potential confusion with other response leads and national and district stakeholders about their roles, and help to avoid any duplication of efforts that could lead to confusing and uncoordinated messages to the public.
Some key considerations for an immediate communication response include:
- Identifying and coaching spokespeople. National and district-level spokespeople should be identified in advance and know their roles and responsibilities should a disaster strike, which should include conveying agreed-upon messages to the media, the community and the public. It will be important for early messages to be delivered by these spokespeople to avoid mixed messages getting out to the public – creating confusion, rumors and misconceptions. Therefore, it is equally important that the government ensure that only those selected and trained as spokespeople will serve as spokespeople in an emergency. Having clear mandates in place that limit the number of government officials providing information to the public in an emergency will be key to ensuring messages are clear and consistent, and will avoid public mistrust. Importantly, spokespeople and communication channels need to be trusted by the public and community members. To be effective, messages must be credible to their recipient audiences. They must express empathy and assurance that actions are underway. For more information on spokespeople, see the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website on risk communication. Additional information on spokespeople, including selecting community-level spokespeople, can also be found in Unit 3: Community Mobilization of this I-Kit.
- Developing key main messages in advance that are easy to understand and follow. Risk communication, especially in the first few days of an emergency, should provide clear and accurate information about signs and symptoms, what to do and where to go if they or someone they know has them, and simple and clear steps to take for prevention. Message preparation before the crisis is essential.
Vague communication about what is known and not known about an emergency affects communities’ trust in government. It is important for spokespeople to acknowledge what they know and don’t know about what is happening, while communicating that there are ongoing efforts to move quickly to understand and contain the emergency. Ethnicity, class, gender and other demographic characteristics of audiences must be adapted if risk communication messages are to be effective. Prepare people to accept that facts will change – because facts alone do not overcome fear.
Inform the public through press briefings and call centers. Ensure call centers have approved messages to provide to the public early on, and are staffed appropriately. It will also be important to develop press releases and hold media briefings, and update websites with accurate information and clear messages. Consider that the same risk perception factors that trigger fear in those who consume the news are of interest to the people who report it. For reporters, these “fear factors” are characteristics of a story that has a better chance of getting attention (D., Ropeik, Neiman Reports, www.nieman.harvard.edu/reports/article/101383/Journalists-Can-Be-Seduced-By-Aspects-of-Risk.aspx).
- Coordinating with emergency response teams and key national and district level partners. It is important to have updated contact lists with roles and responsibilities of all key partners and stakeholders in the emergency response so they can be reached quickly and easily. Coordinating social mobilization with other emergency response activities will help inform community members of the emergency response teams’ jobs, and will help ensure a feedback loop between the community and the response.
- Monitoring the information people are exposed to. Monitoring the media (e.g., print, electronic and social media, such as Twitter and Facebook), call center reports and community-level rumor logs are key to understanding how to address what information and misinformation is already out there in the public.
EXERCISE: Emergency Response Plan for the First 72 Hours
It is highly recommended that countries have an Emergency Response Plan for the first 72 hours in place for emergency preparedness (see Worksheet 1.4). Countries can develop this plan through a participatory process with key partners and emergency response stakeholders, and then test the plan with exercises that test different scenarios to see what works and what needs to be modified.