Communicating in emergencies is part of managing emergencies

Man in waterproofs talking to a camera held by another man in waterproofsI have a well-rehearsed line whenever anyone suggests I shell out good money to attend a conference

“I no longer attend conferences unless I’m speaking at them”

This is mostly true. I’ve spent too many days spent listening to disappointing speakers who seem only to be there because they paid for the honour or because the conference organiser doesn’t actually understand what the state of the art is. Combine that with the discovery of different ways of meeting and learning (like unconferences) and it is a very rare programme of speaker after speaker that will get me to travel anywhere.

But the Emergency Planning Society Wales Branch proves that there is still a place for a bunch of people in a room watching some powerpoints.

I don’t think it’s rocket science. It’s an event for a very clear (if small) audience put together by people who understand that audience and really care.

Plus emergency planners in Wales seem to be a universally pleasant group of people.

Anyway we had a tour through evacuating students, the emergency planning aspects of taking action on modern slavery (that’s right, there are), considering the long term impacts on individuals affected by emergencies, interruptions to gas supply and much, much more.

Throughout all the talks, the importance of effective communications was stressed again and again. Communicating with affected communities, with the wider public and with journalists and the media is something that is increasing in importance.

And there seems little doubt that emergency planning professionals recognise the need to have trained communication professionals involved throughout emergencies and recovery.

Which, it won’t surprise you to learn, is a position I wholeheartedly support.

But I am also concerned. Comms teams are under considerable pressure as the public sector makes deeper and deeper cuts. That’s life right now in the public sector and it has to be managed. The temptation to cut back on training and exercising comms staff, on reducing rotas, on ending on-call payments must be strong. Maybe these things could seem like a luxury in a time of austerity.

One sensation that all emergency planners recognise is the feeling when an incident starts. The uncertainty about how bad things will get, who will be affected, what will need to be done to keep them safe coupled with the certainty that no-one else is coming to help.

We can’t magic money out of nowhere but we must not forget that communications is a fundamental part of emergency response and requires skilled, trained, experienced professionals to deliver.

This might seem slightly self interested since I run a company focused on training comms officers to work effectively in emergencies. But really it’s the other way around, I think you need effective communications to effectively manage emergencies. And I think I can help.

Photo is Morpeth Floods by John Dal used under a Creative Commons licence

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