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Communicating During Emergencies: 3 Do’s and 3 Don’ts

In critical situations and emergencies, communication becomes a lifeline that saves lives, with safety, clarity, and quick action being guaranteed. How information is communicated can be a determinant between success or failure, be it a natural disaster, a public health emergency, or a security matter.

This article describes three basic dos and don’ts of communication in time of emergency.

The Do’s of Emergency Communication

These are the actions and strategies you should apply in case of emergencies.

Be Clear and Concise

Present your message in a self-explanatory manner. Avoid using technical phrases and difficult sentences, since they may confuse the listener. 

The objective is to share the main points that people can understand quickly and undertake the required actions.

For instance, in the case of a hurricane, you may say “Evacuate to higher ground immediately. After closing all windows and doors, leave. Take only the necessary items”. 

Hence, this information about the hazard, its time of occurrence, and the action required must be so clear that it will eliminate any possibility of misunderstanding.

Provide Timely Updates

Communicate information as soon as you receive it, and offer regular updates. Timeliness ensures that the public is aware of the situation’s progress and any changes to the instructions or advice.

In case of situations like a viral outbreak on site or emergencies, communicating preventive measures and guidelines is vital to allow people to make necessary adjustments.

It is always crucial to ensure that the affected parties in case of emergencies always have access to the latest information. Otherwise, you risk the spread of misinformation and creating a sense of mistrust among those affected.

Use Multiple Communication Channels

Spread the information not only via one channel but through different channels to cover a large group of people. This covers traditional, as well as social media, text message alerts, and public announcement systems. People get information by different means, and through various channels, it reaches a wider audience.

For example, during a power outage, combine radio announcements, social media posts, and text alerts to inform the community about the repair efforts and to provide safety tips while the outage is in force.  

The message will reach the ones on the internet as well as those who don’t use social media. Using more than one channel of delivery provides a great opportunity to spread your message to every relevant individual.

The Don’ts of Emergency Communication

Here are a few things you must avoid during emergency situations in order to keep things under control.

Provide False Information

Even well-meaning individuals can spread false or misleading information during a state of emergency. Such acts can result in panic, and mistrust or exacerbate an already bad situation.

You should therefore validate the information before sharing it to ensure that your words don’t end up causing any unintended harm.

Remember, in emergency scenarios, bad information is sometimes even worse than no information.

Overwhelm With Details

In emergencies, you should only communicate the necessary details. Sometimes, too much information, even if it is accurate, can overwhelm and confuse an individual.

For instance, if there has been a spill of harmful chemicals at a site, you don’t need to go into thorough details about what the substance is and how it can be a hazard. Instead, prioritize urgent actions such as evacuation routes and safety precautions.

Too much information can result in a waste of time and can distract from the immediate situation that needs to be addressed.

Delay Communication

Unnecessary delays in information can result in rumors and speculations, which could further cause unwanted anxiety. 

It is more efficient to communicate early, even if you have limited information. You can always provide more details later on.

The two most important factors in emergencies is time and trust and you can lose both by withholding critical information.

Conclusion

Communication in emergencies is both a science and an art. It calls for a fine balance between information being clear, well-timed, and reaching the masses, while on the other hand, not causing any problems such as false information, information overload, and communication delay.

By following the golden rules—being short and punchy, providing timely updates, and using different communication channels—stakeholders can make sure that their messages do not only reach their audience but also prompt the desired action.

And for those who want quick results, it is advisable to avoid the Don’ts—spreading fake news, overwhelming details, and delaying communication.