3.4. Public communications and mass media

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comunicacion publicaLimited knowledge of media on disaster management issues can generate incorrect information, adversely affecting public perceptions or leading to erroneous decisions or are counterproductive. The publication Information management and communications in emergencies and disasters describes how to plan communications, manage information, work with the media and prepare messages. It is also a reference for developing a strategic communications plan.

Disaster management institutions are responsible for identifying mechanisms and strategies that ensure that the media have access to training on the different stages and processes of disasters, from preparedness through reconstruction phase. From a disaster management perspective, the media have two critical functions:

  • Educational communications: With their wide public reach, the media can be important agents for disseminating educational content, and can be effective to create a culture of disaster prevention in the population at large and among individuals. This requires prior training if media and communications professions through meetings, training courses, and/or workshops. It is also advisable to involve educational institutions that train communications professionals and encourage these institutions to incorporate risk reduction and disaster management in their curricula.
  • Informative communications: Clear, careful, timely, and appropriate dissemination of accurate information on the development and occurrence of a disaster not only facilitates public understanding on the magnitude of the event and how to protect themselves, but also assist decision makers and constitutes an important complementary source of information that links the public to the institutions involved.

The health sector preparedness plan should include an information and communication sub-plan. Those responsible for the communication team (spokespersons) must be very familiar with the dynamics of disasters and with the plan itself. Their extensive responsibility includes preparing bulletins, holding press conferences, providing institutional information to the various communications media, preparing messages and communications materials, and providing technical assistance on crisis management to decision-makers. Please visit the website for more information on working with the media. Consult WHO’s Handbook on Effective Media Communication during Public Health Emergencies.

It is important for communication specialist to be familiar with the different stages of a disaster and help disseminate information before, during, and after an event.

  • Preparatory phase: With sufficient and broad-based training, a wide range of information can be disseminated, from scientific knowledge to guidelines on individual and collective preparedness, to response, and reconstruction.
  • Impact phase: The communications media and professionals should handle information with a sense of social and ethical responsibility. Communication should be based on credible sources, and should avoid sensationalism.
  • Post-impact phase: Communicators should support restoration to normal conditions as quickly as possible, participating to inform on the reconstruction process, and improve their own knowledge base.