Emergency management in times of disaster
A crisis is defined by a series of events that occur rapidly and unplanned in an area that you manage. The importance of excellent communication cannot be expressed enough, because all of your decisions as an emergency manager are based on information obtained from all responders and witnesses to the disaster.
In fact, a good emergency management plan will have a dedicated communication position and their sole responsibility will be to coordinate all other communications to provide the manager with a single flow of communication.
I have seen a manager trying to control a crisis, while using a company mobile phone, his personal mobile phone, a radio headset, and people nearby who were talking to him. Where do you think his ability to handle this crisis was?
The first point of failure in disasters is communication systems.
It’s strange how many managers rely on mobile phones as a company communication system during a disaster. Take a second to think about how long a mobile system stays functional during a disaster until it becomes overloaded with users and fails.
This is where the importance of selecting the right communication equipment stands out. If the equipment fails, no matter how skilled your emergency management team is, they cannot communicate with each other to transmit vital data.
Consider checking your emergency kit for;
- Do your company mobile phones have all the employee numbers in the contact list?
- Do you have spare batteries, fully charged and ready to go for all phones connected during the emergency?
- Will your landline phone system still be in use if the power or computer goes out?
- How do you manage multiple conversations on your mobile without hanging up?
- Do all response team members have their communication equipment with them at all times?
The second point of failure is the lack of efficiency in the use of communication equipment.
When doing the practices, it’s easy to speak slowly and clearly while everyone waits patiently for you to finish. This is no way to practice for emergencies.
Try this instead. Give everyone a radio/phone and tell them to briskly walk around a nearby park or decent sized oval for a minute or two.
You move to the middle and then you call them. Ask them to quickly describe what they see as they walk past the different objects. Hear what happens next. If this doesn’t instill in you the importance of good communication during a disaster, nothing will.
What you will experience is;
- Rapid breathing when adrenaline kicks in and people rush their spoken words
- Some cut others because they are not listening to the communications but thinking about what they will say next.
- Lots of dead radio space as people are trying to figure out how to describe what they see and forget they have their phone or radio on.
As a direct result of this little experiment, you will also get an idea of what it will be like to try to listen to 10-20 different messages coming to you from the center.
How to improve your communications
Assign callsigns and radio codes for building names and locations, for example, to reduce the time each person spends on the network.
Assign a communications leader to handle all incoming and outgoing calls by becoming the center of attention and allowing you to make decisions and not take messages.
Good emergency management means that everyone has a role to play and someone should be responsible for ensuring that your communication systems stand up to the challenge. Don’t just focus on fire extinguishers and first aid kits, as these won’t do you any good if you can’t get messages to your emergency team.
Even just four people in your communication system means there are eleven communication channels for messages to flow through. Imagine how many communication channels need to be managed for 20 response personnel.