Communication refers to sending a message from one party to another through a given medium. It is essential to note that for communication to take place, the party being targeted by the message must actually receive the message. This simple definition highlights three significant components of any communication process. These are; the sender of the message, the medium being used to transfer or transmit the message and the recipient of the message. The role of these three components becomes even more critical during communication in crisis situations. The New Orleans incident can be used illustratively. Emergency teams co-coordinating rescue operations had to send out right message in a timely manner. Secondly, they had to use the best medium so as to get to as many people as possible. Thirdly, recipients of the messages had to clearly understand the messages being sent to them so as to make the rescue operations a success. This article, therefore, proceeds to discuss essential communication in a community crisis situation where public water supplies of several towns in an area have become contaminated with a life threatening biological agent.
In such a crisis, it is essential that the information about the crisis is disseminated as quickly as possible and if possible, to all persons who are likely to be affected by the crisis. While the dissemination of information must be done quickly, it is also significant to ensure that the public receives accurate information as well as what steps to take in case one has already taken the water. Consequently, there are various individuals and groups that will be communicating inside and outside the Regional Emergency Management Office during the crisis. Within the organization, individuals concerned with releasing information about crisis will be in constant communication with each other so as to ensure that the information released to the public is similar. Put differently, the organization must not send out information which suggests different variations of the crisis at hand. Secondly, persons charged with providing emergency services will also be in constant communication with each other. These will include persons such as paramedics and other persons in the organization who will be required to go out there and provide assistance to members of the public. It is essential that such persons be in communication with each other in order to understand the magnitude of the problem of hand. This will put them in a better frame of mind to handle the crisis. Outside the organization, groups like the media will be disseminating information among themselves as well as to the public. Similarly, health authorities will also be sharing information about the crisis. Indeed, even the police will be exchanging information on how best to handle the situation. In addition, the local authorities concerned with the management of public water supplies will also be sharing information arguably to come up with ways of how to mitigate the crisis while at the same time trying to ensure that members of the public have access to alternative sources of clean, uncontaminated water.
There are various advantages and challenges that are associated with communicating within the organization and with the public and private sectors during the crisis situation. Communication within the organization enables everyone in the organization to be prepared to provide the necessary response to the crisis. It also enables the organization to have a coordinated response to the crisis. However, challenges that may arise when communicating within the organization could include the fact that not all members of the organization may receive messages targeting them in a timely manner. Secondly, it may be difficult to reach all the members of the organization in a very short time. The advantages of communicating with the public include the fact that the public will be informed about the crisis and thus be in a position to act accordingly so as to avoid using the contaminated water. The public will also be informed on how to assist those who may have taken the contaminated water. Nevertheless, the challenge that may arise in communicating with the public is that it may be difficult to control the information that the public is receiving from various sources, some of which may be incorrect and only serve to distort the information that the organization is sending out. Communication with the private sector will be advantageous as it will enable them to provide any assistance that it can. However, challenges may arise in managing to contact the large number of private sector players in a very short time yet they are a critical cog in the management of such a crisis.
There are differences in communication processes used in crisis situations. In the Three Mile Island crisis, the major forms of communication used were television networks and radio stations. During the Hurricane Katrina crisis, latest forms of communication such as the internet were used to disseminate information. While the use of television networks and radio stations during the Three Mile Island crisis created much concern, the use of the internet during the Hurricane Katrina crisis was a much better way of communication as people were able to get information in real time. In improving health care communication strategies, it follows that the internet will be a significant component of such a strategy as most people will seek information in the internet as compared to from televisions. Through proving the relevant information in a website, individuals will be better placed to access correct information during a health crisis as compared to relying on such communication processes as television networks and radio stations.
Social media can no longer be wished away as far as communication is concerned. However, it is significant to note that social media can hamper effective information as there is no way of controlling the information sent out in social media by its many users. This may negatively influence efficient communication during a crisis. Nevertheless, social media can be used to enhance communication during a crisis. First, the concerned organization managing the crisis must have a presence in the social media and must constantly keep on disseminating information about the crisis. They must also monitor the information being sent out by various persons and be quick to correct any distortion of information. Social media also provides emergency organizations with a platform for providing responses to questions raised by concerned persons during the crisis.
While the use of television networks and radio stations led to concerns about how the information regarding the Three Mile Island Crisis was disseminated, the television networks and radio stations remain critical components of communication during a crisis. However, in the event of a crisis, such mediums should only disseminate information that has been verified by the relevant agencies. They must also send out correct information and ensure that they do not create panic among members of the public. While the use of internet in disseminating information during Hurricane Katrina is welcome, this can be improved further. Emergency organizations should make more use of the social media which is one of the communication avenues availed by the internet. The internet can also be used to send out real time information to a very wide audience as people can readily access it even through their cell phones.
There are various media opportunities that may arise during the management of this crisis. First and foremost, there will be need to have a person to liaise with the media so as to ensure that the media receives the correct information which it will then disseminate to the public. As the media is bound to disseminate information about the crisis, it is necessary to ensure that they disseminate accurate information. The media also presents a platform for the relevant members of emergency organization to explain to the public the nature of the crisis and what is being done to handle it. The media also provides a platform for various leaders, be it political or, otherwise, to rally people together so as to help in handling the crisis. The media is also invaluable when it comes to fundraising efforts to aid in handling the crisis. This is because a significant part of the population will seek information about the crisis through the media and will most likely take part in any efforts to raise funds which are sent out by the media. This was best illustrated by the fundraising efforts during the Hurricane Katrina crisis.
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Zaremba, A. J. (2009). Crisis Communication: Theory and Practice. New York: M. E. Sharpe .