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Communication Is Key During A Disaster

Communication is Key During a Disaster

By Jo Miller, MPH, RDN
Vice President of Nutrition at Meals for All, Inc.

Communication is a crucial element in every relationship. We often focus on communication in our romantic relationships, and we all know it’s important for us to communicate our needs to our loved ones (and vice versa).  However, when was the last time you thought about communication within your larger community? We’re not talking about pet peeves & grievances, nor are we referring to showing appreciation and giving thanks when due – although those are all important elements to communicate, too! The specific type of communication we’d like to address today is the kind that happens – or doesn’t happen – during an emergency or disaster.

A Crisis Communications Plan is a critical element for disaster planning, both at work and at home. Partial or total loss of communication is unfortunately still quite common in our technological world. A minor power outage can take out a campus phone system, or even the entire network. What is the backup plan to address how Food and Nutrition will print diet orders or take orders for meal service?

Great communication by health care providers and suppliers is critical. Not only is it imperative share the status of your campus with the local, state, and federal agencies, but it’s also crucial to aid in family reunification, and identify resources that are needed and/or available to maintain function. A strong and effective communication plan is one of Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ (CMS) Four Core Elements of Emergency Preparedness. In 2016, CMS published the updated CMS Disaster Rule with the expectation that health care providers and suppliers have a communication plan that:

  • Complies with federal and state laws
  • Has a system to contact staff, including patients’ physicians and other necessary persons
  • Is well-coordinated within the facility, across health care providers, and with state and local public health departments and emergency management agencies.

Social media platforms have seen a significant increase in usage during recent disasters as a way of maintaining a steady stream of communication.  Twitter has come out as an unexpected front runner to provide real time information. A recent study from the University of Vermont evaluated Twitter activity during five of the costliest recent disasters in the U.S. and concluded, “Social media is becoming an increasingly important tool to help people prepare for and recover from disaster.” Even social media giant Facebook has a Crisis Response feature which allows users to  mark themselves safe, give or find help, raise money, and get Information about the disaster.

If you feel that you need to bolster your emergency communication plan, you are not alone. There are many great resources through FEMA’s Ready.gov as well as information exchange platforms like ReddiNet to ensure a seamless exchange of information when networks are down. Meals for All is your community partner, and our Registered Dietitian Nutritionists consistently monitor disaster news. We have assisted with questions and training during recent disasters, and we can offer real-time advice on disaster communication. We’re only a phone call away! (916-832-MEAL [6325])

We take for granted the luxury of having multiple forms of communication we can use for everyday communication, all essentially at our fingertips. However, to be truly prepared for an emergency, we need to think beyond everyday scenarios and develop a communication backup plan for the times we need it most. See below for tools and organizations to help you reinforce your current emergency communication plan – you’ll be glad you did!

Additional Resources

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