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Emergency Communications Planning: How To Communicate Effectively During A Disaster

Emergency Communications Planning: How to Communicate Effectively During a Disaster

As we approach the busiest part of hurricane season, it is crucial that individuals and organizations prioritize disaster preparedness efforts. While the focus may often be on physical preparations such as stockpiling supplies and and evacuation plans, one aspect that should not be overlooked is the development of a comprehensive emergency communications plan.

Emergency Communication Is Key During a Disaster

When disaster strikes, communication becomes more than just an essential element for survival. It is the key factor that can make or break the situation. The ability to communicate effectively during a disaster can mean the difference between life and death, for both individuals and organizations. From alerting loved ones of safety to coordinating relief efforts, clear and effective communication is vital. If you want to protect yourself and your loved ones, as well as ensure your organization’s continued operation, developing a proper emergency communications plan is not just important, it’s essential.

Developing a Strong Emergency Communications Plan

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 emergency communications 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 for Emergency Communications

Social media platforms have seen a significant increase in usage during recent disasters as a way of maintaining a steady stream of emergency communication.  Twitter has come out as an unexpected front runner to provide real time information. A 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.

Emergency Communications Planning Resources

If you feel that you need to bolster your emergency communication plan, you are not alone. There are many great resources through FEMA’s 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 a disaster, we need to think beyond everyday scenarios and develop an emergency 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!

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

Additional Resources

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