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Ideas & Debate

LETTERS: Effective communication during disasters critical

A collapsed building in Nairobi. FILE PHOTO |
A collapsed building in Nairobi. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Communication is a critical tool in disaster management. It is the transfer of thoughts, ideas, warnings, instructions, orders, commands, knowledge, and information to create a complete understanding.

Access to reliable communication systems increases the aptness of action and choices to disaster risk and responses.

In disaster management, communication plays a critical role, from imparting knowledge, public awareness, early warning, resource- mobilisation, and coordination. Deviations, noises, and barriers that can impede effective communication should always be avoided.

Effective communication holds sway over audiences and conveys facts without creating panic. The right words that are carefully selected should be used so as not to give the wrong terms and meaning to a crisis. Time is also of utmost importance, as a slight delay either due to inadequate or incorrect information might worsen a disaster situation.

Accounts of past disasters have been ineffective and poorly executed. Poor communication or lack of it presents a society that is lacking in strategies for information delivery within its self, in a consolidated and orderly manner. Incidentally, the eye witness culture has taken over information gathering and transfer to mass platforms oblivious of the damage such actions can cause to victims and society.

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Indeed, conflicting disaster accounts and processes erode public confidence in available capacities to tackling disaster incidents and further draws speculative theories and ridicule. Also, ineptness in disaster management is a threat to national security since it exposes weaknesses in governance, operational, and response frameworks.

Lessons from recent past tragedies expose inaction on bodies mandated with crisis and response coordination and resilience-building towards disaster risks. Their inertness is a hindrance to sound crisis management, coordination, and rescue, besides sharing situational updates on disaster incidents.

Gate-crashers to disaster scenes, mainly the political class, often undermine crisis management efforts in disasters while competing for mileage and media coverage. This way, they abuse a crisis platform with pronouncements that limit common understanding amongst actors and victims to a disaster situation. Issuance of skewed and conflicting accounts, poor coordination, ineffective communication strategies, and political regurgitation undermines basic governance tenets to disaster management.

What is not in doubt is that communication is a crucial tool during a disaster, as it shields the general public from being fed with analogies outside occurrences in a disaster scene. The public should at all times get enlightened on safety measures provided, and strategically displayed at every public establishment. Such safety guidelines should provide an elaborate step by step options and choices available to the public in case of a disastrous incident.

Where safety measures are none existent, responsible persons should be called out for violating a duty of care, inaptness, and a breach of trust in the conduct of public affairs.

Altogether, a disastrous incidence need not be used as show biz but rather be approached with sobriety and commitment, professionally management in terms of coordination, communication and information sharing.

In so doing, those responsible should always be cautious and thoughtful in deeds and conduct, conscious of the emotional needs of the victims and their families, raise their confidence in rescue and recovery processes, and prepare those affected for the recuperation and healing phase.

Kiragu Kariuki Nyeri.

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