Hurricane Harvey. Hurricane Irma. Wildfires across California. The 7.1-magnitude earthquake in Mexico City.
Last year was staggering in terms of natural disasters across North America. And in the past few decades such events have ramped up with alarming frequency, leading to multiple deaths and injuries and racking up billions of dollars in aid funding and rebuilding costs.
One study shows natural disasters increased significantly between 1960 and 2012, particularly weather and climate-related disasters. Between 2005 and 2014, it indicates, they affected 1.7 billion people, killed about 700,000 and caused $1.4 trillion in damage.
“When a natural disaster occurs, first responders and local governments take the lead in messaging and communications,” notes Cary Kirkpatrick in Forbes. “Being organized, thoughtful and flexible are key to helping everyone navigate the crisis. Having an emergency preparedness plan you’ve mapped out in advance and reviewed with your team and clients is essential.”
A few emergency preparedness tips for forming (or perhaps just updating) your municipality's emergency communication plans:
- In the past, such emergency communication efforts were primarily one-way: Experts statistically gauged risks then informed residents so they could make well-informed choices. Not so today. “Internationally, risk communication is now perceived to be an interactive process of exchanged information and opinion among individuals, groups and institutions,” note editors of the 2015 guide “Crisis Communication in a Digital World." Newer processes frequently involve “multiple messages about the nature of risk or expressing concerns, opinions or reactions to risk messages, or to legal and institutional arrangements for risk management,” they explain.
- In general, analysts recommend forming emergency preparedness plans for the four stages surrounding disasters — prevention, preparation, response and recovery — and describing how community members and organizations can take action accordingly.
- Savvy communicators often frame such messages in strategic ways to account for variable perceptions of risk. For example, the book explains, people are more likely to avoid natural disaster warnings if the information seems uncertain or contradicts their opinions, and may be more concerned if they can remember similar emergencies. Those without strong opinions either way are the most susceptible to new emergency messages.
- Technology like emergency notification systems that automatically disseminates information as soon as it's needed can save municipalities considerable time, money and effort. Take advantage of its capabilities to optimize workflow and reduce threats to public safety whenever citywide communications are needed for emergencies.
While natural disasters are often inescapable, preparing for emergencies can go a long way toward minimizing their effects as much as possible.
“Potentially hazardous events do not need to end in a disaster,” advises geography professor Dale Dominey-Howes on TheConversation.com. “Disasters occur because of the intersection of hazard with exposed people and assets that are vulnerable to the hazard. They are characterized by a lack of resilience and poor capacity to cope and respond in the affected area.”
Want peace of mind that residents in your municipality would be well-informed before, during and after a natural disaster? Talk to SwiftReach about creating a cutting-edge emergency preparedness plan that can optimize resident communication.