Communicating in a humanitarian crisis

From a large-scale terrorist attack to a product recall, our simulator exposes us to a variety of crises. And despite all their differences, there seems to be one universal truth: communication is key to any response.

The same can be said for humanitarian crises.

Communicating with, and providing information to people affected by crises, are two of the most important elements of humanitarian response.

Over the last few months I have been speaking with people from across the humanitarian sector to find out more about how they deliver communications to people in need. From individuals at the UNHCR to MSF, I have learnt lots about how communication teams prepare for crises and deliver life-saving information.

Like lots of other sectors, the humanitarian sector is finally waking up to the reality that communications can – and should – play an integral role in any response. There is a growing online community around hashtags like #CommIsAid and #C4D and an increasing number of MOOCs available for interested communicators.

If you are interested, the Communication is Aid course from the Humanitarian Leadership Academy and CDAC is a fantastic introduction to using communications in a humanitarian context. And even if you are not interested in humanitarian aid, the course offers a good refresher on creating audience-focused communications and evaluating its impact.

This guidance can also be applied to other areas of crisis communications and has led me to think more about:

  • an audience’s communication preferences and information needs
  • the difference between preventative and crisis communications
  • the importance of building a library of pre-prepared key messages
  • the importance of incorporating a feedback loop into your communications cycle

I am going to continue following the development of this fascinating area of communications and would love to speak to anyone else involved in this sector.

Special thanks to everyone who has taken the time to speak to me. Including:

Katie Drewe – UNHCR Innovation – @KatieDrew2000
Timo Luege – Senior Humanitarian Communications Consultant – @timolue
Nick Owen – MSF – @nickoowen
Sarah Mace – CDAC Network – @SarahMace

Photo by Kaya Connect