Rethinking crisis communications

I was fortunate enough to be a coauthor of an article, Rethinking Crisis Information for position magazine originally published in issue 105 of Position magazine. It is authored by Maritin Tomko, Lew Short, Sisi Zlatanova and Maurits van der Vlugt.

The communication of the spatial extent of emergencies and their expected spread is a critical piece of situational awareness.

Affected people need accurate, up-to-date information on which to base their emergency response, and their families and friends need the ability to assess their situation. In complex emergencies such as bushfire, one of the greatest challenges is to achieve information superiority with rapidly changing events across broad  areas and to translate this into information that people can use.

Smoke from the 2019-2020 Australian bushfires, as seen by the International Space Station

The community expects the ability to maintain situational awareness through fast, accurate, updated, and tailored information provided through their habitual information channels, not purpose-made emergency information apps.

In emergencies, agencies must seek and disseminate information. We must have information superiority: the capability to collect, process, and disseminate an uninterrupted flow of information to affected communities. However, this needs to be done in such a way as to not overwhelm and swamp people who may not be familiar with the unfolding event. The ability to translate complex data, often with data holes and disseminate it as the best available information at the time is crucial.

Simple and action based warning and messages are crucial to assist people make informed decisions and to get out of harms way.

Spatial data provides so much information that is amplified. The gathering of information is almost as fundamental as the emergency response.

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About the Author
Lew Short is a recognised expert in bushfire and emergency management, land-use planning, risk mitigation, consequence management, environment and the working of government.