The Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM) has begun to receive official reports stating that the public water supplies of several towns in the South East Texas (SET) area have become contaminated with life-threatening biological agents. As director of this office, it is my responsibility to address contingency plans within the organization and the public; without creating panic. Areas of focus will include external and internal communication channels, communication advantages and challenges, communication strategies, applicable technology, technology utilization, and media opportunities. Successful management of the situation requires the establishment of teams and communication channels. Organization teams include a state relations team, district relations, media relations, and a crisis communications team (CCT).
State, district, and media relations will communicate with CCT acting as coordinator. As the director of TDEM, I will be in charge of the CCT and oversee all organization operations. The state relations team till will be in charge of communications with the Texas Department of Health, the Texas Department of Public Safety, the Texas Emergency Management Council (TEMC), and other government officials. According to Texas law, mayors and county judges serve as emergency management directors, bearing the responsibility for maintaining an emergency management program within their respective jurisdictions (TDEM, 2014).
This will help with local emergency coordination’s. The district relations team will engage with local authorities to organize emergency response operations. The media relations team will communicate with local and online media sources and keep them informed of the issue.
Our organizations communication channels can instantly connect with multiple organizations at once. This gives our organization a major advantage. We have the ability to spread and collect information quickly and on a grand scale. Information needs to be disseminated as fast and efficiently as possible. The challenges associated with communications is the coordination of all efforts. According to Athena du Pre, lack of communication can lead to duplicated efforts, costly (and sometimes life-threatening) delays, frustration, and wasted time (Du Pre, A., 2003). During crisis events delays and wasted time can cost lives. This means that our team must keep in constant communication with other organizations to prevent overlapping efforts. Crisis communication is an ongoing process.
Having a crisis communication plan is important so that more time can be spent acting and less time be spent making decisions. Examining the communication process of other crisis events can be a useful way to identify successful strategies. In 1979, the Three Mile Island reactor malfunctioned. The major form of communication used to report the event at the time were televisions and radios. Access to information was limited and local television and radio station bore the bulk of public inquiries. Organization communications had to be accomplished via telephones or face-to-face. Public communications were also limited to telephones and face-to-face. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina ravaged the city of New Orleans and left a large portion of it underwater. The major forms of communication during this event included television, radio, and the internet. With this event the internet provided quick connection and communication with multiple entities. Information could also be transferred on faster and larger scale.
However, with this particular event a large portion of the public had to go without electricity for an extended period of time. Without electricity television, radios, and the internet cannot be operated. Smartphones existed at the time, but were not as abundant. Those with smartphones and cell phones had a small window for communications after the loss of electricity. Unfortunately, these devices require recharging and are useless after so many hours. Examination of these scenarios provide proof of the importance of information access during times of crisis. In 1979, their limited resources increased the levels of public concern. In 2005, their lack of resources reduced the number of communication channels. Many people were left clueless and helpless. I believe that a good way of utilizing this knowledge is to prepare for similar situations. Publishing emergency information to the public on a wide variety of channels means more access to information, less confusion, and better coordination of efforts.
Fortunate for us, the current scenario is not a threat to public electrical systems. However, we should be prepared for interruptions or breakdowns amongst communication channels. Each team should have contingencies in place, in case one or more resources is lost. These contingencies should include backup agencies, officials, and media sources. Teams should also have contingencies in place incase internal communications are interrupted or broken-down. Organization teams should allocate responsibilities between different members. If something happens to a team member, their responsibilities should either be divide up amongst all other team members or given to a single member. This largely depends on the size of responsibility and number of available team members. If an entire team becomes unavailable, then that teams responsibilities will be divided by the CCT and distributed amongst the remaining teams.
Public contingency plans must also be addressed. In this scenario there are effectively two distinct immediate dangers. Lack of public knowledge leading to exposure, and difficulties decontaminating the public water supplies. In regards to public knowledge, it’s important that information be disseminated not only through technological communication channels, but through ground communication channels as well. Public and municipal service employees of all types should be called upon to spread the word throughout the public. The more entities that can be informed via employer to employee, the better. In regards to decontamination, the public should be fully aware that government agencies are working around the clock to solve the issue. Government entities should also offer access to alternative water supplies. During times of hurricanes, many agencies and charitable services hand out bottled water from multiple locations in their respective cities.
This strategy should be utilized with the current scenario. If necessary, these services should be offered for as long as they are needed. As indicated in the previous scenarios, technology and the spread of the information go hand in hand. With the addition of the internet and digital communications, the communication process has become much more versatile. Social media often provides as a communications network for the public. Social media users can connect with other users and members of the public to share information and coordinate efforts. In today’s world many people have smartphones that are capable of internet access. These devices provide people with the ability to access information no matter where they are. The downside to this technology is the requirement of data access. Times of crisis can overwhelm internet infrastructure, making communications slow or impossible. Short messaging services (SMS)’s are a good way of combating this effect. The benefit of SMS’s is that they operates on the mobile carrier signal rather than the connection used for mobile voice and data, allowing messages to be delivered and received on mobile devices even when the networks are too congested to make voice calls (Anonymous, 2014).
Emergency alerts are also able to be broadcasted this way. Those with smartphones can be sent instant notifications; keeping them updated with current information. These systems can be used to inform a large number of people all at the same time. Compared to previous crisis scenarios, it’s possible that some technologies could be used differently. With the expansion of available communication channels, reliance on some technologies may not be as abundant as it once was. Television and radios no longer bare the sole burden of emergency broadcast communications. This can free up the efforts of local news and radio stations. Fewer public inquires to contend with, increases the overall resources of the stations. People will still call the stations for information, but the number will be significantly lower than it was in previous scenarios. In some cases television and radio may not even be utilized. Advancement in technologies has allowed the home computer to become the central hub for information in some homes, and amongst many college students. Computers can be used for watching television and listening to radio programming. This technology increases the need for broadcasting emergency information over internet channels.
Media opportunities of this management crisis include redundancy broadcast. According to a study from the University of Texas, redundancy is often necessary to overcome the noise in people’s lives because it reveals that people’s urgency perception increased after receiving three messages (Stephens, K., Barrett, A., & Mahometa, M., 2013). Having the media broadcast continual information will help increase the urgency perception of the public. The more people that are made aware, the less potential there is for casualties. Social media could also be used as a way to broadcast emergency information to different groups. Sites like Facebook and Twitter, can be used to spread information. Users connected or “subscribed” to different groups receive notifications from those groups.
This allows for information to be spread quickly across a major network. Often groups will be connected to other groups. When one group learns of the emergency they can then share the information with another group, and so on. Crisis management is an urgent matter that must be handled swiftly and efficiently. Planning and communications are vital for coordinating efforts. To protect the public, organization and communication strategies and contingencies must be in place. Communication channels must be established and their advantages and challenges should be known. Applicable technologies and their utilizations should be identified. Media opportunities should also be known so that appropriate communication channels can be utilized as a means of keeping the public informed.
Anonymous. (2014). Dynmark International: SMS is most effective communication channel during emergency. (2010). Wireless News, Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/750383013?accountid=458 Du Pre, A. (2003). Communicating About Health (2nd ed.). Boston, MA: McGraw Hill HIPAA compliance. Corrections Forum, 12(1), 15-16. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/214412170?accountid=458 Seeger, M. W. (2006). Best Practices in Crisis Communication: An Expert Panel Process. Journal of Applied Communication Research, 34(3), 232-244. doi:10.1080/00909880600769944 Stephens, K., Barrett, A., & Mahometa, M. (2013). Organizational Communication in Emergencies: Using Multiple Channels and Sources to Combat Noise and Capture Attention. Human Communication Research, 39(2), 230-251. doi:10.1111/hcre.12002 Texas Department of Emergency Management (TDEM). (2014). Retrieved from http://www.txdps.state.tx.us/dem/ he Fiscal Year of 214.
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