Emergency communication in a digital world

Woman standing by house ruins

Enhancing information flows and strengthening communication systems for use during emergencies can save lives, according to researchers at the University of Adelaide.

These emergencies may occur with little notice (i.e. a cyclone or earthquake) or may be a result of ongoing long-term process (i.e. drought or conflict). However, regardless of the type of emergency, people who are considered at risk have information and communication needs that must be met. 

Increasingly new information communication technologies (ICTs) are being used to both gather data from affected populations and to communicate lifesaving information. New ICTs enable real time communication, which is impacting the information flow between communities and agencies, and benefitting humanitarian aid targeting and relief. 

More specifically, the research at the University of Adelaide is exploring the use and impact of mobile phones and social media during emergencies, the practice of crowdsourcing data to map the crisis, and the role of knowledge sharing platforms such as wikis.

Seeking to understand the critical information needs of 'at risk' populations and how they utilise different communication options, enables humanitarian agencies to better-target risk reduction activities to vulnerable populations by raising awareness the availability of emergency services and by providing situation updates. 

By looking at how people in the developing world use information and communication for risk management, the team of researchers, led by Professor Andrew Skuse, have helped develop impactful policy documents,  new ICT user guides, as well as a range of practical humanitarian communication strategy design tools. 

“We have successfully built the capacity of governments, NGOs and multilateral organisations to develop effective, evidence-based humanitarian communication strategies,” said Professor Andrew Skuse.

“Through formal capacity building training, our work has resulted in significant and arguably live-saving impacts, including the development of the UNICEF-supported Communication for Humanitarian Action Toolkit (CHAT) in 2015 that has been used in numerous developing world emergencies, such as during the West African Ebola outbreak.”

The CHAT toolkit has since been produced in the English, Spanish and French languages and such work, alongside policy and new ICT user guides, is having a meaningful impact on at-risk populations across the globe.

Tagged in Societal wellbeing, emergency response, communication