During an emergency, understanding the importance of crisis communications is critical to coordinating proper action plans, with rescue and relief efforts for those affected. In an emergency, the needs of individuals vary and populations face different challenges including; access to basic amenities such as food, shelter, internet and electricity, which are critical to survival.
One of the initial steps to take, when drawing up a communications strategy for a crisis, is to investigate the demographic of a population, which helps to inform relative action. Investigating a demographic provides data pointers about groups who are likely to be at risk. For example, data from the current Covid-19 health crisis which revealed that 8 out of 10 deaths reported in the U.S. have been in adults 65 years old and older, and people with underlying health conditions provides a pattern of the crisis. This information, communicated as part of the Center for Disease Control (CDC) emergency strategy, allowed individuals to take necessary precautions towards the aged population.
For context, in a study carried out in 2004, 80 per cent of elderly Americans over 65-years of age, had at least a chronic disease, while 50 per cent had two (U.S. DHS, 2006).
After the demographic of a population is understood, individual needs are accessed and grouped into those directly affected by an emergency, and those who are not. For those directly impacted by an emergency, family safety, pet safety, property protection and the need to prevent stigma associated with a crisis, such as the case of HIV/AIDS, are more important. For those not directly impacted, the challenges are different, mostly psychological, for which targeted communication is also relevant. In dealing with both groups, differences emerge when steps are taken to provide resources, treatment and response protocols for those affected by the crisis. Communication action-plans or strategies must include ways to address different needs.
Finally, it is imperative that communicators tasked with managing a crisis, do so with empathy as affected persons are usually looking to them for answers. By communicating with empathy, communicators set the expectation that things will change for the better, help victims to manage anxiety, and influence people to listen. Besides, communicators who pass their message with respect, improve the cooperation and rapport between communities and allow for ease in carrying out action plans.