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Communication means successfully exchanging information so that the message reaches the correct recipient in a timely manner and is interpreted accurately. In resource-poor situations, especially following disasters, communication difficulties are usually the major problem health care and other service/rescue providers face.


Relying on a predisaster or “normal” telecommunication system—such as landline telephones, cellular telephones, or pager systems—to work in austere circumstances is foolish. Communication systems fail during disasters due to network/signal problems, electrical power loss, damage to infrastructure, surviving infrastructure (telephone, cellular phones, etc.) overload, or system damage that overwhelms repair crews.

Multiple space-based satellite communication systems have been used internationally during disasters.1 Even in the best circumstances, however, this type of communication may not be available until several hours, or even days, after major disasters, while good communication is needed immediately. Whichever makeshift methods are used will depend on what resources are still available.

Preparation for Disaster Communications

Experienced, prepared spokespeople are needed to communicate with the professional teams and the public before, during, and after disasters. They need specific skill sets that address “risk communication.” (See Table 3-1 and “Hardest Decisions: Who Allocates Scare Healthcare Resources” video at Building communication capacity prior to a disaster includes prewriting public service announcements in multiple languages that address questions that frequently arise during disasters (Table 3-2) and maintaining contact lists. These lists, to be updated on a scheduled basis, should include reliable information sources in frequently affected regions, media contacts that can rapidly disseminate information, and government agencies and nongovernmental organizations that can provide assistance.

TABLE 3-1Most Important Skills for Disaster Communicators
TABLE 3-2Typical Disaster Messages to Prepare in Advance

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