Seven things to know about long-duration emergency communications

By Doug Levy and Tim Conrad

There are many things we can learn from past emergencies to help us when facing any long-duration emergency, especially for situations that last more than a few days. Here are some of our best tips:

1.       Don’t count on the media to stay with your story. Identify – or create your own – channels for communicating with people affected by the emergency or at risk.

2.       Decide on your main communications channel early and let the media and everyone else know. Community Facebook pages, agency or municipal Twitter streams, or low-power radio or TV stations are among options that have worked in other communities. These work best if people know which one you will use before an emergency starts.

3.       If the information command includes multiple agencies and communicators from different jurisdictions, make sure to consult a local expert before issuing any updates. Nothing hurts credibility more than getting a geographic reference wrong, giving incorrect directions, or mispronouncing a significant local name.

4.       Nobody performs at their best without a break. Even in an “all hands” emergency, hold back one or more people to come in as the relief shift. And think ahead about who is going to come in on day 5, day 6, week 3, etc.

5.       Let colleagues from other areas know that you may need their help as soon as you can foresee the need. Transportation during emergencies may be more challenging than usual so allow extra time.

6.       In addition to all the usual items in your PIO “go kit,” pack these extra essentials for a long-duration situation: eye shade, ear plugs, paper road map, printed copies of key media, interagency and community contacts.

7.       In situations with many casualties or major damage, include welfare checks for your own personnel. Even just an occasional, “are you doing OK?” can help prevent long-term PTSD or post-operational stress as well as keeping performance tops.

To learn more, get The Communications Golden Hour: The Essential Guide to Public Information When Every Minute Counts, available at or Or, order from your favorite bookseller or

Doug Levy is principal of Doug Levy Communications LLC in Sausalito, California.

Tim Conrad is principal of Butterfly Effect Communications of Grande Prairie, Alberta.

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