Covid-19: Risk Communication and Crisis Management - ICN INDIA

Covid-19: Risk Communication and Crisis Management

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By: Dr. Kumar Raka, Editor-ICN Group

VIJAYAWADA: As the number of disasters have increased across the globe, the value of high-quality and timely messages to people under threat will become paramount and directly affect the human cost of natural disasters (Pearce, 2008). The statement emphasizes the need for collaboration between the relevant players in order to be more effective. The public has a generalized right to know about the hazards and risks. The availability of information allows the public to make informed choices regarding risk (Witte, 2001). Investments in Risk Communication & Crisis Communication (RCCC) yield a very high benefit in preparedness at a relatively low investment (Reynolds & Seeger, 2005). Crisis and emergency risk communication is the effort by experts to provide information to allow an individual, stakeholder, or an entire community to make the best decisions about the well-being within nearly impossible time constraints and help people ultimately to accept the imperfect nature of choices during the crisis (CDC, 2002; Reynolds et al., 2005). Based on these basic foundations there have been multiple failures world over with regards to the preparedness phase during Covid-19 pandemic. 

Risk perception “the subjective assessment of the probability of a specified type of accident happening and how concerned we are with the consequences” (Moen and Rundmo, 2004) prior to the spread of Covid-19 was lacking. Public attentiveness about safeguarding themselves (bottleneck) from the infection as a function of inherent human cognitive behavior to gain public awareness too was evidently lacking during initial phases of spread. Out of five main assumptions of RCCC, dissemination of relevant information to public and amongst response authorities, pre-planning to handle a pandemic situation and inter-coordination mechanism within countries and states seems to be missing in preparedness phase stressing the arguments of Witte and Reynolds & Seeger. Further, focus on target vulnerable groups; removing obstacles that interfere with providing the information needed to foster preparedness; utilizing real-life events to take advantage of similar & relevant emergencies which have already occurred (H1N1, SARS-Covid) around the world in order to raise awareness (windows of opportunity); conducting  special awareness, knowledge, and capabilities building programmes among the target groups for handling potential threats; using “routine breakers” and positive public opinion leaders to raise the subject of preparedness; utilize marketing tools (social and commercial); including media as important component of preparedness system; and developing risk communication as an ongoing process for better preparedness of the population before the event (Shenar & Peleg, 2014), may be stressed as failures of effective preparedness to handle the spread of Civid-19 Pandemic

First lesson of crisis communications – “Information is constantly changing”. What we think to be true in one moment may be untrue minutes, hours or days later. While authorities do their best to confirm the validity of information, errors are made. But this shouldn’t be an excuse to not release the information until its known to be 100% accurate. Accept and be okay with the fact that information changes even after it is confirmed to be true. The scores of infections and deaths caused by Covid-19 worldwide has started changing. There are speculations that more people had been infected and died. Figures are being revised and it will keep revising for many months and years. There is no surprise in it.   

The level of factual reporting and integrity in statements plays a crucial role in making informed decisions. The authorities needed to build public trust by providing scientific and factual information in order maintain attentiveness and keep morale high. Empathy & Care with Authenticity is the new benchmark in empathetic crisis communications. Despite enormous stress on authorities, official communications would have been calm, dignified and respectful. Correspondingly, the media needed to cover the stories with empathy and emotion that were totally absent in largest democracies. Completely focused onto resolve the crisis, the new media would have been responsible to play a critical role with Dedication & Commitment. Advice and suggestion of Competent & Experts would have not been ignored and should have been given priority in deciding measures for containment of the pandemic. Timely Release of Information is always crucial. Only release facts that have been verified but need not to wait for 100% authenticity; instead, release what is known. Providing Regular and Consistent Updates to media is important in ensuring that the government is seen as a credible, reliable and official source of information. Without regular updates, the media are left on their own to file their stories, often getting information from unnamed sources with incorrect facts. Protecting Privacy of victims is must. The names, addresses of the victims or specific details on their medical conditions should not be released in public domains. Privacy maintained with dissemination of factual information increases curiosity of media and audience alike. Role of Social & New Media is critical in information dissemination. Feeding real time and accurate information about critical events on social & new media has proved to be vital in crisis situations. There is no need of advertising and paying for TRP, people are attentive and there are ways to seek and divert their attention. Social media can be employed to inform and improve emergency operations (Houston et al., 2015). Information vacuum would only lead media to seek updates from unofficial sources.

Today, the world with more than 2,500,000 infections and 175,000 deaths spread over 210 nations across the continents is looking forward for an effective and authentic ‘Risk & Crisis Communication’ in which world leaders has miserably failed causing the masses entangled in hardships, lockdowns, closures, quarantined, isolated, distressed and suffering. Initial non-investment (or ignorance) in factual, authentic and robust RCCC has yielded very high costs for control and containment of the pandemic. 

(Dr. Kumar Raka (M.A, M.Phil. & Ph.D.), an aluminous of Tel Aviv University, Israel and Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, is a disaster and emergency management professional having over 12 years of experience in the field.)

References 

Houston, J. B., Hawthorne, J., Perreault, M. F., Park, E. H., Goldstein Hode, M., Halliwell, M. R., & Griffith, S. A. (2015). Social media and disasters: a functional framework for social media use in disaster planning, response, and research. Disasters, 39(1), 1-22.

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-07-14/richard-harris-praises-everyone-involved-thai-rescue/9992780

http://www.thejournal.ie/we-are-not-sure-if-this-is-a-miracle-a-science-or-what-tributes-pour-in-for-successful-thailand-cave-rescue-4119906-Jul2018/

https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/world-news/breaking-thailand-cave-rescue-boys-12894483

Pearce, T. (2008). Communication as core business. The Australian Journal of Emergency Management, Vol. 23(3), 2.

Reynolds, B. W. & Seeger, M. W. (2005). Crisis & emergency risk communication as an integrative model. Journal of Health Communication 10, 43–55.

Reynolds, B., & W. SEEGER, M. A. T. T. H. E. W. (2005). Crisis and emergency risk communication as an integrative model. Journal of health communication10(1), 43-55.

Shenar, G., & Peleg, K. (2014). Building Effective Risk Communication. Criminal Justice Journal. McGraw-Hill Learning Solutions, VitalBook file. Bookshelf, 11-16.

Sjöberg, L., Moen, B. E., & Rundmo, T. (2004). Explaining risk perception. An evaluation of the psychometric paradigm in risk perception research, 10(2), 665-612.

Witte, K., Meyer, G., & Martell, D. (2001). Effective health risk messages: A step-by-step guide. Sage.

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