Section 3: Key Actions within 72 Hours of Disaster

3.5

Communications in emergencies

The first 24-48 hours of any emergency are crucial for media, communications and fundraising purposes.

The NGO arena is a crowded one. ActionAid must be visible from the word GO at the local, national and international level (including in media) so our supporters, donors, potential new supporters, decision makers, the public, etc. can associate us with the disaster – knowing we are there on the ground responding to people’s immediate needs at the same time as protecting, promoting and fulfilling their rights.

Success in funding our emergency programmes will depend greatly on our ability to build media and digital visibility quickly in the immediate aftermath of rapid onset emergencies, and launch fundraising appeals that can compete in crowded markets.

In a slow onset emergency media and digital visibility could help tip the international community into a much-needed emergency response.

Being visible in an emergency can make donors (both voluntary/public and institutional) more likely to choose us.

Rapid onset emergencies are fast paced news stories – because we live in the digital age – news organisations expect to get access to instant stories and images from an emergency-affected area. ActionAid’s new communications approach will meet this need by enabling us to ‘fast-track’ a communications response, while programmatic responses are still being considered and planned.

ActionAid’s brand essence ‘the power in people’ is about the individual and collective force of people in poverty creating change for themselves, their families and their communities. People in poverty aren’t waiting for change to happen; they’re getting on with it themselves. ActionAid is a catalyst for that change.

ActionAid will not compromise the dignity of rights holders when covering an emergency. However, we recognise that our brand values may be articulated differently during an emergency.

Our communication in emergencies will promote:

  • ActionAid’s priority of reaching out to the most vulnerable – women, children, the elderly, disabled people, excluded and marginalised groups – who may be left out of the mainstream emergency response.

  • That ActionAid has worked in these communities for many years and works in partnership with local organisations who know the affected communities well.

  • ActionAid’s commitment to working with affected communities in the long term (we will remain in the area after the emergency is over), ensuring that people are able to rebuild their lives and livelihoods with dignity.

  • That ActionAid strives to promote an alternative model which aims to address key gaps in the system through a focus on seven core components:

    • women’s leadership in disaster preparedness and response

    • accountability to disaster-affected communities

    • local partnerships in emergency preparedness and response

    • combining scientific information with community experience and traditional knowledge

    • adequate funding and aid effectiveness

    • linking emergency response to longer term change

    • creating a loss and damage framework to enable disaster-affected people to claim their rights.


Who Does What?

Currently ActionAid UK leads on media and communications on behalf of the ActionAid federation for all rapid onset emergencies and most slow onset emergencies. In the new strategy period, ActionAid will seek to establish a pool of lead countries across the federation who will take responsibility and collaborate globally to lead communications work during an emergency.

The lead country for emergency communications works on behalf of the ActionAid federation to lead the communications response to rapid onset and relevant slow onset emergencies. This response is media and digital led, with the objective of servicing fundraising and influencing needs.

During a rapid onset emergency the lead country and the International Communications Team’s (ICT’s) media and digital staff will work under a ‘buddy system’, sharing and delegating tasks as determined by the lead country. To ensure 24-hour communications support for the emergency and global reach, support countries will be identified to ‘care take’ the emergency communication response outside of hours of the lead country, thus creating a global project support team for the duration of the emergency.

During a slow onset emergency the lead country will in the first instance fill capacity, but can, where needed, request additional support from the International Communications Team. Where the International Communications Team cannot provide this capacity, it will source it from across the ActionAid federation.

In both rapid and slow onset emergencies, it is recognised that there is a need to integrate communications work into the response from the beginning, including inclusion within programme plans and frameworks developed from the beginning of an emergency. This responsibility sits with the affected country, with support from the International Communications Team.

Both the lead country and the International Communications Team should be aware of and adhere to donor communications and visibility requirements. For example, certain donors (e.g. ECHO) have rules and regulations regarding communications and visibility for work undertaken with their funding.


Information flow and content gathering:

In a rapid onset emergency the lead country will appoint an Emergency News Manager, who will act as focal person for the federation’s communications response and must be available 24 hours a day for the duration of the emergency. They can also nominate someone to deputise for them.

The Emergency News Manager will line manage the Emergency News Officer (either a national level communications staff member in the affected country or a RACE deployment depending on need); channel all communications requests to the affected countries and alongside the ICT’s media and digital teams produce statements, press releases, tweets, web content, co-ordinate interview requests, carry out media outreach, etc.

Both the Emergency News Manager and Emergency News Officer take on international, federation-wide responsibilities, taking into account the country context and communications risks (provided via previous assessments), particularly in cases of conflict and/or political crises where communications work may carry high risks for ActionAid, our staff, partners and the communities we work with.

In a rapid onset emergency, where the external news machine is fast and borderless, information delivered through this relationship will be disseminated immediately without embargo across the ActionAid communications network, to press and social media.

In a slow onset emergency, where content is being used to pique interest and exclusivity is needed to ensure impactful placement, the Emergency News Manager and ICT’s International Media Manager will devise an international syndication strategy that services the media and communications needs of target countries.


Lead country responsibilities:

The Emergency News Manager will:

  • Field all calls and communications request to the Emergency News Officer in the affected country.

  • Hold a daily check-in with the Emergency News Officer to go over the daily message from the field, discuss what happened during the day and what the plan should be for the next day, as well as updating them on the international news agenda, media coverage and any requests from the broader federation.

  • Guide the Emergency News Officer on gathering stories, eyewitness accounts, facts, figures and other content to be used across channels.

  • Act as a security point for the Emergency News Officer, holding the daily check-in at the same time each day and activating a security tree should this not be met without fair warning.

  • Be the focal person for all international media requests to the affected country. (ICT’s International Media Manager will take responsibility for federation requests and pass them to the Emergency News Manager as and when they come in for prioritisation.)

  • Brief all spokespeople based outside the affected country. This could include the Chief Executive or spokespeople in pan-regional press hubs.

  • Coordinate sign off of communications messaging, and share across the federation to ensure the whole of ActionAid is consistent with their messaging.

  • Develop press releases, quotes, Q&As, tweets, blogs, reports and other communications tools, alongside the ICT media and digital teams where needed.

NOTE: all of the above can be shared with ICT’s International Media Manager and/or Digital Manager depending on need.


Digital:

To ensure that all English written pages within ActionAid’s federation no longer fall foul of duplicate content restrictions, and as fundraising is a core element of digital in emergencies, content will be hosted on www.actionaid.org.uk and then referenced appropriately across the English language international webpages. We require content that is being syndicated to include the appropriate link back to the original article. This would be in the form of a HREF

<a href="http://www.actionaid.org.uk/URLHERE">
located at the end of the article (in a smaller font). This recently agreed way of working will be trialled over the coming months, and reviewed at a later date. Remember that communicating with disaster-affected communities is a key part of the response from the beginning. See the ‘commence immediate response activities’ section above for guidance on initial activities.



Produce emergency communications content (RAPID ONSET EMERGENCY)

Communications Timeline – Rapid Onset Emergencies

If the emergency meets ActionAid’s criteria for a communications response the ICT and lead country will:

Within 1 Hour

Responsibility of ActionAid International/Emergency News Manager

Contact made between Country Director, Head of IHART, IHART International Programme Manager for the region, Emergencies News Manager or International Media Manager (in the event that the Emergency News Manager is not able to attend) to determine:

  • What has happened?

  • Country Director’s first impression?

  • Major concerns?

  • Do they have enough communications’ capacity and would they like a RACE deployment?

    NOTE: the decision on whether to deploy someone thorough RACE is not made during this call, but during strategic Oversight Group or equivalent.

  • Names and contacts of spokespeople?

  • Key, non-controversial bullets (mainly on infrastructure) to enable ActionAid to start communicating.

NOTE: this information will also be passed to the Oversight Group, or equivalent, which the International Communications Advisor will also sit on, rather than the Head of Communications.

All staff present on this call in the first hour should be responsible for producing an operational output. Strategic direction will be given at the Oversight Group meeting or equivalent.

One objective of this call will be to determine if a RACE deployment is needed. Where it is not needed, the in-country Communications Officer will absorb the responsibilities of the Emergency News Officer. Note: these responsibilities will be agreed with all ActionAid emergency priority countries ahead of an emergency and are divided into ‘national’ and ‘federation’ capacity.

The call will be voice recorded to aid immediate radio and podcast work.

Meetings should be held at 1, 4 and 12 hours until an Oversight Group is held.

In the first four hours of an emergency the ICT will pass any RACE requests to an Oversight Group or equivalent, which will outline a plan for the crisis, mapping out which ActionAid country programmes are operational/responding, which must be considered due to their country’s political/military relevance, and identifying target media and fundraising markets.


Responsibility of Lead country (production)

Holding statement written and signed off. Statement based on bullets from Country Director, pre-existing country data, reputable news sources.


Responsibility of ActionAid International/lead country (dissemination)

Holding statement placed on www.actionaid.org, sent to ActionAid’s communications network and disseminated via social media.


Responsibility of ActionAid International

ICT completes an emergency communications report including:

  • scanning press coverage;

  • sourcing images;

  • finding hash tags;

  • identifying nearest press hub and journalists covering emergency;

  • locating and contacting photographers (in or close to country);

  • identifying digital trends;

  • mapping what other agencies are saying;

  • identifying where equipment is, etc.

NOTE: ActionAid Australia and ActionAid US may absorb this role if not during European daylight hours.

Search engine optimisation (SEO) carried out to ensure ActionAid owns terms relating to a disaster on Google and other internet search engines.

Within 2 Hours

Responsibility of ActionAid International

Emergency communications report filled in and passed to Head of Communications and/or Director of Fundraising and Communications to take to Oversight Group. The emergency communications report will detail all of the above to give a first impression of the communications landscape and the communications needs of the country programme.

IHART liaises with Head of Market Development and International Partnership Development, who scope federation fundraising interest and what communications products they require to support this, feeding this to ICT.

ICT and lead country source and agree on potential RACE deployment.

Press contacts and twitter addresses for journalists covering the emergency and/or international correspondents in-country collated and sent to Emergency News Officer and Emergency News Manager in the lead affiliate.

Within 4 Hours

Responsibility of ActionAid International

If RACE deployment is required before the Oversight Group meeting is held, the Director of Fundraising and Communications or International Head of Communications with Head of IHART and lead country Head of Media/Communications can approve the RACE deployment.

Otherwise, as expected the Oversight Group will:

  • Approve RACE deployment if requested (and logistics immediately activated). Note: ActionAid International will work with IHART to dispatch an Emergency News Officer through RACE to the affected country. A RACE deployment can include national and international staff, contractors and/or freelancers who could be deployed within 12- 24 hours. This includes media officers, photographers, digital specialists and video operators.

  • Determine and communicate the fundraising objectives and markets for the emergency (if possible).

Section page created for the emergency on the ActionAid International website, to ensure URL and H1 in place for effective SEO. This would match the latest external ‘title’ for the emergency, i.e. ‘West Africa drought’, etc.

Within 8 Hours

Responsibility of ActionAid International

Digital fundraising activity initiated

Within 12 Hours

Responsibility of ActionAid International

RACE deployment arrived or en route to affected country.

NOTE: where a RACE deployment is not made, the in-country communications staff will take the role of Emergency News Officer and the federation duties assigned to it.


Responsibility of Lead country (production) | ActionAid International/lead country (distribution)

Updated press release disseminated to ActionAid’s communications network, press and through social media. This will be a more detailed release that positions ActionAid more clearly in the emergency, including how much money we think we need to raise, who has been worst affected where, ActionAid’s main concerns, staff accounts and any additional information that builds a better picture about what’s happening on the ground and ActionAid’s response.


Responsibility of Lead country

Emergency News Manager in lead country connected with Emergency News Officer.

NOTE: this can happen earlier if a RACE deployment has not been made.


Responsibility of Lead country/ActionAid International

Emergency communications team in place: where possible Emergency News Manager and digital capacity relocated to sit with IS International Media Manager and Digital Manager to share tasks and co-ordinate global press work.


Responsibility of Lead country

Digital action launched if desirable (campaign and or policy ask based on country analysis and ideally linked to ActionAid’s multi country campaigns).

Within 24 Hours

Responsibility of Emergency News Officer (production) | ActionAid International/lead country (dissemination)

First daily message from the field to Emergency News Manager. This will outline:

  • Latest key messages from Country Director.

  • Eyewitness accounts/first impressions (where possible with photos) from people in the field. Eyewitnesses do not need to know every aspect of ActionAid’s work. Their role is to give initial impressions of the impact of the emergency and hence help pre-position ActionAid as a go-to voice for the media. In the first 24 hours eyewitnesses should focus on visual descriptions: i.e. have the main bridges gone down? Is the electricity and water working? Are the hospitals overflowing? How do they feel about what’s happened?

  • Activities for the next day including what can be expected for communications purposes. To include: how many people is ActionAid reaching? How many is ActionAid trying to reach, and where? When will we reach them? (NOTE: must distinguish between what has already been done and what will be done and by when.) How many sponsored children are affected? Can it be compared to a previous disaster? What does/will our outreach look like?

  • Top headlines in country and main angles developing (i.e. aid delivery, borders, etc).

  • Difficult questions being asked/risks identified.

  • New spokespeople and contacts.

  • What other agencies are doing, etc.

This would then be circulated by the Emergency News Manager to communications colleagues globally and form the basis of media and digital outreach.

NOTE: the daily message from the field is distinct from the situation report. The former being more contextual, emotive and descriptive and the latter more facts and figures based. They should complement one another and reference the other when circulated.


Responsibility of Affected country (production) | ActionAid International (IHART) (distribution)

Situation report sent to IHART Information Officer outlining ActionAid’s programmatic response.


Responsibility of Lead country (production) | ActionAid International/lead country (distribution)

Updated press release signed off and disseminated to ActionAid’s communications network, press and through social media.

NOTE: updates every 24 hours thereafter based on daily message from the field where possible/relevant.

After First 24 Hours

Responsibility of ActionAid International/lead country

Daily: daily distribution of information and content to ActionAid’s communications network, prioritising media staff, web editors, Stories Hub and Picture Desk.

This includes:

  • Outlining what coverage has been achieved, what content is available, news from the field and messages/activities/content available in the next 24-48 hours.

  • Monitoring and sharing all press and social media coverage/activity (this should also be shared with affected country and Emergency Communications Project Team).

  • Tweaking content where necessary for wider federation use. However the lead country should produce all content in a way that is packagable for communications staff in all target countries.

  • Requesting information from network regarding communications needs.


Responsibility of ActionAid International

Daily: update and collate international media contacts for the emergency on a daily basis and send to Emergency News Officer and Emergency News Manager.

Daily: update the International website (adhering to any agreed sign-off processes) and ensure most current information highlighted. This includes curating and using content about the emergency (blogs, images, etc.) from across the federation.

Whenever Required: push all statements and press releases to international news desks and pan regional press hubs where appropriate and under the direction of the Emergency News Manager.

Produce emergency communications content (SLOW ONSET EMERGENCY)

Ongoing:

  • IHART monitoring priority emergency countries for areas of interest, especially ‘high interest’ countries for media, such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Occupied Palestinian Territory, DRC, etc.

  • Stories Lab representative/UK media officer monitoring situation reports and chasing ongoing story leads for verification, development, etc.


When a story is sourced that may help tip international community into a fundraising response:

  • International Media Manager convenes meeting with Country Director, Head of IHART and Head of Communications to determine whether to activate a RACE deployment.


When fundraising objectives seek case study based content:

  • Meeting convened with Country Director, Head of IHART and Head of Communications to determine in country communications capacity.

  • Where communications capacity exists, the national News Officer, ICT and International Fundraising teams will draw up a content brief to ensure all needs are being met.

  • Where there is little or no communications capacity in country, an EFAST communications deployment will be made.

RACE

Rapid Action Communications in Emergencies (RACE) is a process that will enable the ActionAid federation to deploy an Emergency News Officer to an affected country in the first 12-24 hours of a rapid onset emergency or at an appropriate time during a slow onset emergency. The RACE deployee is responsible for connecting with the first wave of international correspondents covering an emergency, providing immediate communications support to the country programme, feeding daily updates to ActionAid’s communications network on the latest facts, figures and developments and gathering media and digital worthy content for cross-channel use. A RACE deployment may therefore take place before a red or orange alert is given and will almost certainly be before a programmatic response has commenced.

RACE is made up of communications professionals from ActionAid national and international staff around the world who can act as media officers, photographers, digital specialists and video operators and can be deployed within 12-24 hours during a rapid onset emergency.

Freelancers and contractors can be deployed under RACE as photographers, digital specialists and video operators for both slow onset and rapid onset emergencies. Freelancers can also be deployed as RACE media officers but for slow onset emergencies only, as rapid onset emergencies require a previous understanding of ActionAid internal organisation and relationships with countries. Therefore media officers for rapid onset emergencies will always be an ActionAid staff member.

As far as possible we will prioritise the deployment of staff – where the relevant emergency communications skills and experience are present – who have existing networks in the region, have a pre-existing understanding and awareness of the social and political context of the relevant country, and possess relevant language skills in order to ease their integration into ways of working with the existing country team.


Management:

The Emergency News Officer is managed by the Emergency News Manager in the designated lead affiliate, with support and input from the International Communications Team. The Emergency News Manager is responsible for fielding the Emergency News Officer’s calls and having a daily briefing with them to discuss what’s happened during the day and what the plan should be for the following day, as well as updating them on the international news agenda, coverage being achieved and any updates/requests from the broader ActionAid federation.

The Emergency News Manager has a duty of care to the Emergency News Officer and should be contactable 24 hours a day and operate an open door policy for any story leads, new information, security or general concerns the Emergency News Officer may have.

The Country Director of the affected country has a duty of care for the Emergency News Officer while in country and should form a daily working relationship for purposes of local context, risk awareness and sign off.


How will RACE be administered?

RACE will sit as a specialised sub section within the EFAST roster and will be administered by EFAST, including psychosocial and medical checks, safety briefings and training requirements.

Line managers and Country Directors must sign off on RACE and EFAST roster membership on application. If a new line manager or Country Director is appointed, EFAST and RACE must be contacted in writing with renewed sign off clearly stated.

RACE and EFAST members will receive quarterly reminders to confirm their availability for deployment. RACE and EFAST members can claim unavailability for a maximum of three months in one year. If unavailable for longer than three months in one year, RACE and EFAST members will be removed from the roster and asked to reapply in future.

RACE will join EFAST’s HIVE site, which includes:

  • mentoring opportunities

  • EFAST and RACE manual

  • reading list for sector

  • EFAST and RACE profiles and roster.

RACE deployment logistics, including visas, flights, etc. will be carried out by the International Communications Administrator in the event of deployment.


How will RACE members be trained?

New RACE members will join one of EFAST’s twice-yearly training sessions. These cover a general introduction to emergencies, including ActionAid’s human rights based approach, logistics, fundraising, safety, etc. The ICT will work with IHART to carry out EFAST training, adding an additional media and digital news component for RACE members that ICT will lead.


Priorities:

When an Emergency News Officer (drawn from in-country capacity or the RACE, taking on federation responsibilities determined on a case by case basis) arrives at a humanitarian crisis, it is likely to be hectic and can easily turn stressful. In order for the Emergency News Officer to work effectively, the Emergency News Manager will provide a list of priorities in the RACE deployment brief. The Emergency News Officer will also be provided with a Communications in emergencies field guide.

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Co-ordination