In 1961, there was an earthquake in Delhi. Some newly built multi-storey buildings shook dangerously. Those inside ran about not knowing what to do or where to go for safety. I was one of them.
In 1965, Indo-Pak war began, a blackout was imposed in Delhi without the people being told what they would be in for. That evening, Delhi was chaotic. I watched it all.
There were fires every summer in jhuggi colonies. Scores would die. Hundreds were displaced. Nobody was ever told how to prevent them.
There was a fire in a high-rise buldings in Rejendra place. Those above the floors engulfed in fire were stranded and waited for help perched on the terrace. A helicopter was brought in to rescue them not knowing that it would only help the fire spread further.
There was a fire a Uphaar Cinema Hall. Many were trapped inside not knowing how to come out to safety. The management too did not know how to rescue them. Many died.
The first bomb explosions in Delhi started in the fifties. People even today are not prepared, as they do not know what to do.
There used to be floods in the Yamuna every year. It called for the same drill to meet them but there was the same confusion in dealing with them year after year.
Rains flood the streets of the national capital every year. There are traffic jams and thousands are stranded. Nobody tells them which roads to avoid.
All these and many more disaster situations make one thing abvious. There is no communication strategy ever prepared to cope with disaster in the national capital. Hundreds of other examples, like the IA plane hijacking to Kandahar and Delhi Airport escalator accident can be cited.
The key to most of these problems is effective and timely communication. Communication helps authorities manage the situation efficiently, help people cope with it confidently and creates awareness, motivation, education and mobilisation. It also leads to transparency in management and evaluation of management. A noteworthy example of effective communication is the Oklahoma explosion at USA. More than 500 specialists were rushed to the press and the children three times in 48 hours. There was minute-to-minute media coverage and interagency contact round the clock.
The basic objective of communication strategy included warning and preparing the people and the authorities to deal with the impeding disaster, contact specialized agencies and experts mobilese resources. Communication also plays an important role to motivate the unaffected public to come forward n a big way to lend a helping hand. It helps in confidence building measures the kin of the victims. It leads to coordination of the rescue and the relief measures and also helps in serious study of the disaster for future guidance.
Disaster management includes various stages:
- Anticipating a disaster
- Preventive steps
- Rescue operations
- Relief measures
- Follow up
- Post mortem for future guidance
Before tackling any crisis situation it is essential to answer certain pre-strategy questions like, who is incharge of planning, implementation, coordination etc, what is the objective. The target audience need to be identified. One needs to determine the official policy, the public interest, sources of information and the available resources.
A special disaster communication plan needs to be tailormade for Delhi. A central office needs to set up to coordinate the entire activity. A proper networking between the NGOs, officials and the media is the need of the hour. Workshops should be held to train and motivate the media persons in disaster coverage. There should be maximum utilisation of the alternate media like posters and booklets, films, street plays, quizzes, essay contests, debates, lectures, seminars, rallies, walks etc.