1. Role of media and communications in emergencies

See Key Resources and Annexes at the bottom of this page

CARE International’s aim in a humanitarian emergency is to be first in the media, and gain a meaningful share of the voice amongst INGOs talking about the issue in order to raise awareness and funds for CARE’s emergency responses across the globe.

When communicating about a disaster and our response, it is important to bear in mind the four basic principles of our emergency communications. These are:

Do No Harm

This should be our governing principle. Press releases and other communications regarding our emergency response should reflect the views of all members of CARE International, especially those responding directly to the emergency.

Focus on women and girls

In particular, CARE’s emergency communications work should support CARE’s unique differentiator, which is to elevate ‘women’s participation and leadership’, in our messaging. This can be done by positioning female spokespeople, by including quotes from female programme participants and/or by highlighting the specific needs of women and girls in an emergency. We want to raise the voice of women leaders around the world, and emphasise how and why women are best placed to respond to breaking and longer term emergencies.

Speak with one voice

When members of CARE International can find common ground on issues of interest to the media, we become a much stronger voice for women, girls and all those affected by humanitarian crises. At the same time, we want to ensure that we remain flexible and that each member is able to speak out as it sees fit, provided it does no harm and follows the broader CARE International global guidelines as set out in the CARE International Communications Handbook.

Promoting local partners

CARE works with many local partners across the world who are often the ones at the frontline of the response. Where possible, CARE staff should aim to showcase their work, properly name and credit them and include them as spokespeople and authors of quotes for global media. This is particularly important where the organisations are locally-led women’s organisations.

In an emergency, communications materials will need to be produced, approved and shared extremely quickly, and media requests must be answered immediately. It is very important to be clear in advance who is responsible for what, and to coordinate between the Country Office (CO), Lead Member (LM), Regional Communications Advisor (RCA), CI Secretariat communications and CI Members (CIMs) to ensure needs are met and there is no duplication of effort.

Position Key responsibilities
Regional Communications Advisor (RCA) With the support of CI Secretariat communications, the Lead Member Media Manager and COMWG, and in coordination with the Country Office, the Regional Communications Advisor is responsible to: provide emergency media support to Country Offices; ensure the timely provision of information and communication materials on rapid or slow-onset emergencies; ensure a senior Country Office staff person is designated as media focal point; arrange for the deployment of an Emergency Communications Officer (ECO) and photographer/videographer if necessary, in collaboration with the Lead Member Media Manager; write or edit press releases, pitch spokespeople and communications materials to regional media outlets and coordinate sign-off of communications materials according to CI’s sign-off procedures in section 2 of the CARE International Communications Handbook. If an ECO is not deployed, the Regional Communications Advisor or Lead Member Media Manager will fulfil the role.
Lead Member Media Manager The Lead Member Media Manager is responsible to: provide timely input and sign off on all communications materials; provide support to deploy an Emergency Communications Officer and/or videographer/photographer; provide support to prepare press releases when needed and pitch spokespeople and communications materials to media outlets.
CI Secretariat communications In coordination with the Lead Member, Country Office and COMWG, CI Secretariat communications is responsible to: ensure that communications and media work is effectively coordinated for all emergency responses; and ensure regular production and dissemination of communications materials for new and on-going emergencies. In the absence of Country Office or Lead Member capacity and if the Regional Communications Manager is not available (eg: on leave), CI Secretariat communications will fulfil some or all responsibilities of the ECO and/or LM Media Manager in an emergency. CI Secretariat communications leads during the first weeks of a fast onset humanitarian emergency where there is multi-member interest and a high need for effective coordination.
Country Office Communications Officer (Please note: most COs do not have a Communications Officer. If there is no CO Communications Officer, the Regional Communications Advisor, LM Media Manager and/or CI Secretariat communications will provide remote support until an ECO is deployed, and the CD will appoint a CO media focal point to handle media calls (also supported by the Regional Communications Advisor.) With the support of the LM Media Manager, Regional Communications Advisor and CI Secretariat communications, the CO Communications Officer is the first point of contact for emergency communications and provides the immediate communications materials needed after an emergency.  If an ECO is not deployed, the CO Communications Officer will fulfil the duties of the ECO (see below). If an ECO is deployed, the CO Communications Officer works alongside the ECO to meet communications needs, with an extra focus on media outreach to national journalists and project participant communications where appropriate. See annex for a CO Communications Officer TOR.
Emergency Communications Officer The Emergency Communications Officer is an expert in communications who may be deployed or appointed from within the CO to support the response. This will be coordinated through the Crisis Coordination Group (CCG) call with the support of the CI HR Coordinator who is responsible for deployments. The CI HR coordinator will consult with CI Secretariat communications to determine which individual either in CI or on the CI-RED (deployment roster) is most appropriate and available to deploy and support. With the support of the Regional Communications Advisor, LM Media Manager, CI Secretariat Communications and COMWG, and in coordination with the CO, key responsibilities of the Emergency Communications Officer include: act as main contact for journalists and CI members for media requests; arrange media interviews with CARE staff; act as spokesperson when appropriate; arrange media visits to see CARE’s work; produce and disseminate communications and media materials such as talking points, press releases, stories, blogs, photos; manage/hire photographer or videographer; develop media strategy; train CO staff on media relations; and share news updates and media angles with CI. See Annex for a sample TOR for an ECO. Note: For large-scale emergencies, the ECO may be replaced by an Emergency Communications Manager, a longer-term position. See Annex for a sample TOR for an Emergency Communications Manager.
Country Director (or Assistant Country Director or Emergency Team Leader) If there is no CO Communications Officer, the Country Director, Assistant Country Director or Emergency Team Leader are usually the first point of contact for information about the emergency. Responsibilities include: approves communications materials as per the CI sign-off procedures; does media interviews (should be media trained) or appoints a staff member to do media interviews (local and female where possible); provides necessary information for the production of communications materials; in consultation with CI through the Crisis Coordination Group (CCG), ensures and supports timeliness of communications/media support to the CO to raise the profile of the emergency and supports media and CARE member visits. If there is no CO Communications Officer, the CD will appoint a CO media focal to handle media calls. The Regional Communications Advisor will also support.
COMWG The Communications Working Group (COMWG) is a network of all communications and media experts in offices across CI. Responsibilities of COMWG members include: raise awareness of CARE’s emergency responses and ongoing emergencies through all available media channels; provide support as needed for the production of media and communications materials; in coordination with the ECO/RCA, prepare media materials for their own national market. Full COMWG TOR here.

Follow-the-sun is a method of interdependent working in which responsibility for global emergency communications coordination passes between CI Secretariat communications, CARE USA, and CARE Australia according to working hours in different time zones. From 09:00-18:00 Central European Time, CI Secretariat communications is responsible for global emergency communications coordination; when responsibility transfers to the Media Advisor at CARE Australia or the Director of Communications at CARE USA under the follow-the-sun protocol, they will then be referred to as the ‘Office-in-Charge for global emergency communications coordination’.

The Office-in-Charge will fulfil the duties of CI Secretariat communications, including to:

  • Help coordinate, arrange and manage requests from across the membership in terms of media interviews with our allocated spokespeople and log media interviews
  • Monitor and keep an eye on the relevant news coming out on the crisis in case of any issues/opportunities
  • As/where needed help follow up on getting new content, updating talking points and developing media releases on the situation while other members are asleep
  • Ensure spokespeople are briefed of any changes in talking points/sensitivities
  • Provide feedback to spokespeople where needed
  • Provide a daily end of day update to the email chain on the what’s been done/what needs to be handed over in terms of media and any other content, as well as any other issues that may have arisen during your timezone that are relevant for others to be aware of.

The follow-the-sun protocol applies seven days a week. NOTE: CI Secretariat communications retains the authority at all times to intervene if needed or mediate any differences of opinion regarding communications coordination in emergencies.

A COMWG contact list can be found here.


Time (Central European Time) Office-in-charge for global emergency communications coordination
9:00-18:00 CI Secretariat – Geneva/London
18:00-00:00 USA – Washington DC/New York
00:00-09:00 Australia – Melbourne

Example of follow-the-sun in practice: If an earthquake hits the Philippines (where CARE USA is the Lead Member) at 05:00 Central European Time (23:00 New York time, and 13:00 Melbourne time), it is the responsibility of the CARE Australia media team as the Office-in-Charge for global emergency communications coordination to coordinate emergency communications and produce communications materials on behalf of the confederation, until CI Secretariat communications takes over communications coordination at 09:00 CET. At 18:00 CET, CI Secretariat communications passes the role of Office-in-Charge to CARE USA.

NOTE: If it is a large disaster with high casualty rates, and/or high media interest and/or extensive damage, the first office to hear of the disaster is to call CI Secretariat communications OR the CI Humanitarian Director immediately, regardless of the time.

Sudden-onset crises are what most people associate with the word emergency. They are usually characterised by a large-scale loss of or threat to life, injury, or damage to assets and property. The emergency situation is usually caused by a single sudden shock, for example, an outbreak of violence which prompts large-scale displacement or a natural disaster such as an earthquake or cyclone.

slow-onset crisis, however, does not arise from a distinct event but rather emerges gradually over months, or even years, often resulting from a confluence of different factors or events. A good example of a slow-onset crisis is drought. Lack of rainfall does not create an emergency overnight, but over time and without intervention, it leads to inadequate harvests, death of livestock and water shortages, which in turn can cause a loss of livelihoods and income, hunger, malnutrition and the spread of communicable diseases.

Although an emergency response is intended to be a time-bound life-saving intervention, in reality, in many contexts, emergency humanitarian assistance is being provided year after year. Protracted emergencies are situations where a significant part of the population is acutely vulnerable and dependent on humanitarian assistance over a prolonged period of time. In many cases, this period becomes so long that the emergency has become the normal situation.

Typically, slow-onset and protracted crises – while no less devastating to those affected than rapid onset crises – are harder to communicate on and raise global media attention and awareness of.

As a result, protracted and slow onset crises require different and more nuanced communications tactics in order to gain media interest and raise public awareness.

For example in a protracted crisis, we can look at the following hooks and angles to help try and raise media awareness:

  • Key anniversaries: You could plan follow-up stories to coincide with key anniversaries such as six months on, one year on, etc. The Lead Member should get updated communications materials, as well as issue an update. You could approach journalists who visited the first time around to see if they’d be interested in revisiting the affected communities to see how recovery has progressed and our response has moved on.
  • Donor conferences can provide a much-needed spotlight on the recovery phase that follows an emergency. Policy-makers, donors and the media consider the longer-term issues, offering an excellent opportunity to highlight development issues, or pressing humanitarian issues that are being overlooked. You could issue a press release highlighting an area that needs additional funding, or prepare a briefing to distribute at the conference.
  • Focus on reproductive health: CARE has a crisis calculator for the number of pregnant and breastfeeding women in a given emergency, that can help provide impactful statistics. Generally, the issue of women’s access to maternal health services, safe delivery and post-natal care are issues that people can relate to, and they make for compelling stories.
  • Monitoring financial commitments: In the immediate aftermath of an emergency, donors are quick to make commitments to fundraising appeals. Often, weeks and months later, these commitments have not been disbursed. Monitoring disbursements can throw up stories of donors failing to honour their commitments; consider whether you want to highlight this privately with donors, or more publicly through the media.
  • New information: Reports that contain new information are a very useful way of getting donors and policy-makers’ attention after the media spotlight has moved on. You should consider issuing a report on some of the most serious issues still affecting women and girls. CARE Rapid Gender Analyses (RGAs) can be useful sources of this kind of women and girls’ specific information.
  • Trends: Staff working directly on the recovery phase of an emergency response should keep a look-out for trends. For example, it is relatively common for early marriages and child labour to increase in the aftermath of an emergency. Trends such as these may require some additional programming and can also attract renewed media interest.
  • Disaster risk reduction: Is there a story about how we have helped communities prepare for this emergency? Is there evidence to show that this work has saved lives?

CARE International guidelines for communicating in slow onset and chronic emergencies can be found HERE and below:

22.16 CET_Communications in Emergencies_Guidelines for Slow Onset and Chronic Crises_060214