2. Critical Steps in Communication & Media Management

Being prepared for an emergency is critical. An emergency is not the time for educating staff about media work! Below are some basic tips for being prepared to handle media in emergencies.

Being prepared is the key to maximising opportunities for gathering communications material, especially as time will be of the essence. This includes giving some thought to the following:

Checklist: Before an emergency: be prepared

Country Offices:

  • Ensure media and communications are in your Emergency Preparedness Plan. What support will you need if an emergency hits? Are there any sensitive issues you need to be aware of, like ethnic divisions, political controversies, government view of NGOs? How will you manage communications in an emergency if there is an Internet outage or the mobile network is down?
  • Identify your spokespeople. This will likely be the Country Director (CD) and Assistant Country Director (ACD), and Emergency Team Leader if you have one. Ensure they have media training.
  • Identify your media focal point. Who will handle media requests until an Emergency Communications Officer is deployed? This will likely be your Communications Officer if you have one, or your ACD or Emergency Team Leader.
  • Implement a Country Office Media Policy. Ensure your staff know what to do if they are approached by a journalist. Monitor national news for information relevant to CARE’s work.
  • Ask your Lead Member or Regional Communications Advisor for media relations training for your senior staff so you have the skills and confidence to handle media interviews in an emergency.
  • Have communications equipment on hand. Ensure you have a camera, branded clothing and stickers, etc.

CARE International Members:

  • Ensure media and communications are in your Emergency Preparedness Plan. What support will you need if an emergency hits? Do you have holiday coverage for spokespeople or to ensure sign-off, or to launch an appeal? Does everyone know their roles and responsibilities? Do you have a pre-approved statement to post on your website immediately after a disaster strikes to show CARE is prepared to respond?
  • Do you have a staff member on the CI Roster for Emergency Deployment (CI-RED)? Having a staff member on the CI-RED increases your chances of having one of your nationals deployed to an emergency, which can be of interest to your national media and ensure you have a native speaker available for interviews.
  • Identify who is your communications focal point for emergency media. This person should be monitoring your media on a regular basis for angles of new and ongoing emergencies that would be of interest in your media market.
  • Clarify your approval procedures. Who do you need to sign off your press releases?
  • Identify spokespeople in your office and ensure they have media relations training.
  • Coordinate with fundraising. Who can sign off on launching an appeal?
  • Develop a list of key contacts: photographers, journalists, videographers etc.

When an emergency hits, there will be precious little time to think or plan. This section provides detail on the different aspects of handling communications in an emergency; this is intended to be read before the emergency hits. In the midst of an emergency, our Number One resource will be the Critical first steps in emergency media management checklist. This summarizes the critical first steps in emergency media management. The following sections provide additional detail on each of those steps.

There are 3 main email lists for the sharing of humanitarian communications materials. Some are much bigger than others, so it is important to think carefully about who needs what information when choosing which list to use and also making sure to group as much content together as possible before sharing, to limit the number of different emails CARE staff receive.

CI – Emergency Information – your main list in an emergency

  • For ALL signed off communications materials including photos/video
  • N.B. contains programme staff (i.e. water, sanitation & hygiene experts) so try not to overburden and group content into as few emails as possible!
  • Also contains CI-Media and CI-COMWG mailing lists so no need to cross post

CI – COMWG – all communications/fundraising staff

  • Meant more as a way of sharing, updating and asking questions
  • Can send material you think would ONLY be of interest to comms/fundraising colleagues. i.e. a press release on local issues further into a protracted emergency

CI – Media – media focal points

  • Restricted list: only a small handful of key media focal points from each office. Used for embargoed press releases/op-eds, heads up on sensitive issues/potential spokesperson opportunities and media pitches


It is critical to obtain proper sign off before sharing any media or communications materials with the CARE membership.

Sign-off protocol:


  • Country Director (CD) or Officer in Charge

N.B. CD may choose to delegate to another team member (i.e. emergency team leader) but check first


  • Also the relevant CO line manager from CARE Lead Member
  • CI Secretariat’s Head of Global Communications


  • The CD or designated approver from each country and someone from regional team if this exists

You may also want to copy CI Secretariat communications or Lead Member communications in.

CARE International’s full sign off process can be found in the Global Communications Handbook (page 14)

Checklist: Critical first steps in emergency media management for the first 72 hours in a rapid-onset emergency

The Lead Member (LM) Media Manager and CI Secretariat communications will work together with the Country Office(CO)/Regional Management Unit (RMU) to do the following: :

  • CO media focal point: Decide on immediate media focal point in CO and tell all staff to channel media requests through the media focal point.
  • Spokespeople: Identify approved CO spokespeople. Provide CI with spokesperson names, contact info, nationalities, languages spoken and headshots. Ensure all staff are aware that only authorised spokespersons should give interviews. Provide media coaching to spokespeople when needed, and ensure they have updated talking points. CI Members can also use their own staff as spokespeople unless otherwise advised. You can create a spokespeople grid.
  • Who’s doing what: Divide responsibilities for handling press releases, talking points, CI member requests, media etc. between LM, CO, Regional Communications Advisor and CI Secretariat communications. Notify COMWG of who’s doing what.
  • Approval procedures: Agree on approval procedures for press releases, talking points, human interest stories etc. as per the sign-off protocol in the Communications Handbook (page 12).
  • Media strategy: Develop an initial media strategy. Identify any security risks/political sensitivities, advocacy messages, etc. Example strategy: Ukraine crisis global communications strategy and risk analysis.
  • Workplan: Develop a communications workplan for the early stages of the emergency.  This should include: press releases, key messages, stories of those impacted by the emergency, photos/videos, CARE’s response to the emergency (interviews with staff, broll of distributions or other CARE activities) and possibly blogs.
  • Deploy Emergency Communications Officer(s) and/or photographer/videographer: Determine if it is necessary/beneficial to deploy an Emergency Communications Officer(s) and/or photographer/videographer. If yes, they should be identified and deployed ideally within 48 hours as per the personnel deployment protocol. Notify COMWG immediately and send contact information for Emergency Communications Officer.
  • Sharing information: Send all approved information to
    ci-emergencyinformation@careinternational.org; copy relevant CO/RMU staff. Post press releases, blogs and stories on Reliefweb. Send press releases to submit@reliefweb.int.
  • In the first hour:
    • CO media focal point information
    • Spokespeople information and headshots
    • Direct quotes/observations from CO staff or CD to use with media or for social media posts
  • Within 3-12 hours of an emergency:
    • Customised pre-approved emergency boilerplate statement (updated as more information arrives)
    • Relevant twitter handles (key CO and emergency staff)
    • Press release or short media statement
    • Fact sheet or basic information about CO programming – example of fact sheet
    • Photos (from CO preferably, or link to Reuters AlertNet photos)
    • As soon as a CARE person is on the ground: audio clips of observations/quotes or video (mobile footage is OK, but consider using a pin mike)
  • Within 12-24 hours, the following should ideally be sent to CI:
    • Blog, story or more direct quotes from CO staff
    • Initial short talking points and/or Q&As
    • Dollar handles
    • Number of CO staff: local and international
    • Regular e-mail update(s) with any additional information or guidance
  • Within 48-72 hours, the following should ideally be sent to CI:
    • Initial fundraising target and press release announcing launch of appeal
    • Content for emergency factsheet sent to CEG, who will arrange for design
    • Video (if connectivity permits) – mobile footage is OK, but consider using a pin mike
    • Fundraising pipeline (how much has been raised so far)
  • Ongoing activities:
    • Identify and share stories, photos and media hooks featuring women and highlight how CARE’s response is particularly helping/empowering women.
    • Establish a media contact list and a media log to keep a written record of when contacts with the media take place, the name of the journalist and subjects discussed. Alert the relevant CI Member if you have contact with a journalist from their market.
    • Proactively develop relationships with media on the ground for maximum coverage.
    • Develop and share ongoing materials for communications use, including further press releases, twitter/social media updates, updated messaging, Q&As, human interest stories, blogs, photos, video, etc.
    • Arrange journalist visits to CARE sites. If a journalist visits a CARE site, have a CARE staff member and preferably the Emergency Communications Officer with the journalist at all times. Provide logistical support to journalists when possible.
    • Assessment of media demand on Country Office and whether LM Executive Management Team member or other leader is needed for reinforcement, to do media interviews and take pressure off CO spokespeople.
    • Be aware of the domestic media reactions to CARE’s presence in the emergency. Work with the CO Communications Officer (if available) to liaise with domestic media.
    • Develop an appropriate response to any negative/inaccurate media coverage.

NOTE: The above timeframes are ideal targets only for rapid onset emergencies. In some cases it will take longer to get certain information, deploy staff, or even contact the CO due to communications difficulties.

An Emergency Communications Officer may need to be deployed to meet CI communications requirements. Either through the Crisis Communications Group (CCG) call or in direct talks, the Lead Member and the CO, in consultation with the Regional Communications Advisor and CI Secretariat communications, will advise if they need support in deployment of an Emergency Communications Officer. If support is needed, the CI HR Coordinator will immediately consult with CI Secretariat Communications to determine who is best suited and available to deploy. An Emergency Communications Officer (ECO) will usually be deployed for two-three weeks to support CARE’s emergency response. If a CO does have a Communications Officer, they will work closely with the ECO. Deployment should follow the standard personnel deployment procedures as described in the CARE Emergency Toolkit Chapter 21: Human Resources.

If you are deploying as an Emergency Communications Officer, see the (What to do when deploying as an Emergency Communications Officer?) checklist. Funding for communications deployments should be covered by project proposals, or through interim funding through the Emergency Response Fund (ERF) or LM; if this is not possible, CI Secretariat communications can ask ERWG/COMWG members if they would be willing to contribute funds. See Communications Budget in Emergencies for cost estimates for communications positions. At the end of a deployment, the ECO must provide a written or verbal handover to CI Secretariat communications or the Regional Communications Advisor and whoever will be responsible for managing any future communications for the emergency, including the media log, updated media strategy (if available), and any outstanding tasks.

Whether or not to send an Emergency Communications Officer depends on:

  • size and scope of the emergency including anticipated impact;
  • capacity of the CO to manage communications needs;
  • potential for negative media coverage or risk to CARE’s programs and staff;
  • level of media and donor interest;
  • potential for the ECO to support CARE advocacy or fundraising objectives;
  • specific interest of one or more CI Members who are willing to offer communications capacity or funding to deploy an ECO;
  • uniqueness of CARE’s response (does CARE have a unique story to tell?)

Mega or “corporate” emergencies (Type 4): Additional communications support will be required for Type 4 emergencies. See Annex 13.5 Checklist for Type 4 mega-emergencies for full detail.

Ongoing or protracted emergencies: Emergency Communications Officer(s) are deployed for two-three weeks on a rotating basis during periods of high media interest or critical changes in the emergency; OR a national Communications Officer is hired and trained for longer-term coordination of the situation; OR funding is secured for a long-term deployment of an Emergency Communications Manager.

Go Kit for Emergency Communications Officer

The Emergency Communications Officer should be deployed with this equipment from their own office (see check list for Go Kit below). Clarify this when arranging deployment. Upon arrival in the CO, the Emergency Communications Officer should acquire a local mobile phone (prepaid or with sufficient credit); this will save enormously on international calls and provide an additional number to be reached on.


  • Make sure the Emergency Communications Officer is equipped with a Go Kit before deployment.

Checklist: Emergency Communications Officer Go Kit requirements

  • Laptop computer and charger (a car charger cable is also recommended)
  • Web cam and headset (for Skype calls and Skype video calls)
  • Basic stationary supplies (only necessary if responding in a location where CARE does not already have an office and supplies are likely unavailable)
  • Plug adapter and converter
  • Camera (4 megapixels minimum), extra batteries, charger, memory cards (2GB minimum).
  • Video camera or a camera that can also shoot video. A tripod. Extra batteries, charger, memory cards
  • Consent forms
  • Pin mike for use with mobile phones
  • Flash drives (memory stick)
  • Business cards
  • International cell phone and charger (a car charger cable is also recommended)
  • Satellite phone, depending on the location
  • CARE visibility materials including CARE t-shirts and caps, large CARE stickers (for cars and trucks) and
  • CARE flags (for food/relief item distribution points, warehouses, temporary office)
  • Flashlight/torch, mosquito net, bed sheet etc. depending on location