4. Emergency communications in a sensitive context

Communications activities should not impede our programming activities or threaten the security and safety of our staff. When responding to an emergency, there are a multitude of opportunities and risks you need to consider.

The country director, response team leader, security adviser and communications team should carry out an  initial risk assessment for communications activities. This should be reviewed frequently to ensure that security is maintained while communication opportunities are maximised.

Before engaging in communications activities, it’s important to conduct a rapid communications risk assessment to determine if there are any risks we need to be aware of or that might present safety concerns for our staff, project participants or partners. Consult with other staff as appropriate depending on the nature of the emergency, such as program, security and advocacy colleagues. This could take a few minutes, or several hours; the point is to stop and think before moving ahead with public communications. See the CARE International Communications Handbook for more information about how to identify and mitigate risk. Some key questions to answer:

  • Is this a natural or complex disaster? A conflict?
  • Have CARE or other NGOs been threatened or attacked?
  • Are there government laws or sensitivities that limit how NGOs can communicate about the disaster, i.e. do we have to wait until the government declares an emergency?
  • Are there cultural or gender issues that might affect our messaging, particularly about women?
  • Are there any political or military sensitivities we should be aware of?
  • What are the risks associated with media engagement?
  • What are the risks of NOT speaking out?
  • Are there risks for CARE staff, partners or project participants? For example possibility of retribution for speaking about human rights abuses or rapes?
  • Is there a risk of distorting CARE’s image?
  • Does the importance of the message outweigh the risks, or can we mitigate the risks?

When communicating on a sensitive or high risk context, it is crucial to provide clear and detailed reasoning on why the decision was taken and the communications objectives and aims behind the decision to communicate as well as clear red lines, sensitivities and language to avoid. This helps CARE members understand the decision making process, the goals of the decision to communicate and have clear guidance on what they can and cannot say.

Example: Afghanistan messaging document

A template for a messaging document can be found HERE

A “crisis event” can be defined as an event that has a stressful impact sufficient enough to overwhelm the usually effective coping skills of an organisation.

Such events may include but are not limited to: abduction, kidnap or hostage-taking; murder or death in suspicious circumstances; incidents causing multiple casualties and requiring urgent response (medical, operational, psychosocial); arrest or detention; complex or large-scale evacuation or medevac; cyber-attacks; and other security situations or events causing a high degree of threat to staff.

In the event of this happening, CARE has a specialised Crisis Event Communications Team (CECT) who can support.

Details for members of the CECT team can be found on the Global Communications Hub HERE and below:

CECT contacts phone list

All advocacy and communications – whether conducted locally, nationally or internationally – have the potential to affect other parts of the organisation. It is therefore important for all advocacy and communications to adhere to CARE International’s approval procedures. This applies to both public and private messaging; although the risks associated with private messaging are lower, it can be assumed that private messaging could become public. Sign-off procedures in emergencies are designed to be fast and CO and LM staff must be prepared to approve communications materials within one hour. The CO and Emergency Communications Officer must clarify approval processes at the beginning of the emergency to speed up the process and ensure everyone is clear. Find out more in the Communications Handbook (page 12).

Guidance on the use of language in humanitarian settings can be found HERE and below:

Guidance on the use of language in humanitarian settings_030217