1. Role of media and communications in emergencies

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 response 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

Our communications work should place a specific focus on the impact of emergencies on women and girls as well as the role they play in response, preparedness and building back. We aim to advocate at all times for the specific gendered needs during a humanitarian response and for meaningful participation of women – especially locally-led women’s organisations – in the design and development of humanitarian responses at all levels. In particular, where appropriate, CARE’s communications work should aim to support the #SheLeadsInCrisis work, showcasing women as leaders of humanitarian response globally, and the 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 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), CEG Communications and CI Members (CIMs) to ensure needs are met and there is no duplication of efforts.

Position Key responsibilities
Lead Member Media Manager With the support of CEG Communications and COMWG and in coordination with the CO, the LM Media Manager is responsible to: provide emergency media support to their COs; ensure the timely provision of information and communication materials on rapid or slow-onset emergencies; ensure a senior CO staff person is designated as Media Focal Point; arrange for the deployment of an Emergency Communications Officer (ECO) and photographer/videographer if necessary; and arrange for sign-off of advocacy and 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 LM Media Manager will remotely fulfil the responsibilities of the ECO.
CEG Communications In coordination with the LM, CO and COMWG, CEG 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 CO or LM capacity, CEG Communications will fulfil some or all responsibilities of the ECO and/or LM Media Manager in an emergency.
CO Communications Officer (Please note: most COs do not have a Communications Officer. If there is no CO Communications Officer, the LM Media Manager and CEG will provide remote support until an ECO is deployed, and the CD will appoint a CO Media Focal Point to handle media calls.) With the support of the LM Media Manager, CEG Communications and COMWG, 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 beneficiary 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 CCG call with the support of the CEG HR Coordinator who is responsible for deployments. The CEG HR coordinator will consult with CEG Communications to determine which individual either in CEG or on the CI-RED is most appropriate and available to deploy and support. With the support of the LM Media Manager, CEG 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 CD, ACD 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; conducts media interviews; provides necessary information for the production of communications materials; in consultation with CEG through the CCG, ensures and supports timeliness of communications/media support to the CO to raise the profile of the emergency and supports media and CIM visits. If there is no CO Communications Officer, the CD will appoint a CO Media Focal Point to handle media calls.
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, 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 CEG, CARE USA, and CARE Australia according to working hours in different time zones. From 09:00-18:00 Central European Time, CEG 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 CEG Communications, including coordinating emergency communications activities, producing and sharing communications materials, and providing communications support to the CO.  Click here for the COMWG contact list. At the end of their ‘shift’, the outgoing Office-in Charge will provide any necessary handover information via e-mail or phone to the incoming Office-in-Charge. The Follow-the-Sun protocol applies seven days a week. NOTE: CEG Communications retains the authority at all times to intervene if needed or mediate any differences of opinion regarding communications coordination in emergencies.

Time (Central European Time) Office-in-charge for Global Emergency Communications Coordination
9:00-18:00 CEG – 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 Philippines (CARE USA LM) 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 CEG Communications take over communications coordination at 09:00 CET. At 18:00 CET, CEG passes the role of Office-in-Charge to CARE USA. Note: when the Office-in-Charge is not the LM, they will offer support LM as per the roles and responsibilities of CEG Communications.

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 CEG Communications OR the CI Humanitarian Director/HEO 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 to.

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 issuing an update. You could approach journalists who visited first time round to see if they’d be interested to revisit 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 stats. Generally the issue of women’s access to maternal health services, safe delivery and post-natal care are issues that people can generally relate to and 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 more lives?

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

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