By Daryl Lee Spiewak, CEM, TEM, MEP, Lead Trainer for the CEM Commission, and Chair, IAEM-Global Communications Work Group
Last month we discussed Implementation related to Crisis Communications and Public Information. This month continues our discussion of Implementation, with a focus on Warning, Notifications, and Communications Systems.
According to NFPA 1600 version 2013, Warning systems include systems designed to warn people (the Whole Community) that there is a threat or hazard and to take protective action. These can include warning systems such as “fire alarms, emergency voice communication, public address, and mass notification” systems. Notification systems are used to alert members of response, continuity, and recovery teams as well as external resources (public emergency services), regulators, management, and so forth. Communications systems include all the different wired and wireless voice and data communications systems, manual paper systems, and other means of communications used by emergency personnel and first responders to communicate with each other.
FEMA’s Independent Study Course IS-230d, “Fundamentals of Emergency Management,” states that the warning function, a core function of emergency management, “ensures that warning information is available to the public and pre-scripted messages have been prepared for identified threats and hazards.” It then goes on to define the communications function as including “the systems and procedures that responders and other emergency personnel use to communicate with each other (i.e., not with the public) during emergencies.” Notification is not specified as a core function, but it is covered within other activities and in the emergency support functions (ESF) used by FEMA in the United States.
To warn people potentially at risk, to alert people to respond, and to enable communications between responders, the Warning, Notification, and Communications Systems must be reliable, redundant, and interoperable. Reliable means that the systems and equipment are “immediately available and functional.” One way to ensure reliability is to have redundant systems and equipment, that is, system backups and replacements.
This could be rather expensive, but it helps ensure that the systems are in place and the equipment is ready to provide those warnings, notifications, and communications when needed. Interoperable means the “ability of diverse personnel, systems, and organizations to work together seamlessly.” You also will find these discussed in FEMA Independent Study Course IS-230d.
The standard goes on to state entities must develop, test, and use emergency warning, notification, and communications protocols and procedures “to alert stakeholders potentially at risk from an actual or impending incident.” It further states these “procedures shall include issuing warnings through authorized agencies if required by law as well as the use of prescripted information bulletins or templates.”
Prescripted bulletins and templates save much time during an emergency situation. They help ensure that needed information is included and not overlooked in the moment. They also provide the consistency that is necessary to provide credibility to the emergency messages.
FEMA Independent Study Course IS-242b, “Effective Communication,” discusses methods and techniques for creating and disseminating emergency messages to the Whole Community. It describes the differences between routine day-to-day communications and emergency communications. It presents strategies for meeting the communications needs of the Whole Community. It also provides “strategies for communicating effectively in an emergency situation.”
Following the techniques and strategies presented in IS-244b will help you and your program meet your Whole Community’s warning, notification, and communications needs as well as prepare for the certification examination.
IAEM-USA certification candidates also should review the sections of the National Incident Management System (NIMS) document that relate to communications and information management. Here you will find discussions on Concepts and Principles, Management Characteristics, and Organization and Operations.
The application process for both the CEM® and the AEM® does not require the candidate to address Warning, Notification, and Communications Systems as one of the required Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities (KSA) components for the emergency management essay. If it is chosen as a problem area or objective, do not forget to address each component – Warning, Notifications, and Communications – unless you are specifically focusing only on one of them.
For examination purposes, candidates should be familiar with the concepts, techniques, and strategies discussed in IS-230.d, IS-244.b, and the NIMS documents.
Here are two core-type questions for our analysis in this article.
1. During your research of the Whole Community’s communication needs, you discover there are people with both functional and access needs. As the message originator, how would you ensure effective communication messages meet their needs?
a. Design the message content using nonstandard language formats and technical terminology for translation using audio by text-to-speech equipment.
b. Present the least important information first and build your case to the most important.
c. Provide ample text and audio to explain images or maps so that message recipients can understand the meaning of what is being conveyed graphically.
d. Use abbreviations to keep the message content short and concise.
This question is asking you first to understand how to respond to functional and access needs when communicating with members of the Whole Community, and then to employ correct techniques to craft or design emergency messages. The first response says to use nonstandard language formats and technical terminology, but audio by text-to-speech equipment is not able to properly translate them in a way that is easily understood. Therefore, this response is incorrect. The second response has the process reversed. Emergency messages should begin with the most important information first.
The third response of providing adequate audio and text explaining any graphics is necessary when people may become confused by the graphics and when using audio by text-to-speech equipment. Without adequate descriptions, the graphics will be ineffective for people with functional and access needs. The fourth response is also incorrect because using clear and simple language is an important component of emergency communications and using abbreviations results in the opposite effect. Therefore, the correct response is c. See IS 244.b.
2. Communications is one of the core functions of emergency management. What is the definition of this function?
a. Ensures that warning information is available to the public and pre-scripted messages have been prepared for identified threats and hazards.
b. Includes providing information to the whole community before, during, and after an emergency
c. Includes the systems and procedures that emergency personnel use to communicate with each other (i.e., not with the public) during emergencies.
d. Includes the systems and procedures that emergency personnel use to communicate with the public (i.e., not with responders and other emergency personnel) during emergencies.
In this question, we are asking you to recognize and know the definitions of the core functions of emergency management. The first response seems to define communications, as it mentions providing information to the Whole Community. But in reality it defines the warning function. Therefore, response a. is incorrect. The second response of providing emergency information is actually the definition of External Affairs/Emergency Public Information. We discussed this in last month’s article.
The third response and the fourth response are similar. The difference between the two responses is who is communicating with whom. In the third response, the communication is between emergency personnel and not the public, which correctly defines the communication function. Communication with the public is covered under the External Affairs/Emergency Public Information function. Therefore, the only correct response is c. See IS 230.d.
When reading the questions and responses, be sure that you understand exactly what the question is asking of you, and read each response before selecting the correct one. Don’t get confused between communications in general and the Communications function of emergency management. Also, understand the Warning function and External Affairs/Emergency Public Information function and how they differ from the Communications function.
Next month we continue our discussion of Implementation with a focus on Operational Procedures covering Incident Management and the Emergency Operations Center. We also will analyze some practice exam questions. As usual, please send any questions you have about the examination or the certification process to me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I will address them in future articles.
IAEM Bulletin, November 2016
AEM® and CEM® are registered trademarks of the International Association of Emergency Managers.