Effectively relaying information is one of the most important aspects of disaster preparedness, immediate relief, and long-term recovery. The need for timely, reliable, and accurate communication cuts across all areas of disaster response and rebuilding—successful mitigation and community resiliency are dependent upon effective communication networks.

  • One of the biggest challenges during and immediately following a disaster is the need for timely and accurate information. This challenge is compounded when electric power lines and cell towers are damaged and inoperable.
  • Philanthropic organizations know their communities, and grantmakers have deep and far-reaching connections that include nonprofits, government agencies, policymakers, healthcare institutions, local businesses and chambers of commerce. This is a valuable and powerful network that can be organized and mobilized in a streamlined and efficient manner pre-and post-disaster. Moreover, these industries contain extensive networks and provide an even farther reach into all facets of society.
  • It is important to develop a comprehensive local, regional and statewide communications strategy—which also includes local, county and state government agencies—in advance of a disaster.
  • It will take considerable time and resources to develop a communications plan, but this investment is critical in order to:
    • facilitate the timely flow of relevant information;
    • coordinate recovery efforts;
    • avoid duplication;
    • identify the gaps or those individuals/communities that might be falling through the cracks, and
    • maximize efforts to the fullest extent.


Innovative Practices

Before a crisis hits your community:

  • Develop an internal organization-wide plan for communicating with organizational staff and Board members. The plan should include:
    • Details on how staff will communicate pre-and post-disaster (cell phone, landline, satellite phone, ham radio, email, social media, and/or a dedicated page on your website, etc.);
    • A strategy for who in your organizations will initiate the communications;
    • Details on a meeting or working location that is different from your office in the event that your office is damaged;
  • Convene a Communications Task Force to develop a strategy for communicating with individuals external to your organization, such as grantees, philanthropic and nonprofit organizations and colleagues, government agencies and officials, emergency management personnel, donors and potential donors, and local/regional media. This plan should be developed cooperatively with these stakeholders.
  • Practice implementing your Communications Strategy and share that strategy with the community at-large so that everyone understands how they can receive and distribute reliable information;
  • Support the development of your grantees’ communications plans.

Communications in Crisis: CDP and the Florida Philanthropic Network Discuss best practices.

After a crisis or disaster hits your community:

  • Activate your Communications Strategy;
  • Call upon your Communications Task Force for help in obtaining reliable and timely information;
  • Establish weekly conference calls with updates from individuals working on the front lines of the relief, response and recovery efforts;
  • Establish a listserve and distribute relevant news articles, FEMAFederal Emergency Management Agency information, and other updates from the field;
  • Communicate regularly with your:
    • Governor’s Office, State Commissioners, State and Local Elected Officials;
    • US Senate and House Representatives;
    • FEMAFederal Emergency Management Agency personnel;
    • Members of the Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters (VOAD, COADCommunity Organization Active in Disaster, Long Term-Recovery Group Leaders);
    • National disaster response nonprofits including the American Red Cross, Salvation Army, World Renew, United Methodist Committee on Relief, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, Catholic Charities, Nechama: Jewish Response to Disaster, and Habitat for Humanity among others.


Key Takeaways

  1. The philanthropic and nonprofit sectors have extensive networks that can reach most residents and business owners.
  2. Invest resources in developing both internal and external communications strategies
  3. It is critical to maintain open lines of communication with your Governor’s office, county government executives, and/or the local mayors’ offices.