Left to Right: Elizabeth Riley, CDEMA & Julie Chung
February 19, 2021
Vincentian media practitioners to participate in the Crisis Communication Tech Camp

by Bria King

Media practitioners across the English-speaking Caribbean have been tapped to take part in a programme that will tackle crisis communication techniques necessary during a natural disaster.

A Crisis Communications Tech Camp was officially launched this week through the partnership of the US Department of State and the Caribbean Disaster and Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA).

The tech camp was scheduled to take place in Barbados from May 9 to 11, 2021. However, due to the COVID-19 situation, it has been postponed to May 2022.

Several Vincentian media practitioners are registered to participate in the Crisis Communication Tech Camp, including SEARCHLIGHT reporter, Bria King.

“As evident in the current global pandemic we’re living in, the disasters we face are not concerned with boundaries. We must work beyond our own borders and overcome limitations through effective cooperation,” Julie Chung, the acting assistant secretary in the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs in the US Department of State told journalists at Wednesday’s virtual launch.

She added that “the pandemic has shown us just how important technology is to communicate in novel and difficult situations. It’s highlighted the need for clear, consistent, credible and apolitical communication”.

The US Department of State official noted that the theme of the tech camp addresses how a successful crisis communication strategy can be effectively implemented during disasters.

This strategy should also address four phases of emergency management: mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery.

Chung said that the workshop seeks to improve the ability of regional journalists to create digital communications during natural disasters while combatting disinformation.

As such, there will be opportunities to learn from experts on technologies, innovative techniques, how to fact check, how to enhance your communications.

“And after the tech camp, some of you might focus on sharing new ideas and strategies with your newsrooms. Some of you might actively apply new reporting techniques of cutting-edge technologies to your investigative work. Others of you might learn new ways to engage local communities and attract new audiences to your work through a new digital media campaign,” she said.

Elizabeth Riley, acting executive director at CDEMA also delivered remarks at the virtual launch and meet and greet session for the upcoming tech camp.

She noted that the culture of CDEMA’s coordinating unit is one that embraces the idea that effective communications is critical to safely navigating any emergency scenario.

“Crisis communications in particular is a strategic approach to corresponding with organisations and people during a disruptive event. From where we all sit today, we are no strangers to disruptive events, especially as it relates to COVID-19, which has impacted the whole world in the last year and change how we operate on a daily basis,” Riley said.

CDEMA’s acting executive director highlighted that the Caribbean is familiar with threats of natural disasters, which often include storms, hurricanes and other severe weather events.

She also added that the agency was currently monitoring the ongoing effusive eruption at La Soufriere in St Vincent and the Grenadines.

And the uncertainty, change in dynamic and extended timeline for the eruption, coupled with the pandemic has proven to be an additional challenge that requires more than basic crisis communication tactics.

“How we manage communication before, during and after an event can make the difference between confidence and mistrust, success and failure and sometimes, life and death,” Riley said. “When a crisis emerges, proactive, quick and detailed communication is critical to manage the chain of events that follows since effective crisis communication can provide necessary information to keep stakeholders informed, instruct and calm a nervous public, reduce mis and disinformation, rally support and instil confidence in leadership and decision making.”

Following the official launch of the programme, journalists were ushered into breakout rooms on the Zoom platform to meet each other and engage in conversation about some of the challenges they face as it relates to crisis communication.
While the official programme is not scheduled to take place until May 2022, registered participants will continue to be engaged leading up to the event, with virtual workshops scheduled for March and April 2021.

These workshops will cover digital visualisation tools for reporting during a crisis, digital storytelling and other areas of interest that were identified by journalists via a survey.