Many emergency managers are anxious to have standardised information on risk and disasters in order to ensure that messages are reliable and consistent. This is a particular concern with forecasts and warnings of imminent events, where mixed and inaccurate messages can prompt inappropriate responses, may lead to confusion or even chaos and, ultimately, magnify the impact of the disaster. Messages should be reliable, consistent, easy to understand and act upon and credible (i.e. from trusted sources).
Agencies should therefore coordinate their messages. For example, in the United States a number of organisations have come together to develop standard messages relating to hazards, preparedness, evacuation and shelter; the IFRC has produced a set of key messages on DRR to be used in public education; and the Communicating with Disaster Affected Communities (CDAC) Network hosts an online searchable database of messages for use in preparedness and emergencies.+See http://www.cdacnetwork.org/tools-and-resources/message-library.
In practice, people seek to validate information they receive by cross-checking it with other people and sources, such as friends, neighbours, family, community activists or leaders, radio, social media, websites and television. They may well follow the actions of other people they know. This can happen even when emergency warnings are issued and swift response action is required. Furthermore, in an age where people have access to more and more sources of information – in the media and on the internet – controlling and centralising information is no longer feasible, except perhaps under a few authoritarian regimes, where in any case the public may not trust official sources.
Disaster managers nowadays have to work with communities that are increasingly able to choose and question the information they receive. They need to acquire more extensive skills in media management. They will also have to move away from the old supply-side approach to communications, where experts at the top or centre issue information outwards and downwards to target groups, and adopt a more demand-led approach that sees communities at risk as consumers of information from different sources, exercising a right to choose what information to use and where to obtain it. This may require DRR organisations to become knowledge brokers and facilitators of discussion, as well as being producers and disseminators of information. This will make their task more difficult, without doubt. Communities are able to use multiple sources of information effectively to reduce the impact of potential disasters, although their capacities to do so will often need to be reinforced.