PREPARING TO COMMUNICATE IN AN EMERGENCY
A study on BBC Media Action’s preparedness work in Nepal and Myanmar found that training and other activities allowed practitioners to build relationships and gain knowledge and skills that they later used in humanitarian emergencies (the 2015 Nepal earthquake and the 2015 floods in Myanmar). This enabled them to produce “Lifeline” programmes – containing relevant, potentially life-saving information – that audience members found valuable.
TRAINING BUILDS CONFIDENCE
Training BBC Media Action staff, particularly running crisis simulations, built their confidence to produce Lifeline programmes and to interact with media and humanitarian partners. Training a critical mass of staff enabled them to lead the media response to emergencies in both Nepal and Myanmar and support others who had not been trained.
Understanding the humanitarian system and the role of Lifeline programming helped staff communicate effectively with external partners. Local media practitioners were able to switch from normal journalism to Lifeline programming when emergencies arose, broadcasting critical information to meet audience needs and incorporating the voices of people directly affected by the emergencies.
BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS IMPROVES RESPONSES
Building relationships between government departments, aid agencies and media organisations led to timely, effective and wide reaching communication responses to the Nepal earthquake and the Myanmar floods.
Strong relationships encouraged these actors to trust each other and collaborate, which sped up decisions on broadcasting Lifeline programmes.
Humanitarian partners understood the role BBC Media Action and the media could play in an emergency and what information would be useful to audiences.
Training different organisations together forged useful relationships that enabled key actors to contact each other during emergencies.
DEDICATED RESOURCES SPEEDS THINGS UP
Dedicated staff at head office were on hand to support and advise country teams with planning and programming during the emergencies.
Ready-to-use tools and plans enabled quick decision-making and helped get Lifeline content on air quickly. Country-level preparedness plans included contact details for key humanitarian agencies, basic information for broadcast , and emergency safety procedures. Having a joint preparedness plan with a key local partner led to a quick collaborative response in both Nepal and Myanmar.
Having agreed information ready to broadcast, in the right language, that had been approved by key actors and tested with communities, was useful in being able to broadcast life-saving information quickly.
Previously developed production manuals for Lifeline programming translated into appropriate languages helped local media practitioners in both countries to create their own Lifeline content.
Lifeline radio programming for earthquake-affected communities in Nepal
PREPAREDNESS ACTIVITIES BEFORE THE 2015 EARTHQUAKE
BBC Media Action ran four training sessions on how to communicate with people affected by a humanitarian emergency. The 75 participants included individuals from humanitarian agencies, government departments, telecommunications and broadcasting.
BBC Media Action also held workshops with 30 media and relief providers to develop common messages to use in a humanitarian emergency. In addition, BBC Media Action took steps internally to prepare to respond in the event of a rapid-onset emergency.
• BBC Media Action staff
• Humanitarian actors from different UN clusters
• Telecommunication providers
• Government officials from the National Emergency Centre, the army and the police
• Broadcasters including the BBC World Service and national and local radio stations.
In locations prone to flooding, the organisation provided further training for 49 media and emergency relief providers. It also trained 23 army representatives in “Lifeline” programming – disseminating relevant, potentially life-saving information.
BBC Media Action and the BBC Nepali Service had a joint preparedness plan from early 2013 covering human resources, translated messages ready for broadcast in the event of an earthquake and technology back-up plans in case of power or equipment failures.
An emergency fund for Lifeline responses was available at BBC Media Action head office to enable rapid broadcasts at the onset of an emergency without relying on third-party funding.
BBC Media Action held workshops with 30 media and relief providers to develop common messages to use in a humanitarian emergency.
WHAT HAPPENED WHEN THE CRISIS HIT?
BBC Media Action and the BBC Nepali Service started broadcasting Lifeline messages within a few hours of the earthquake in the latter’s daily news bulletins. The day after the earthquake a special Lifeline programme was broadcast in the time slot and under the name of the long-running radio debate show Sajha Sawal (Common Questions). This programme provided potentially life-saving information via some 270 radio stations through the BBC Nepali Service and the Association of Community Radio Broadcasters.
On 4 May, nine days after the initial earthquake, the Lifeline team launched the radio magazine show Milijuli Nepali (Together Nepal). Its 15-minute episodes broadcast twice a day, six days a week across the entire country as a result of partnerships between BBC Nepali Service, British Forces Broadcasting Services and 400 other radio stations.
The content of Milijuli Nepali was informed by continuous needs assessments and audience feedback, incorporating secondary data sources and primary research conducted by BBC Media Action through Facebook and mobile app surveys in the most heavily affected districts. This information was shared with humanitarian actors through online dashboards2 to help them tailor their communication to meet communities’ needs.
1 Nepal Disaster Risk Reduction Portal. See: http://drrportal.gov.np
2 The dashboards can be found at: https://www.bbcmediaactionilearn.com/mod/page/view.php?id=349
WHAT DID LIFELINE PREPAREDNESS ACHIEVE?
BBC World Service and BBC Media Action were able to respond quickly by having preparedness plans in place, emergency funds lined up, and mentoring support ready to mobilise.
Humanitarian organisations understood the role of Lifeline programming which facilitated collaboration and information sharing with media actors, especially through a working group that was put into place.
Staff knowledge and confidence
Lifeline training gave BBC Media Action staff the confidence to produce a programme to provide life-saving information to earthquake-affected communities. They understood the role and principles of Lifeline programming, particularly the need to share practical, actionable information in the most appropriate formats. And they were committed to contributing to the emergency response by producing quality programmes.
BBC Media Action staff felt that their new relationships with humanitarian and government actors, as well as with BBC Nepali Service staff – built up before, during and after Lifeline training – were critical in helping them to acquire useful information to produce Milijuli Nepali.
Radio stations broadcast their own Lifeline content
Lifeline training resulted in national and local broadcasters incorporating Lifeline content into their programmes and facilitated their interactions with humanitarian agencies. Local media stations found that humanitarian actors were open to talking to journalists as they understood the value of Lifeline programming, which was not the case before the training.
Challenges in verifying information
Despite the relationships outlined above, getting accurate information, or verifying information, was challenging, as government officials and humanitarian agencies were extremely busy. Pre-prepared messages were useful, but only in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake. After that, people needed information that was more specific to the changing situation.
Joint preparedness plan facilitated a quick response.
BBC Media Action and the BBC Nepali Service’s3 joint preparedness plan specified emergency contacts, co-ordination points and next steps. BBC Media Action staff felt that this facilitated a quick and effective response by both organisations after the earthquakes, with a clear division of labour.
Co-ordination between the organisations was critical, as staff worked together in London and Nepal to produce and broadcast Lifeline content as quickly as possible. The Lifeline preparedness plan included a set of life-saving messages that were immediately broadcast in the relevant language directly after the earthquakes.
Emergency fund enabled quick employment of Lifeline staff
BBC Media Action staff said that the organisation’s emergency fund was helpful as they could quickly decide to employ two former staff members who were Lifeline experts.
Mentoring support was mobilised quickly
Project management support and Lifeline expertise from London, as well as from BBC Media Action offices in neighbouring countries and the wider BBC, helped get the Lifeline project off the ground quickly in Nepal. 4
Difficulty estimating listener numbers
BBC Media Action staff explained that, although they were in contact with most partner radio stations, it was difficult to contact some partners and therefore they could not be sure of the programme’s full audience reach. 5
3BBC Nepali is one of the 27 language services provided under the BBC World Service’s foreign-language output. BBC Media Action’s country office in Nepal produces its own programmes that are broadcast on partner stations.
4Communicating with Disaster Affected Communities Network (May 2016) Are you listening now? Community perspectives on communicating with communities during the Nepal earthquake response. Available from: http://www.cdacnetwork.org/tools-and-resources/i/20160811085949-qjzug.
5Qualitative evaluation for Office of US Foreign Disaster Assistance in January 2013, with two focus groups with audience members in each district (Rasuwa, Nuwakot and Gorkha).
Relationships facilitated the response
BBC Media Action staff felt that collaboration and information sharing went more smoothly because organisations involved in the UN cluster system, and other relevant humanitarian and media organisations, understood the role of Lifeline programming as a result of Lifeline training and organisational relationships established during preparedness work. A previously established Communication with Communities working group was in place, which also helped BBC Media Action to work in a co-ordinated way with other humanitarian actors.
Competition for the best broadcast slots
Although relationships between organisations existed at a local level, during the earthquake response there was an influx of international humanitarian staff who were not familiar with Lifeline programming or the role of BBC Media Action. Competition for broadcast slots increased as different humanitarian agencies pitched to broadcast programmes. BBC Media Action’s research participants felt this led to Milijuli Nepali being broadcast at a time when some rural audience members were working or sleeping.
The importance of strong individual contacts
Although the Communication with Communities working group played an important role in co-ordination during the Nepal earthquake emergency, BBC Media Action staff felt that it struggled to be effective in sharing information. This was also referenced in a sector-wide study on the Nepal emergency response. For BBC Media Action staff, this heightened the importance of establishing strong personal and organisation-level contacts to call on for up-to-date information.
DID THE PROGRAMME MEET AUDIENCE NEEDS?
The findings outlined below have been selected from three evaluations of Milijuli Nepali (Together Nepal). They examine audience perspectives of the show in relation to appropriate indicators.
Milijuli Nepali reached 14% of the Nepali population living in the areas most affected by the earthquakes, according to a quantitative survey conducted seven months after the earthquakes.
Almost all listeners (97%) felt that the information provided by the programme was relevant, practical and easy to implement. Audience members trusted information provided on the programme and felt that it was timely and accurate.
Participants in the qualitative survey attributed their high trust in the programme to the fact that its production team travelled to meet people in earthquake-affected areas. Some said that they felt the programme was not long enough and did not cover certain issues in adequate depth.
Milijuli Nepali stood out for listeners because it focused on solutions, and because it featured stories from people affected by the emergency. The programme had a strong focus on including voices from earthquake-affected villages, with people sharing the challenges they faced and how they dealt with them. Audience members felt that these stories, the language, presentation, dialects and people included in the programme made it relevant and appealing. They felt that the programme stood apart from others because it did not focus on casualties or destruction, but on how people managed to survive and overcome challenges.
Audience members felt that Milijuli Nepali provided an opportunity for them to make their voices heard. Many had heard their community members’ voices in the programme, or seen the team recording in their community.
Some audience members reported taking action as a result of hearing a solution to problems they were facing, and many recommended the programme to others. However, some said that the programme was aired too late for many people in rural areas, and others felt that it was not adequately marketed so they did not know when it was on.
Lifeline radio programming for flood-affected communities in Myanmar
PREPAREDNESS ACTIVITIES BEFORE THE 2015 FLOOD EMERGENCY
BBC Media Action has been carrying out preparedness for Lifeline activities in Myanmar with the government, media and humanitarian community since 2014, as outlined below.
This has involved Lifeline training, workshops, simulations, a manual, and a localised message guide in consultation with actors across the humanitarian system in the country.
BBC Media Action ran Lifeline training for its staff, as well as two Lifeline trainings for 70 participants from local broadcasters, humanitarian clusters and government ministries, covering how to communicate with people affected by humanitarian emergencies.
It also ran an earthquake simulation in partnership with the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, involving 140 humanitarian and government actors. This included training six journalists from the state broadcaster MRTV to produce a Lifeline radio programme.
A Lifeline programme production manual was translated and shared with media stations in Myanmar, and BBC Media Action ran an introductory workshop on Lifeline programming with 10 MRTV assistant directors.
BBC Media Action had a country preparedness plan in place and an emergency fund for Lifeline responses has been available at BBC Media Action head office since early 2015.
BBC Media Action ran a consultation with 20 participants including representatives from relevant government departments, MRTV, Myanmar Red Cross Society, the Disaster Risk Reduction Working Group and the humanitarian clusters, resulting in 25 agreed essential messages for earthquake- or cyclone-affected communities. Audience members from five areas vulnerable to emergencies pre-tested the messages, which were launched days before the flooding.
WHAT HAPPENED WHEN THE CRISIS HIT?
When Cyclone Komen hit Myanmar on 30 July 2015, it caused widespread flooding and landslides in 12 of the country’s 14 states, killing 125 people and displacing 1.7 million.1 On 2 August, when the extent of the disaster became clear, BBC Media Action approached its long-term partner MRTV about broadcasting a Lifeline programme on its national radio station. By 3 August, a BBC Media Action team had relocated to MRTV offices and the radio magazine show Shin Than Chin Kan Lan Mya (Linking Hands to Keep Living) was on air.
In the first two weeks of the emergency, episodes of Shin Than Chin Kan Lan Mya focused on how to access safe drinking water, safe hygiene practices, how to stay safe if evacuated and how to protect family health. Two five-minute radio programmes were repeated six times a day on MRTV, as well as a two-minute Lifeline bulletin that was translated into five local languages and broadcast on MRTV’s ethnic FM radio stations.
The programme transitioned from a remote production centre to MRTV’s Yangon bureau, to enable closer connections with humanitarian actors and the BBC Media Action office. After two weeks, as people’s communication needs changed, the format changed to a twice-weekly, 15-minute programme focusing on how flood-affected people could recover their livelihoods and deal with destruction. After its first month, Shin Than Chin Kan Lan Mya was reduced to a weekly programme. It ceased broadcasting at the end of October 2015.
1 According to the National Natural Disaster Management Committee.
WHAT DID LIFELINE PREPAREDNESS WORK ACHIEVE?
BBC Media Action staff were able to engage with humanitarian and government agencies effectively by taking joint action on activities to communicate better with those affected.
Staff confidence, knowledge and skills
BBC Media Action staff said that the confidence, knowledge and skills gained through Lifeline training enabled them to launch a Lifeline programme soon after the onset of the flood emergency in Myanmar.
They reported using techniques learned in the training, such as sourcing and sharing practical information and sharing listeners’ stories on air. They felt the training gave them a strong understanding of the principles and value of Lifeline programmes, which helped them get buy-in from MRTV and humanitarian staff.
Relationships led to collaboration during the emergency
BBC Media Action staff said they felt confident about contacting humanitarian and government trainees they had met during preparedness training and were able to share these contacts with media partner MRTV. MRTV was then able to include humanitarian experts as guests and provide up-to-date information from these agencies on Shin Than Chin Kan Lan Mya.
Local media broadcast their own Lifeline content
BBC Media Action staff affirmed that local radio trainees incorporated Lifeline content into their everyday programming after the flooding, broadcasting their own content as well as using pre-agreed messages from the Lifeline manual.
Humanitarian practitioners learned what was useful to communities
Having learned what kind of information emergency-affected communities find most useful enabled humanitarian agencies to prioritise sharing practical and audience-centred information with the programme’s production team.
Limited resources at the partner radio station presented challenges
The two MRTV staff members assigned to the radio programme were not the MRTV staff who had participated in Lifeline training, so they had to learn about Lifeline programming during the emergency response. Staff from both BBC Media Action and MRTV felt the MRTV Lifeline team was under-resourced, so could not dedicate all of its time to the Lifeline programme.
Preparedness plans were used
BBC Media Action had completed its emergency preparedness plan and collated all relevant humanitarian cluster contacts before the flood emergency and put both of these into use. Interviews highlighted the fact that BBC Media Action staff involved in preparedness planning had a greater understanding of key responsibilities and procedures than others.
The emergency response fund facilitated a quick response
BBC Media Action staff said that being able to access the emergency fund before external funding was found enabled them to respond as soon as the government of Myanmar declared a state of emergency.
Long-term partnership led to a quick collaboration
BBC Media Action staff felt the organisation had a positive, long-term relationship with MRTV. This – coupled with MRTV’s commitment to media intervention in a humanitarian emergency – led to a quick collaborative response to the flood emergency.
Content that challenged the government was difficult
The programme evaluation highlighted the fact that it was difficult for MRTV to broadcast content that challenged the government of Myanmar. Consequently, some audience questions and concerns were impossible to address on air.
Lack of government support made finding accurate information difficult
BBC Media Action staff said that some government departments were not open to being interviewed for the programme, as they had not attended Lifeline training and did not understand the role of Lifeline programming in sharing useful information with emergency-affected communities. This made it difficult for the programme team to find accurate information or verify details.
Preparedness work led to full and proactive engagement from the humanitarian sector. Before the preparedness work, BBC Media Action had been denied access to cluster meetings (such as during Cyclone Mahasen in 2013). Despite explanations about its activities and the role of communication in emergency responses, BBC Media Action was viewed as part of the conventional “news” media, and therefore perceived as unable to play a part in helping with the response.
BBC Media Action staff felt that subsequent emergency preparedness work had built relationships that led to strong engagement as soon as the 2015 emergency hit Myanmar.
Agreeing key messages led to greater Lifeline awareness
BBC Media Action staff felt that the consultation over common messages promoted awareness about the role of Lifeline programming among government departments and humanitarian agencies, who were consequently willing to be interviewed for the radio programme.
This also ensured that all actors (local media, humanitarian agencies and government departments) knew what to communicate to communities as soon as the emergency started.
Relationships enabled BBC Media Action staff to influence decisions
BBC Media Action was able to insert questions about information and communication needs into the Myanmar emergency’s joint agency needs assessment thanks to relationships built with humanitarian practitioners during Lifeline training. This resulted in new data on communities’ information needs, which helped production teams tailor the content of Shin Than Chin Kan Lan Mya.
Limited co-ordination between humanitarian agencies and the media
Humanitarian experts felt that co-ordination between humanitarian agencies and the media was limited, and in some cases led to contradictory information being shared.
DID THE LIFELINE PROGRAMME MEET AUDIENCE NEEDS?
The findings outlined below have been selected from the Shin Than Chin Kan Lan Mya evaluation. They examine audience perspectives2 on the show, in relation to appropriate indicators.
2 This data comes from in-depth interviews with a sample of audience members who called into the programme when it was live on air, and whom the research team was able to contact. It is not representative of the wider audience.
The programme provided relevant, practical and trusted information
Flood-affected communities said that the programme was a key source of relevant, practical and useful information, which was clear and easy to understand.
Listeners particularly valued information relating to health and hygiene, as it was easy to implement. A minority of interviewees struggled to recall information they had heard on the programme and some felt there was sometimes too much information in each episode.
Audience members said that interviews with government and humanitarian experts, as well as the voices of other listeners, helped to build their trust in the programme.
The programme gave listeners a voice
Listeners said that they appreciated the opportunity to voice concerns and ask questions through the programme’s hotline. The programme also gave them an opportunity to hear from other flood-affected people.
The programme facilitated conversations with communities
Shin Than Chin Kan Lan Mya successfully brought listeners, NGOs, experts and government representatives into conversation with each other, bridging the gap between communities affected by the emergency and humanitarian responders.
However, phone-ins to the programme sometimes raised callers’ expectations that MRTV could resolve specific issues. While a Lifeline programme team can encourage discussion of issues on air, it cannot resolve them directly, something that should perhaps be made clear in future emergency programmes.
BBC Media Action has produced a range of tools to help humanitarian workers and media professionals improve the way they communicate with people affected by emergencies.