PAHO strengthens regional communication network for disaster response (Article)

Bridgetown, BARBADOS, November 25, 2009. Panos – The Pan American Health Organisation, (PAHO) recently concluded a 3-day training workshop on Communication and Information Management for Disaster Response geared at boosting disaster response among communication partners in the Caribbean Region.

“Since Hurricane David struck Dominica in 1979, PAHO/WHO has maintained a disaster response team to assess needs and respond promptly in the Caribbean. This team has been on standby every year during the hurricane season and has responded effectively,” said PAHO representatives while giving the rationale for the workshop. However, there has been no opportunity to test it after a major earthquake. In 2005, the Governing Bodies requested the Director of PAHO to further support Member States by establishing a region wide mechanism for immediate disaster response.”

The workshop, which was held in Barbados in October, had 25 persons from eight Caribbean countries including professionals with significant experience in media and health communications as well as disaster response and management.  

According to PAHO, members of the Regional Emergency Response Team are on standby to participate in emergency response operations in affected member States, as part of the PAHO regional disaster response. The duration of the posting of the Regional Emergency Response Team in the affected States depends on a number of factors including the severity of the disaster.

A panel discussion facilitated by senior media representatives from Barbados was one of the highlights of the workshop.  Ricky Jordan, Senior Editor of The Nation Newspaper and Ian Inniss, Senior Information Officer, The Government Information Service, led the discussions.

They stressed the importance of establishing partnerships with key agencies to improve communication during disasters.

 

“It is very important to work to foster a more trusting relationship between the media and authorities,” Mr. Inniss stated. 

 

They both gave pointers on the coordination of communication between various disaster response agencies and the media and the need to utilize sensitivity in reporting on people in difficult circumstances.

 

A number of recommendations emerged from the discussions. Key among them is the need to develop a code of conduct for covering disaster situations in the region and special training

activities to assist the media to improve their understanding of disaster situations.

 

PAHO anticipates that a region wide response mechanism will:

·        assist the Ministries of Health in affected countries to assess damage and emergency needs in the health sector and inform the humanitarian community accordingly,

·        provide early warning of potential public health threats,

·        formulate public health priorities and offer guidance and advice to external health actors.

 

In addition, she said the mechanism will enable PAHO/WHO to carry out its UN role as lead agency and “provider of last resort” of assistance for the health cluster.

PAHO said that it recognized the need to formally incorporate communications and information into the Regional Emergency Response Team.  As such, the organization has since 2008, commenced sub-regional workshops where experts in the field of communications and information management (including journalists) came together to review and approve methodologies, tools and strategies for communications and information management in emergencies including disasters. 

Participants were drawn from Jamaica, the British Virgin Island, Barbados, Guyana, Belize, Vincent and the Grenadines and Trinidad and Tobago.

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