Senior Officer - Research Uptake and Communications at HERD shares his journey of his experience of handling communications activities after Nepal Earthquake 2015.
Experience expose opportunities. Well, I do not specialise in communications nor in crisis management. That does not put me in a great position to start talking about crisis communications. The spring of 2015 was not blossoming for Nepal but opened doors for me as a communications professional to explore various possibilities. Crisis communications was one such new avenue in my career. Let me take you through this journey of an apprentice taking initial inroads into the world of crisis communications.
Disastrous Earthquake and the door opens
On Monday, April 27 (two days after the earthquake), I was sitting on the ground floor of my home garage with my family and neighbours when my mobile phone rang. It was Sushil Sir (Executive Chairperson of HERD Dr Sushil Baral) discussing with me if we could run through a campaign called ‘Pledge for Public Health Action’ using our website and social media urging volunteers to support us in immediate relief campaigns to support the quake affected. It was a brilliant idea. So, amidst all the chaos, anxiety and fear of my family members, neighbours and myself, we started this campaign. The campaign gradually gained momentum and there were lots of responses in our social media.
Owing to positive responses, we immediately started planning for relief activities. Relief activities require a robust communications and coordination plan. We developed as we went along. To coordinate relief activities, we developed form for interested volunteers to document their details and contact them to participate in relief activities. We also developed ‘Helping Hands for Humanity’ Fund and pledged for support using website and social media for crowd sourcing. We recorded all the information about names of volunteers participating, names, contact details of funders and funds received, goods received in kind, locations visited for relief distribution campaigns, among others. Funds are not collected unless the interested funders are convinced that the money is going for the right cause and spent in the right manner. So, we took pictures and provided information of the locations where we provided the relief materials directly to the beneficiaries. We also introduced a scheme where we announced that all money collected in the fund goes directly to the community and all management costs will be borne by HERD. Through this, we were able to collect about 20000 USD witht the money coming from 64 contributors from 9 countries.
Media monitoring was something that we planned instantly. As we were reading through the web links about the extent of damage of the earthquake and various support required, there was information overflow but the decision makers were finding it difficult to find the right platform to consolidate all these information into one portal. Without a second thought, I along with Kritagya and Santosh started this advent. We developed daily media monitoring reports collecting and analyzing reports throughout the day. This effort generated rave reviews and we continued this for almost a month. A similar media monitoring was also conducted after a year marking one year anniversary of April 2015 earthquake analyzing media reports that reflected one year of reconstruction efforts in Nepal. Furthermore, we developed summary reports of this exercise and disseminated in various national and international conferences. We have also developed experiences of media monitoring into academic papers for submission to communications journal.
National Housing Reconstruction Survey
Government of Nepal was in dire pressure to expedite the assessment of households to collect evidence of the extent of the disaster in the 14 highly affected districts in order to inform the reconstruction interventions by the government. My involvement in this project dates back to September, 2015 from the proposal development stage as per the Invitation to Bid (ITB) published by United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS). With great deal of mental exercise, we pulled all our experiences and expertise together in submitting our bid in the first week of October. We were fortunate to win the bid after responding to few clarifications.
Then the journey began. In order to capture events and information to this project, I had to be physically present in recruitment sessions, training and orientation of about 2200 field investigators. I also developed forms for district coordinators to inform me about the district activities. After collecting information from all these source points, I had to collate those information and develop a high quality and informative report on a weekly basis to UNOPS which was quite a challenging task. On several occasions, I had to respond to queries by UNOPS focal persons – for which I again had to request my source points to feed me with the required information.
Human Resources Support to the Enrolment Project for NRA
As the data collection for Kathmandu valley was about to start for the housing reconstruction survey, there was immediate need for the households in the rest of the 11 districts to be provided with the compensation grant. For this, the National Reconstruction Agency (NRA) had to enroll the listed households for the provision of the compensation grant. UNOPS again through open bidding contracted HERD for the requirement of Human Resources to support NRA and my role continued as Communications and Documentation focal point.
The complexity of this project was different than the previous one. This project required robust planning and supporting the government agencies in planning and implementation. All these discussions and agreed actions had to be documented. Therein came my role to ensure that these decisions were documented and collated in one place for future reference. Along with that, there were other documentations required in terms of writing up roles and responsibilities of various human resources at the central, district and VDC level. In this ongoing project, alike Housing Reconstruction Survey, I am responsible for submitting periodic progress (bi-weekly) reports to UNOPS.
Crisis Communications, National Initiative and Maintaining Sensibility
Some unforeseen challenges also came across such as media reports with false accusations with the intention of tainting the image of the organization – giving it a political colour. Those reports came as a shocker – but we remained calm and did not respond to such baseless reports that were written purposefully to dampen our spirits. But we continued our journey with the spirit that ‘our work will do the talking.’
At times of national crisis and national reconstruction initiatives, various political, socio-economic contexts come into play. There is a nation-wide attention and interest in your work. You can’t play it light. One wrong message and you are criticized left, right and centre. You can’t overdo and you don’t like to remain in the shadow when you have done so much of work. Here is lies the sensibility of the communications professionals to communicate at the right time to intended audience in a right manner.
Sudeep can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org