responder with cellphone

INDUSTRY INSIGHT

Effective intergovernment communication fosters clear, calm crisis management

The novel coronavirus remains top of mind for millions of people around the world. The spread of the virus continues to increase at such a rapid pace that news outlets are pushing out regular updates, and social media channels have COVID-19 dedicated sections where news and theories are posted by the minute. This giant wave of speculation and endless conjecture mixed with rapidly changing facts causes public confusion and the dangerous spread of misinformation.

With a death toll ticking up by the day and many countries still under quarantine, public alarm is arguably as high as it’s been since 9/11. Considering that the federal shelter-in-place order was the first quarantine mandate of its kind in over 50 years, it’s no surprise that this sudden change, combined with the pandemic itself, is creating a chaotic public health emergency.

The role of intergovernment communications during a crisis

That said, it’s absolutely crucial governments are fully prepared when it comes to crisis communication to keep people calm, safe, informed and healthy in real time, aligning  communication practices among federal, state and local agencies. When society is being pulled between fact and fiction, reliable intergovernment communications can showcase strong leadership, instill trust in the public and greatly assist in relieving societal unrest.

There is, however, a debate over the best way to conduct intergovernment communications during times like this and effectively deliver the information and messaging the public requires and deserves. On one hand, too much messaging from multiple sources can leave individuals feeling overwhelmed and more confused than before. On the other, lacking consistent and clear communication during times of crisis can ultimately have serious repercussions, such as increased upheaval and fear-mongering.

Navigating intergovernment communication during a pandemic

When mass panic spreads as a result of a pandemic, the best way to squash it is to ensure government officials at each and every level are communicating effectively with citizens. All communication must be aligned across government agencies, with clear guidelines, protocols and security measures around the dissemination of information in place. This is extremely valuable in terms of guiding a country through this crisis and any future incidents.

However, that’s easier said than done when one considers the scale of coordination needed to provide clear, real-time communication via multiple channels and various languages between thousands of federal stakeholders and millions of citizens. Governments can get the word out, while simultaneously keeping the public calm and collected, with well-designed crisis communication programs. This is where emergency notification systems can help.

Emergency notification systems represent the pinnacle of strong intergovernment communication at work. When properly implemented, they are interoperable across a wide range of networks, media and devices used by different agencies, first responders and health care workers. Emergency notifications should facilitate the distribution of updates from government agencies so that all civilians are receiving one clear, unified message about what’s going on around them. It’s also critically important to get information back from first responders and medical staff working on the frontlines and coordinating safety around an outbreak. Governments can use this data to build reactive and improved strategies for battling the pandemic and keeping millions of people informed.

Keeping intergovernment communications secure

Pandemic control also requires a comprehensive approach featuring strong intergovernment communication regarding the dissemination of information to the general public. Security must be at the forefront of this approach. Multimodal technology is a leading option here, as it can promptly send messages to all connected devices, rather than relying on one type of technology like SMS. Individual government agencies that are in sync with their communication practices can  seamlessly orchestrate announcements and updates, ultimately calming the public and inspiring trust.

Arguably just as important, these systems must use authentication and encryption to secure all communication and comply with government security and privacy regulations. Careful control of information between responders, public health officials and civilians is also key. All messaging must be carefully vetted and approved by authorized leaders from federal, state and local government agencies prior to being released to the public. Divulging sensitive information prior to it being vetted can be detrimental to public trust, creating even more uncertainty. This is where having all government agencies on the same page is absolutely crucial, ensuring level-headed, consistent response.

The benefits of improved intergovernment communication

The novel coronavirus is a potent reminder of how important it is for governments to react, inform, communicate and respond in real time to contain a crisis and take immediate action to save lives. The COVID-19 pandemic serves as a major wake-up call for local, state and federal governments to take a good, hard look at their current communication processes and ensure they’re designed to support the primary objective of keeping the public safe and informed.

The way governments are communicating among each other every day is highly valuable in instilling public confidence and demonstrating a country’s strong leadership. If anything, this pandemic exemplifies the power that clear and coordinated intergovernment communication can have. Strong investment in improving intergovernment communications will pay off in the long term, as it will manifest an integrated government that is prepared for the crises to come.

About the Author

David Wiseman is vice president of secure communications with BlackBerry.

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