Ready or Not: Communicating During an Emergency in the Country of Georgia

Posted on by Lisa Briseño, Health Communications Specialist, Emergency Risk Communication Branch


Emergencies don’t wait for you to be ready.

In 2015, the country of Georgia invited CDC to conduct a training on the principles of Crisis and Emergency Risk Communication (CERC). But before we could get there, the capital city of Tblisi was struck by a major flood.

The flash flood and ensuing mudslide killed 20 people and covered much of the city in water and mud. There were news reports about the massive damage, human casualties, and even escaped zoo animals.  Ready or not, responders had to jump in and communicate clearly about the emergency.

This is exactly the type of situation CERC training is intended to prepare for. When a crisis hits, people need understandable, trustworthy, and accurate information they can act on. And they need it fast.  CERC helps communicators ensure that the right messenger is delivering the right message at the right time.

CERC saves lives

When we arrived in Georgia, my co-worker Kellee Waters and I discovered that the news reports hadn’t captured the intensity of the flood the way firsthand accounts could. We heard sobering stories from our colleagues about the impact of the disaster: a stream that turned into a raging river; a landslide that caught everyone off guard.

In the aftermath of the flood, many of our Georgian colleagues found themselves needing to use CERC principles — with or without training. They had to quickly and clearly inform people about threats in different parts of the city and communicate what actions the government was taking to rescue people and animals.

Lessons from the flood

When we began our training, we found that participants’ experiences from the flood gave them valuable insight. Those who had been involved in communicating about the flood stressed the importance of consistent messaging. They recalled that messages about safety had been quickly reported and repeated in the news and on social media; making information readily available to reporters allowed important safety messages to be disseminated faster and wider and increased their credibility. The government had helped by being the first to report accurate, credible messages that offered action steps for citizens to stay safe – before, during and after the crisis.

Class participants also talked about identifying and connecting with groups of people who did not speak Georgian as their first language. This was crucial so all Georgians could return to a more familiar and normal life as quickly as possible after the flood.

While not everyone in our class had a role in communicating during the flood, they all recognized the value of effective communication in an emergency response. They also noted that good communication takes experience, knowledge, and expertise.

None of the participants would have wished this tragedy on their country, but they all had a strong resolve to use the experience to prepare for future events.

Shaking things up!

Participants with trainers after receiving their CERC certificates.
Participants with trainers after receiving their CERC certificates.

During class, participants learned about the different agencies where they worked and considered how each agency might play a role in future responses. They practiced developing messages and explored strategies for making sure those messages reached the right people.

As part of the training, we used an earthquake scenario to identify the types of information different audiences need in a response, and we looked at how those needs evolved over time.

For example, class participants recognized that a large earthquake would likely receive global news coverage, but that the first priority would be getting safety information to the affected people. They had to make decisions about how to get life-saving information to first responders and those affected while providing enough information for all audiences so that rumors and misinformation would not spread.

Armed with new knowledge, our colleagues in Georgia are now prepared to act more swiftly and effectively to make sure everyone receives the information they need, no matter when or where disaster might strike.

Posted on by Lisa Briseño, Health Communications Specialist, Emergency Risk Communication BranchTags , , , , ,

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Page last reviewed: May 20, 2020
Page last updated: May 20, 2020