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When planning communication channels for disaster management it is important to consider the possibility that several methods of communication may be inoperative due to physical disruption, loss of electrical power, jamming of networks etc.

Methods of communication

  • Telephone
    • fixed line/mobile
    • vital to keep up to date phone numbers of essential staff
    • group text messaging/fax useful method of contacting large nos. of staff simultaneously
    • divert non-vital calls away from essential phone lines
    • consider segregating lines for incoming and outgoing calls
    • access overload protocols are available which shut down normal mobile phone networks when they become overloaded and only allow access by emergency services. Where such systems operate it is necessary to apply in advance for specified phones to have access to the network. All other mobile phones will cease to operate  when such a system is activated
    • ask members of staff to retain at least one fixed line handset that draws power from the telephone system, rather than a separate power supply, in case of localized loss of electricity
  • Pagers
  • Email
  • Radio
    • amateur radio networks may have a role to play if planned in advance
  • Mass media
    • keeping public informed helps to avoid panic and confusion
    • avoids blocking other vital channels of communication
  • Physical communication
    • may be necessary to use messengers when other modes of communication fail
    • maintain accessible lists of addresses as well as phone nos.


  • Designated person (usually ICU director) to communicate with other departments in hospital on strategic matters allowing ICU consultants/specialists to concentrate on management of clinical problems
  • Important that the mass media are kept informed so that they do not hinder staff in performing their roles
  • Mass media may be important source of information on nature of disaster
  • Relatives
    • regular updated information, even if there is minimal new information

Patient notes

  • should accompany patients throughout their progress from disaster site to ICU
  • use single, uniform set of notes
  • all paramedical/medical staff who have contact with patient should document care/observations etc
  • within hospital it may be appropriate to designate one doctor (usually an anaesthetist) to accompany each patient with multiple trauma to various sites in hospital (ie radiology, operating theatre) until the patient arrives in ICU. This ensures continuity of care and provides a useful back-up system should documentation in the notes be inadequate

©Charles Gomersall, April, 2014 unless otherwise stated. The author, editor and The Chinese University of Hong Kong take no responsibility for any adverse event resulting from the use of this webpage.
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