Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Complaints about emergency

services and how they communicate have been rife of late. Most of the criticism has been directed at a fire service but it brought on a slew of other complaints.
It is not that people fail to appreciate the emergency service personnel on the ground. The vast majority of people do. They believe they are doing a good job, in most cases an outstandingly good job. They appreciate their efforts.
The problem seems to be the media personnel and the "spokespeople" - the people in front of the camera on the news and, even more importantly, the people who write the bulletins which need to be read out as warnings. They aren't getting the message across. It's their job to communicate - and they aren't communicating.
On the (very) rare occasions that the Senior Cat hears a police officer talking on the news he often groans and says, "Police-speak." By this  he means that the delivery is often stiff and formal and it uses words in a way they would not normally be used. It is something we have come to expect.
When a warning is being given there is often another problem. A warning often relates to a locality. In the city and the suburbs this can often be given as "X" street or "Y" road or "the intersection of..." It is normally very specific. 
In rural areas it is very different. There may be names for roads but they may not be the names used by the locals.
We once lived in a very small rural community with just seventeen houses "in the town". There were two "streets"- the main one and the side one. The school was at the end of the side one and we lived there. These streets apparently have names - something  I was told only recently. Nobody used those names. I doubt many, if any, people knew them. Our street was referred to by things like "the short one past the pub" or "the one up the school" the other one was referred to as "where the shop is" or "where the cop-shop is" depending on which end you were talking about.
We moved again and it was "over the road" because the town was split by a main road and then, in yet another place it was "the road by the club" and "up past the school". We were given directions such as, "When you reach the mail box that says...." and "There's an old car dumped on the right..."
Locals know what these things mean. They navigate the landscape by these things.
The fire service did what it always does. It named an area bounded by four roads as a fire area. It did not say, "this includes the township of...." 
It was a large area. The roads were probably known locally as "the road to X..." and "the road to Y...." and "the coast road..." and "the one you take to go to..." or something similar.  A few people might know a name or two. They might have realised much earlier that they were in danger. 
Most people got out but they didn't take much with them. Two people lost their lives. If the warning had been given earlier and included the words "this includes the township of..." people would have been better prepared. It would have alerted people around the town sooner as well. As it was they were relying on their own observations.
In disaster situations in other parts of the world I have known people to be given directions like, "You take the track up the mountains to where the shrine is by the big rock and then you go left and you keep going until...." and so it goes on. People find their way. Or they say, "It's on the road to Kabul and it's the third village you come to and they use the fourth house as the hospital." People get there.
I hope they review the warning system here and include those magical words, "this includes the township of..." or "north of the railway line between W and Y stations..." - just something that tells the locals in their own language where the danger is.

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