Time and time again, in disasters across the world, people wanting to know what they should do, and whether help is on the way turn on their radios. Each one does so with the hope they will get information that will help keep loved ones alive and allow them to rebuild. The power of this, and other ways of communicating with communities affected by disaster is recognized increasingly as an aid requirement. International World Radio day has taken as its theme for 2016 ‘Radio in Emergency and Disaster Situations’. Mike Adams of First Response Radio contributed this article to CDAC Network.
Following the catastrophic Indonesian Tsunami in 2004 people were desperate for information, “just tell us what is happening!” they urged. The community needed information to help rebuild their lives, and they needed it right away.
We felt it was important to get a station on the air, but had never done this before under disaster conditions. First Response Radio (FRR) got its start there and it took a month for us to get a radio station up and running in Banda Aceh, Indonesia. While that was a great achievement in difficult conditions, we didn’t think it was fast enough as we missed the whole Emergency Phase of the disaster. We subsequently made it our organisation's goal to set up a radio station within 72 hours of a disaster striking and start broadcasting critical information to the affected community. People need information and they need it NOW!
First Response Radio is not a company or an organisation. It is a Network of Networks made up of radio broadcasters, NGOs and Government partners. On every country level it is also a network of responders.
Our strategy has improved dramatically since the Indonesian Tsunami, and the approach of First Response Radio now is to buy equipment, train teams, and ‘practice’ in disaster prone countries such as Philippines, India and Indonesia before disaster strikes. The equipment is then left in country and the local team responds to the next disaster.
The “Suitcase Radio” is really 3 suitcases or bags including: Studio, FM transmitter and Antenna. Each piece is less than 20kg and can be checked as luggage on any airline. If set up properly, this station can reach a radius of 20km or more. The suitcase is not really the secret to success, training is.
We combine radio, NGO and government staff into a team and provide a 5 day training workshop where they learn to run a radio station in a disaster zone. The NGOs learn from the radio announcers and vice versa. While the training we have given to people has been important, the “magic” really happens in the 3 day field trials that we run. This enables us to put things into practice in a disaster-prone area under realistic field conditions. Sometimes the next disaster even strikes during the training event! FRR spends more time and resources on capacity building as that is the key to a good response.
Since 2004 our teams have responded to 20 disasters with the most recent in 2015 being the Nepal earthquake, typhoon Lando in the Philippines and the Pakistan/Afghan earthquake. See a list of Responses here.
A recent research paper (1) showed how FRR broadcasts in 2013 helped members of the community to recover following typhoon Haiyan.
The disaster radio provided reliable information that decreased fears. By understanding what was happening, a sense of control and the ability to adapt appeared:
“If you know what is going on. . ..it is much easier to do right.
You could get information on what was going on, how I could
They told us. . ..to get food. . ..and they told us about roads. . ..and so on.”
Hearing voices and music played in the radio reminded the survivors of normality and offered moments of rest from the fight for survival and recovery. Some participants expressed that the happy music played influenced them so much that they could feel happiness, and endure:
“I think that the music also. . ..it made me feel. . .like normal. . .for
a while. To rest my brain”
“It was a kind of silence that is deafening. And the radio broke
through it, someway. The music and to hear another voice, in
the middle of the night. That made me able to hang in there for
one night more. . .”
The survivors were vacillating between hope and despair. Disaster radio (FRR) helped them to regain hope:
“Despite all the things that had happened during the Yolanda.
Despite all the things I was enlightened. At the same time, it is
a really nice feeling despite all the things that had happened there
is still help from other people, especially from other places.”
Also following typhoon Haiyan, Alexandra Sicotte – Levesque, at the time the Advocacy and Communication Specialist for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) said “Well done to First Response Radio! We have been going around radio (stations) in Tacloban talking about our (mobile) medical missions for pregnant & breastfeeding women … every day in a new barangay - we identify these women in advance in each community, but it's not possible to identify everyone of course... so radio really helps. When our nurses go on First Response Radio the turn-out is incredible - 250+ women showed up in one morning (compared to only 40 the previous day).
(1) Karin Hugelius, Mervyn Gifford, Per Ortenwall, Annsofie Adolfsson, “To silence the deafening silence”: Survivor’s needs and experiences of the impact of disaster radio for their recovery after a natural disaster, International Emergency Nursing (2015), doi: 10.1016/j.ienj.2015.11.009