Health Communication, Public Health, Emergencies

David Ebarle speaking at the University of San Francisco, Photograph by Thanida Chaempuing

By Thanida Chaempuing

David Ebarle, Agency Specialist for the San Francisco Department of Public Health, spoke at the University of San Francisco’s Master of Arts in Professional Communication program last Thursday as part of the Spring Speaker Series event at the downtown campus.

Prior to joining the San Francisco Department of Public Health, David was Chief of Staff for the San Francisco Department of Emergency Management where he supervised planning, communication strategy, and crisis response to major disasters as well as daily emergencies. Prior to his position as Chief of Staff, David was the Support Services Manager for the City and County of San Francisco’s Department of Emergency Management.

When you call 911, emergency procedures happen fast in order to respond to an urgent call for help. Behind the scene, these emergency procedures, practices, and staffs are constantly being tested to ensure that emergency responders are well trained and well prepared.

Critical incidents happen all the time in a city like San Francisco. It is happening now more often than ever, and everyone in the emergency unit must be prepared.

David shared a few 911 communication perspectives and insights that go into what needs to happen when bringing together different agencies and coordinating with state, federal, local sheriffs, and other jurisdictions, in order to make timely decisions and execute emergency responses in high stake crisis situations.

David explained that the San Francisco Department of Emergency Management on 1011 Turk Street was built to combine both a 911 center and an Emergency Operations Center (EOC) in one centralized location to streamline communication and tactical decision-making processes.

As we look at any major incident, whether it be an active shooter, giant earthquake, or a firestorm, they are all emergencies that require an enormous response. It is so valuable now more than ever to have one place where emergency responders can make important decisions, collaboratively formulate communications strategy, plan on operational period, and determine other logistical things all in one place.

David highlighted that when it comes to crafting messages to the public, the most important thing to keep in mind is to only have one message. It is so important and crucial to keep a cohesive message during an emergency and crisis response. However, as simple as it sounds, it is a challenging task due to the various agencies involved during an emergency.

With this challenge in mind, David emphasized that there is a need for a joint information center as a mechanism that houses professionals who are part of the Joint Information System (JIS). With information coming from different directions and sources, they are not all accurate and reliable. JIS aims to manage information flow, information requests, external information that goes to the public, and rumor control.

If an inaccurate piece of information or message is pushed out to the public during an emergency based on rumors, it would only add to the chaos and the disaster itself.

The emergency management field has grown by leaps and bounds in recent years. David invited us to look into emergency services where there is large-scale need now more than ever for communication professionals who can help streamline communication processes and manage crisis messaging during an emergency.

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