In this study, 25 people with a mean age of 46 years (29–58) were interviewed. Other information of participants is reported in Table 2.
Based on the participants' experiences, relief organizations use different strategies with different results to improve the risk communication process before and after disasters. The study results present these strategies in three categories and nine sub-categories: management of information and training communication (facilitation of training processes, diverse training strategies, and integrated informing), management of communication barriers (trust building, managing people's demands, and efforts to respect affected people), and Inter-organizational communication management (coordination to meet people's demands, improve communication coordination and strengthen communication platforms) (Table 3).
Main final categories and sub–categories
The management of information
and training communication
The facilitation of training processes,
diverse training strategies
The management of communication
managing people's demands
efforts to respect affected people
Management of information and training communication
One of the main factors for disaster preparedness is training-oriented approaches of organizations and transparent information about disasters. The participants shared their experiences on how to train and inform people about the disaster by relief organizations which were finally classified into three subcategories: facilitation of training processes, diverse training strategies, and integrated information.
Facilitation of training processes
Relief organizations based on time and place requirements use different training approaches such as Using ambient advertising, dissemination of public education through the media, etc. to prepare people for disasters.
One of the participants stated:
"Early, we started ambient advertising and installed training banners in villages which mostly included the use of safe water, garbage disposal, prevention of carbon monoxide poisoning, etc. Hence, they do not suffer from these problems by increasing awareness" (P15).
Some participants commented on dissemination of training messages via the media, and stated:
"The media helped us a lot in covering the flood and spreading training messages, and without restricting published information we wanted" (P25).
Any training content which is provided for learning should be practical, useful, and appropriate to the demands of learners and constantly reviewed.
"In previous years, it was said that you should run away when an earthquake occurs, but now it is said that we have a triangle of life and you should take refuge under a desk when an earthquake occurs. This shows that even some of our training has changed and we have to constantly update and replace with new training" (P20).
Diverse training strategies
The relief organizations use different methods to deliver training messages to the people. These strategies are selected based on criteria such as the level of literacy of individuals, motivation to learn, etc.
"In the earthquake in Azerbaijan, due to dispersion and different villages affected people lived mostly next to their houses, and inside tents, health training was more in person and video. We had a series of groups go to the tents, find the target and vulnerable groups and train them how to prevent a contagious disease, healthy eating, etc.” (P16).
For sustainable learning and application of what was learned in the real setting, it is necessary to provide practical training so that people can use what they have learned in the case of an event.
"Once Red Crescent came to our company to train first aid and relief, both practically and theoretically, until one day we went for a walk somewhere. I saw for a moment that my little child was suffocating at that moment. What I had learned practically in those classes came to my mind, what I should do when suffocating, and I had applied all those teachings to my child and saved him from suffocation." (P5).
The effective communication and accurate information about the type of disasters, the course of event and the possible number of damages, and how to meet the demands of the affected people enables people to have better planning to find out about the fate of their relatives and friends for possible participation for helping their fellow human beings. Despite the inconsistency of relief organizations for informing and lack of information authority in practice, relief organizations have used various strategies for integrated and transparent informing which are also mentioned in experiences and statements of participants.
To provide accurate and fast information to the people, it is necessary for relief organizations to coordinate with each other in an integrated and centralized way so that information is provided to the people in a timely manner.
"To communicate with the people via the governorate, a series of organizations were identified, such as Red Crescent, the health deputy, the radio and television, and the governorate's disaster management. Several units were set up to inform and warn the people, which provided the necessary information to prepare the people against the flood through radio and television, apps, and social networks" (P13).
According to one participant, informing approaches may change based on people's conditions and demands.
"Based on the demands we see in cyberspace or opinions expressed in cyberspace and the media and our monitoring in cyberspace, we may change our approach to informing" (P25).
Today, the media cover events and disasters with great power and speed, both in terms of news and training, and act as a representative of the people in the eyes of public opinion. Therefore, relief organizations use media informing to communicate more with the people.
"In the flood, all news agencies, and the media managers and journalists came, and they covered everything quickly, both on TV and through virtual networks, there was nothing that could be overlooked by them, and all cases were reported moment by moment" (P8).
Management of communication barriers
Managing communication barriers is one of the most challenging strategies that any organization needs to effectively communicate with the people which included three subgroups: trust building, managing people's demands, and efforts to respect affected people.
Since risk communication process is two-way and organizations need people's trust to better communicate with people, get feedback from their measures and be aware of people's expectations of relief organizations, so one of the most important and challenging strategies of relief organizations is attracting people's trust. The participants' experiences show that relief organizations use various methods including communicating effectively with people in disaster preparedness and response programs.
"Every day we went to the flood-affected regions and visited accommodation and kitchen, and with close contact with the people, we became aware of problems and needs of people and estimated their needs as much as possible" (P8).
By establishing effective communication between relief organizations and all stakeholders, people believe that relief organizations are by the side of people and that all measures of organizations are to reduce the people's problems in disasters; hence, this issue attracts people's trust.
"They came from the health department several times, examined those who needed them, and gave them medicine if they needed. They talked to people, comforted them, and provided psychological support. Because we had multiple aftershocks about two weeks later, children and women were very afraid so they speak to them and guide them" (P14).
Managing people's demands
One of the other strategies of relief organizations to build trust, establish strong communication with people, and manage communication barriers is to pay attention to the demands and expectations of people from relief organizations in the case of disaster. For this purpose, through opinion polls and talking to people, thoughts and expectations of the people can be understood, and through media monitoring, expectations of the people from organizations can be informed.
"In Lorestan flood, the university's health deputy, for psychotherapy and psychology, tried to obtain a series of information about expectations and problems of people so that they could be used as lessons learned in other possible disasters. The performance of any organization was immediately determined through public opinion because we have many grievance systems that people call and report" (P13).
Furthermore, since the media is an intermediary between people and organizations and reflects expectations and demands of people from relief organizations, by monitoring the media, organizations can get more in touch with the people and become aware of demands of the people.
"Regarding my responsibilities, maybe it is said that I am free, but at night I check the media for half an hour. I check some of the media that I accept. I watch the news on various TV channels. I will definitely see the media criticizes our programs" (P2).
Efforts to respect affected people
Human dignity is a social and relative concept, and despite its differences in cultures, it is a fundamental right of every human being. Moreover, people should feel valued by authorities' behavior towards themselves (22).
Respecting the affected people of disasters, especially in the response phase, is one of the strategies of relief organizations to communicate more with the people.
In this strategy, relief organizations also consider the culture and beliefs of the people of region for setting content of training messages, and by respecting these beliefs and correcting wrong beliefs of people, they help them make the right decisions in the case of disaster.
"I was talking to a villager. He said that God knew it was good and that it happened, and if he knew it was good, we would not get any more diseases. Without judging his beliefs, I said that God as considered it good and that this happened to us told us to stand together in hardships and help yourself and each other and observe personal hygiene. I talked to him for a while and saw that he accepted my words to some extent. Moreover, he said, we will do whatever you say" (P17).
Furthermore, the organizations could alleviate the people's suffering to some extent by sympathizing with the people and respecting their demands, and trying to meet the needs of the people.
"The next morning after the earthquake, I saw that the neighbors took tents, and I asked them and I went and took tents from them. They treated us with respect, but I wish they had statistics of the families and gave the equipment to the tents themselves, and people work with them because they are not really beggars and because they have lost everything they have to live with the help of others"(p11).
Some organizations tried hard to get relief workers to treat people with respect, but some participants showed different experiences. The statements and experiences of participants showed that there are serious problems to meet the needs of the people in the case of disaster, there is no specific plan to meet the needs of people, and it causes that demands of the people are not met that causes dissatisfaction of the people.
"They would not respond to our demands, and whatever we wanted, they would say no, it would be better, for example, they had boots, and they would not give them to us. We had to go with ordinary shoes into the mud. Numerous trucks of people's aid came with boots, paddles, and shovels, stored them and did not give them to the people. I do not know if these are not necessary for the flood, so what is the use of it?" (P9).
Inter-organizational communication management
Coordination is one of the major issues and challenges of disaster risk management, largely due to the widespread nature of disaster-related activities (23). Successful disaster management requires cooperation and coordination between responsible organizations, and its final objective is to reduce the damage caused by disasters. Improving the risk communication process also requires coordination and cooperation between organizations. In this regard, based on the experiences of participants, relief organizations have adopted various strategies to achieve it which are: coordination to meet demands of people, increase communication coordination and strengthen communication platforms.
Coordination to meet demands of the people
The relief organizations use different methods for coordination among organizations to meet demands of people which are: identifying information on the demands of people, public announcement of the demands of people, and supplying demands of people.
The strategy to identify the information demands of people focuses on integrated identification of information on the demands of people and prevention of scattered collection of information by various organizations. Although island measures of organizations continue in this regard, Disaster Management Organization tries to prevent this issue by creating coordination between organizations and information sharing of organizations.
"Meetings were held among the managers of relief organizations to coordinate with each other, but in practice, every organization acted like an island. At the end of the flood, they used health information including the information health system, to identify vulnerable groups of people" (P8).
The demands and resources in the case of disaster often do not match, relief organizations with limited resources need the help of other organizations and people. To properly supply demands of the people, they were publicly announced via the media so that they could supply the demands of the people as much as possible.
"We also had close contact with the media, and I myself appeared on the radio, and I gave the necessary messages there. On the radio and television, we informed the people in the earthquake-stricken areas about the needs of the region, how to help the affected people, told the people that we had checked and that people need these items, and if you want to help, please send these to people" (P24).
Increase communication coordination
In most cases, coordination meetings are held before the event to increase communication between relief organizations and their better performance in the operational field.
Based on participants' experiences, organizations have tried to respond to disasters in a coordinated manner by dividing tasks and informal communication among organizations.
"We cooperated in distributing food to Red Crescent, and they helped us move the patients. The roads were blocked and the inter-road transfer was not possible, we transferred the troops through the organization helicopter to other organizations" (P13).
The other way to increase communication among relief organizations was to share information between relief organizations which was done in a limited way among organizations. Due to lack of a clear plan for this work at the highest levels, information between organizations were shared informally and based on the experiences of the relief worker.
"At the University Health Deputy, we designed a newspaper, which was an A4 page. We sent the daily performance of the University Health Deputy to all relief organizations, which, of course, reached the organizations with a delay of a few days. This was done to inform and communicate with other organizations" (P16).
Strengthen communication platforms
The weak communication infrastructure of relief organizations caused to disrupt the communication of organizations with stakeholders in the case of disaster. Based on the experiences, the organizations first have tried to identify the places where there is a possibility of disruption in the communication infrastructure.
"Because it was possible that communication would be cut off after the heavy flood, we set up all radios in the city canal. We talked to the telecommunications and redirected 115 telephones to the telephones of provincial center, and the telephones of provincial center to my personal telephone, and we were connected to the Pre-hospital emergency stations wirelessly" (P22).
They also used alternative communication platforms to prevent continuous non-communication among them to establish communication among organizations and operational teams as soon as possible.
"During the first two days, when communication infrastructure was cut off, and no news was revealed, mobile phones and telephones were cut off, so there was no cyberspace and no other media from inside the city. Later, the Ministry of Communications deployed an air balloon, and communications were established. Then, the media were able to inform the people" (P15).