Communications are a major, vital and unavoidable component in disaster management in any emergency. However, communication systems (mainly telephone, radio and television) can be easily disrupted during a volcanic eruption, landslide, flood or earthquake and may even fail completely. Much more important, disaster communication, if not properly coordinated, may not really help to relieve the crisis.
The MIAVITA study performed in Mount Cameroon area will help to improve the strategic planning and coordination of the communication among stakeholders during disaster outbreaks, to reduce rumour mongering/alarmist-information and to increase stakeholders’ credibility in disaster management/monitoring.
The purpose of this study is multi-organisational and includes the main communication structures operating in the Mount Cameroon area. Disaster communication in the study area is under the coordination of the Committee on Disaster Management for the South West Region.
Fig. 1: An illustration of communication billboard at Moyuka for the volcanic risk. They were designed, prepared and installed by the VLIR project (Flemish Interuniversity Council in Belgium(Vlaamse Interuniversitaire Raad/VLIR)). They play a major role in disaster awareness and education.
They should be sizable. The picture on each board varies in function of the local view of the volcano.
This study reveals that the committee uses various means of communication to exchange information with the various task forces, which range from cellular, fixed phones, internet to correspondences, hand mail, press release, conferences and group discussions. They can instantly benefit from advanced communication systems like satellite communication from the army as well as transportation systems via helicopters and boats. However, most of the task forces that constitute this committee are not equipped with direct satellite communication systems and rely on cellular phones whose antennae and cables are apparently vulnerable to disasters. No Amateur Radio was identified and satellite phones were still very rarely used with the exception of few television, telephone and Internet operators who use them for in-service needs or quite occasionally. Certain communication structures were in themselves potential victims of disaster outbreak like landslide because they are constructed without taking into account their possibility to have been in a landslide area. Communication operators are highly implicated in disaster communications and could take prompt initiative to cover and communicate on disasters. The main difficulties faced by these operators are the vulnerability of the equipment they use and the lack of protective devices and means of transportation coupled with the poor road network. Another major problem revealed by the study is that virtually 95% of communication operators in the study area have never received training on disaster communication. In addition, the Western area of Mount Cameroon, like Bomboko village and the town of Idenau, is not reached by local and national radio stations’ signals. Only foreign stations like RFI, BBC or Radio Malabo are being successfully tuned there.
Fig. 2: In skip zones, everything is done by the population to improve reception quality (dead fluorescent bulbs serving as antenna). Because not everyone can afford the usual antenna, the inhabitants resort to makeshift antennae or subscribe to cable TV operators for improved reception.
Fig. 3: Conceptual diagram summarizing the inter-operationality among the task forces and communication operators.
Fig. 4: The Post Desk Editor Bouddih A. explaining the types of field equipment used in information gathering. Media operators in the disaster area use ordinary equipments without any special adaptation; in addition to this, they are not specially trained in disaster coverage.
Fig. 5: The local meteorological center in Ekona which is now dysfunctional. Local Meteorological Centres could play a major role in disaster prevention through weather broadcasting.