POLICE SETS OUT COMMUNICATIONS STRATEGY TO EFFACE THE EBOLA VIRUS

SLP Communications Unit :

The Sierra Leone Police has unveiled its communications strategy for the Ebola virus to address the sensitization and dissemination of information on best practice to fight the scourge from infiltrating the force, its personnel and barracks. The general strategy is to establish a protocol through which the Sierra Leone Police will implement a robust information collection, analysis and dissemination system. The objective will be to both internalize key information on the Ebola virus to force’s personnel and their families as well as to externalize the rationale for police operations to the public. The expected outcome is for a general assurance that the police is making best efforts to support the management and control of the spread of the Ebola Virus to the wider population through containment and quarantine. This outcome must be aligned to the provisions of the State of emergency declared by the Head of State, His Excellency the President, Dr Ernest Bai Koroma.

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The Ebola virus has taken a wide grip on up to 20% of the land area of Sierra Leone. A state of emergency has been declared by the President under Section 26 of the Sierra Leone Constitution. In the event, the Sierra Leone Police has a determinedly specific role to ,play in order to maintain law and order and to assist in keeping the peace including ensuring that the Public Order Acts are being enforced. A MAC-P is also in force bringing additional responsibilities on the Police to operationalize their functions alongside Military and other Security personnel.

There is a tendency to underplay the resource implications of wider police engagements and in this instance where a national emergency of no fixed duration is established, there must be some caution on the approach to take in terms of accentuating the logistical requirements and operational environment within which police operations must be secured.

A communications strategy for the Sierra Leone Police is one of the fundamental requirements to internalize the information processes concerning the handling and management of both the public emergency (EBOLA) and the operational mandates (state of emergency) with which the force is faced. Within a civilian dispensation, the Police is the frontal force responsible for safeguarding peace and security, maintaining law and order and above all establishing a working relationship between political authority and local communities, specifically through the extant arrangements for local government, chieftaincy and tribal head administrations.

The Ebola outbreak is unique in that its most effective management is dependent on the ability to contain the virus and that in any essence tantamount o an effective quarantine of targeted areas and communities. The fallout on such measures are calculable but the tendency for any adverse Impact to be laid at the door of the Police who are may in all circumstances be merely translating the wishes of political leadership is immense. In the event, the Police must have a robust communications strategy in place to record their own activities, inform its various stakeholders and provide access points for public feedback on their activities across the regions.

The issues to be considered within such a strategy must reflect;
1. the constitutional mandate of the police force
2. the operational environment within which the force exists including political pressures that may be brought to bear on the force’s hierarchy
3. police logistical requirements to protect its personnel as well as to provide them with the right information to be effective in the frontlines
4. clear and unabridged containment and quarantine instructions
5. regular monitoring and information dissemination to staff and their dependants

This strategy is restricted to police communications in relation to content and the spread and dispersal of that content across the force. The context will also consider logistical requirements as a contributing factor to accord assurance of the preponderance of information currently available and with the intent that the provision of adequate protection of rank and file personnel should give reasonable assurance of the message to discourage the Ebola virus from infiltrating the force is being taken seriously.

In actualizing the above strategy, the police will use several communication tools to internalize its messages in a very effective manner. While some of the rudiments of these tools are being developed within the SLP, the current Ebola outbreak accords an acceleration of their phasing into mainstream policing logistics.

1. Computer access – all stations to host at last One Computer for the use of a designated station reporting officer / information officer or public health emergency reporting officer.
2. Internet access – all such computers as in (1) above to be connected to the internet, Dongle or Modem connections available
3. Police Newsletter – to provide up to date news view and information on police operations around the public health emergency
4. Police website updates
5. Press briefings – more regular and emergency focused – news of operations to search and report suspected cases; tracking of suspected cases and road block management to contain quarantine areas.
6. Regular on the spot patrols by senior officers, supervisory checks on containment areas and REGPOL COMMAND REPORTS
7. Communications patrol – to search and report on events and issues as they occur. Two vehicles required by the Media & Communications Unit for this purpose.
8. Feature writing and publication on mainstream newspapers
9. Radio and TV appearances – officers to be briefed prior by Community Relations Directorate and / or Media Communications Consultant
10. Regular briefing and progress status reports to EMB

The strategy will be put in place within a three to six month period. Three months of high impact exposure and visibility, especially with the Barracks Sensitization and a further three months to fine tune the message and internalize the information regarding the police response and efforts in fighting the virus. This will be done by briefings, newsletter and regular updates. The central aspect of the communication strategy is to make a lot of noise and to get our people to understand that the gravity of this situation is such that without their collective awareness and efforts to make the right decisions, then there will be no man standing after this scourge takes its toll. This is such a scary message but the rudiments of Barracks living and the facts of life in such communal environments make detection containment and treatment of suspected cases extremely difficult to predict or even to determine as to effectiveness. Proper sensitization and continuous messaging allows for greater visibility of the virus, a greater awareness of how to identify potential cases and in some cases, a willingness to seek medical attention as soon as it rears itself and more importantly, the readiness to be quarantined for the better good of the rest of the society.

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