Exotic animal diseases communications strategy: August 2022
This communications strategy is for use in the event of a disease outbreak, whether a major outbreak with widespread disease, or a more limited incident.
9. National (Scottish) level communications
Disease Policy Unit (DPU)
9.1 Directed by the DSG, communications will play a central part of DPU activities to ensure key internal and external stakeholders are kept fully informed of the developing disease situation and response, including information on movement restrictions in place and permitted movements.
9.2 Following confirmation of disease, and once the initial actions have been undertaken, the emphasis will be on providing consistent, accurate and up‑to-date information. A Communications Coordinator, who will liaise with CMSD, will be appointed within the DPU to support the disease control response, and will have responsibility for overseeing communications requirements and implementation. The Communications Coordinator will be pivotal in ensuring the right mix of communication channels are being utilised to provide targeted and timely information to the organisations and individuals who need it. The individual selected for this role will be a senior manager from within the Scottish Government and will be able to identify and respond to communication needs. This role is central to the Communications Strategy, so it will be important for the post-holder to be highly visible and known to all involved in the emergency response. Initially, the Head of the DPU will fulfil this role, until a Communications Coordinator can be appointed. Given the importance of communications to the overall disease response strategy, the Communications Coordinator will participate in DSG meetings.
9.3 Depending on the scale of the outbreak, consideration will also be given to embedding a Communications Officer from CMSD within the DPU to support the Communications Coordinator. The Communications Officer will also participate in DSG meetings and the daily UK Daily Communications Meeting.
Scottish Government Resilience (SGoR)
9.4 Disease outbreaks will often require a response from across the Scottish Government, particularly when dealing with a zoonotic disease or other consequence management issues. When a corporate response is required, SGoR will be activated. The precise role of SGoR will vary depending on the nature of the outbreak and circumstances at the time, but SGoR will consider the wider consequences of the emergency, advise Scottish Ministers and coordinate the activities of Government and other responders. The role of SGoR and its response structures are described in 'Preparing Scotland: Scottish Guidance on Resilience'. A representative from CMSD will participate in all SGoR meetings.
9.5 Depending on the scale of the outbreak, a member of the Scottish Government Response, Communications and Community Resilience Division may be embedded in the DPU to support the Communications Coordinator and to coordinate information flow to and from SGoR. SGoR will monitor DPU and DSG activity to ensure their response level is appropriate. For example, if the outbreak is small or isolated, the DPU will handle the response end to end without SGoR support.
9.6 The Resilience Division may also send Liaison Officers to support RPs directly; helping to ensure effective communication between responders and Government and to provide general advice and support.
9.7 News releases are an important means of getting key messages to the public. News releases will be used to reinforce the need for good biosecurity and vigilance while covering headline announcements, such as:
- outbreak status updates
- movement restriction updates
9.8 Where appropriate, the Communications Coordinator will involve operational partners and stakeholders in the development of news releases. Finalised news releases will be shared with operational partners and stakeholder groups prior to issue, in order that they can make any necessary arrangements and ensure a consistency of message in their own communications.
Scottish Government website
9.9 Websites are useful for conveying detailed information widely, quickly and cost effectively. As highlighted above (see paragraph 6.9), the information currently on the Scottish Government website about exotic notifiable animal disease will be supplemented by additional information specific to the disease outbreak, which will, as far as possible, have been readied in advance. This will provide a comprehensive and well-structured disease outbreak web section that can be launched upon confirmation of disease. The Communications Coordinator will ensure the content of these webpages is regularly reviewed to ensure all information is up-to-date. For ease of access, dedicated disease outbreak pages will be on the Scottish Government webpages. Where crosscutting issues arise, such as public health concerns, the disease outbreak web section will be updated with links to other relevant websites.
9.10 Stakeholder websites also provide an invaluable information point for their members and other interested parties. Stakeholders will be requested to include links from their own websites to the Scottish Government's disease outbreak web section. Information provided at stakeholder meetings and in e-mail updates will enable stakeholders to include details of the latest developments on their own organisation's website.
9.11 A Key Brief document will be developed to provide the starting point for DPU members, other Scottish Government Directorates, the CDCC, operational partners and stakeholders. The Key Brief document will provide the basis for a briefing page on the Scottish Government website. A weblink to the briefing page can then be emailed to stakeholders. The Communications Manager will ensure the Key Brief document and webpage are regularly updated and made available to those who require it.
Stakeholder group meetings
9.12 There is likely to be huge demand for information during disease outbreaks. The role played by stakeholder organisations in relaying information to their members and the public can help to reduce the number of calls made to staff engaged in the disease response.
9.13 Regular stakeholder meetings will be held at both national and local level for the duration of the outbreak (see paragraphs 6.7 and 6.8). At a national (Scottish) level, CVO Scotland will chair these meetings, providing a forum for policy officials, veterinary advisers, industry representatives, welfare specialists and operational partners to share and exchange information, highlight areas for concern and contribute to their resolution. Those discussions will also consider the development of complementary communications that avoid duplication of effort, maximise the audience reached and maintain clarity and consistency of message. The frequency of meetings will be determined in discussion with stakeholders, but are likely to take place at least weekly.
Stakeholder e-mail updates
9.14 In addition to face-to-face or virtual meetings, Scottish stakeholder groups will receive regular e-mail updates on the latest developments. Recipients of these information updates will be strongly encouraged to cascade the information to their members and other interested parties. This is an essential tool in reaching as much of each target audience as possible.
9.15 The DSG will determine whether, and at what point, it is appropriate for Scottish Government to activate a national (Scottish) emergency phone helpline, which will be operated by RPID staff in area offices. Once activated, the helpline will be geared mainly toward fielding queries from out with the immediate vicinity of the IP.
9.16 The helpline will have a dual function; to provide information and assistance and also to gather intelligence on developing problems. Helpline calls will be monitored in order to enable the Communications Coordinator to identify any developing communication needs, and to help highlight potential problems. Where disease outbreaks have zoonotic potential, the DSG will consider arrangements for handling calls relating to public health matters.
9.17 Once activated, it is likely that the helpline will remain in place until restrictions are lifted. Call volumes will be monitored to help determine the helpline's hours of operation and required staffing levels. Calls will be monitored and any trends/themes requiring communication to the general public will be fed into CMSD. A Core Script will be produced by the DPU, which will be the main reference source for helpline staff when dealing with queries.
9.18 A routine GB helpline is in place during office hours to report wild bird mortality incidents of 5 birds or more in the same location to 03459 335577. Opening hours may be extended during exotic notifiable avian disease outbreaks.
Animal disease alert service
9.19 APHA offers a free subscription service to help people keep in touch with the latest developments regarding animal disease. The service is mainly for farmers, vets and livestock keepers, but it is available to everyone. Subscribers receive information via their choice of text, or email on a number of notifiable animal diseases.
9.20 Mailshots can help to ensure that essential, specific information on the disease situation reaches those who do not have internet access or receive communications from a stakeholder organisation. Mailshots will generally be reserved for significant announcements.
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