Communication – “What’d you say?”

Blog Post created by afraser Employee on Nov 27, 2017

By Allan B. Fraser, CBI, CPCA, Sr. Building Code specialist, NFPA


This is the seventh in the ten part series on personal disaster planning.


Definition of communication


“A process by which information is exchanged between individuals through a common system of symbols, signs, or behavior.” 



    How often do we think about communication? Oh sure we may talk about it at work and how well we do it, but that tends to be more about the content of the message rather than the process of delivering or receiving it, especially for us as individuals.


        A few years ago I had a chance to speak with a young man I met at a conference about his concerns with getting notification from the fire alarm in his building and he wanted to know why NFPA isn’t working on the problem for him and many people like him. Although I’d worked on emergency evacuations related to people with disabilities for a long time this was a new “conversation” or more accurately a new “communication” for me that really made me stop and think.


        You see, the young man I was talking to and learning from was deaf and blind. In order for us to communicate he had an interpreter. He would use sign language to communicate his words to her and she would verbalize his thoughts to me. As I responded, she would communicate my thoughts to him with a specialized method of sign language. Because he was blind and couldn’t see her hands, he would lightly place his hands over hers so that he could feel the “signs” she was making. It was maybe the most incredible learning experience I’ve had in a long time. Both the content of what he was saying and about the method by which we were communicating.


        When the fire alarm in his building goes off, he has to rely on neighbors to come and alert him as he can’t hear the siren or see the flashing strobe light. He wanted me to relay his concerns to our technical committee on fire alarms to see what they might be able to come up with.


I’m sure that it’s pretty clear by now that he would need to have an interpreter with him constantly during an evacuation. Then I started thinking about everyone else during evacuations. What would we do to communicate our needs and receive communications from others about what we need to do, where to go, how to get there, etc.


What sort of communications do we need to have? How about contacting or being contacted by:


  • Family
  • Friends
  • Transportation
  • Shelter
  • Pharmacy
  • Doctor
  • Bank


Getting information about:

  • Events that might affect you or them
  • Status of your home or theirs
  • When, or if you can go home
  • And any other information you may need.


How do you do you communicate if there is no land line phone where you are? Or if your cell phone is dead with no way to recharge it because the power is out? What if you don’t speak the same language as those who staff the shelter?


 What if you are deaf? Or what if you are like the young man I spoke of earlier and are deaf and blind? Either prior to the event or maybe because the event injured your sight or hearing?


These are very frightening things to think about, but it would be far worse to have to wait until they happen to figure out a plan.


Part eighth of the ten-part series will be in the next issue, March, 2018.