Communication and Complex Emergencies Project

ACCRU Applied Communication Collaborative Research Unit


The aim of the Communication and Complex Emergencies Project is to understand the role that new information and communication technologies play during emergencies. Right now, more people are connected to Internet-capable devices than ever before. The ability to communicate, share content and exchange ideas and opinions has never been greater. Access to new and highly mobile information communication technologies (ICTs) now extends across both the developed and developing world. Without question, new ICTs are radically altering the scope of communication possibilities. They are also helping to transform humanitarian responses during times of emergency. New ICTs significantly enhance the potential for innovative risk reduction communication, real-time dialogue, as well as shifting the way in which data is collected from disaster affected communities in supporting of enhanced situational awareness and humanitarian outcomes.

The project will be carried out by the Applied Communication Collaborative Research Unit (ACCRU) of the University of Adelaide. ACCRU is dedicated to promoting and understanding the role of information and communication technologies (ICTs) in processes of development and social change. ACCRU draws together a group of internationally regarded specialists and emerging  researchers into a consortium dedicated to supporting the program, evaluation and research needs of a wide range of organisations that have a role in promoting communication initiatives across a wide range of themes and contexts.


The main outputs will be a series of concise publications that offer concise practice-focused guidance on the use of new ICTs during complex emergencies.

The guides will be between 6-8 pages in length and will be produced in multiple formats (rugged print, normal print and online). The guides will be produced in plain English to enhance their appeal and clarity. Each guide will focus on a particular communication or technology, and will focus upon:

  • How to use the relevant ICT during a
    complex emergency;
  • Their key strengths and weaknesses;
  • Top tips (to enhance practice effectiveness);
  • Their role in enhancing situational awareness and risk mitigation;
  • Working with local communication technology/service providers;
  • Relevant infrastructure issues during emergencies.

The guidance papers will focus on the following communication technologies:

Wikis and knowledge co-creation

These tools have become commonplace during complex emergencies and help to enhance the situational awareness of emergency personnel. In the process, such communication and collaboration tools help to reduce duplication in terms of the knowledge generation effort, as well as duplication of services;

SMS and ‘apps’

These tools can help to promote life-saving information. The wide availability of mobile phones, including in developing world contexts, makes the use of SMS and phone-based ‘apps’ important channels for sending alerts about impending emergencies or reducing the risks associated with them. Mobile phone owners closely observe their devices during periods of crisis, making them an critical option for humanitarian stakeholders;

Social media and networking

Social media has become a mainstay of the emergency communication response effort and wider peer-to-peer communication in recent years. Social media are useful for dispelling rumours (but may also create them), providing up-to-the-minute information on an evolving crisis and for gathering data resulting from affected communities. Moderation of social media is critical and poor  moderation can lead to misinformation reaching the public and distortion of the humanitarian response;

Crowdsourcing and crisis mapping

Such activities draw information from disaster-affected communities, or ‘the crowd’, in order to enhance the humanitarian response and increase situational awareness. Data may be received from volunteers utilizing ‘apps’ in disaster-affected areas or directly from those affected through SMS messaging or social media. Crowdsourced data is often used to create visual crisis maps, which
provide real-time mapping of emergencies as they evolve and which, help to focus the emergency response.