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Use Peacetime Wisely: Plan Now For What To Say And Do In A Crisis

By Bruce Hennes, Hennes Communications

Public officials, CEOs, executive directors and members of for-profit and non-profit boards have a responsibility to their stakeholders to plan for situations that will imperil life, limb and the ability of their organizations to fulfill their missions.

In the immediate aftermath of a major incident, such as a mass shooting at a mall, restaurant, school or a faith-based location, the lead spokesperson for that event will come from among local police chiefs, state and federal law enforcement officials.

But “major incidents” (for example, civil disturbances, accusations of police misconduct, heat waves, massive winter storms, wildfires, tornados, cyberattacks and power outages) often turn into multi-day or multi-week events.  That means it may fall to you to be “communicator-in-chief” for days or even weeks that follow.  Will you know what to do?  Will you know what to say?

Hennes Communications’ Howard Fencl has compiled a checklist of critical communication tactics and content you’ll need if you’re thrust into a situation, particularly involving civil unrest, with no crisis communications plan.

Unfortunately, as we have found, too many organizations haven’t used the time before the crisis hits, to build that plan. A carefully thought out and executed crisis communications plan will work in tandem with your operational emergency plan and help organizational leaders quickly and effectively assume the role of “communicator-in-chief,” with stakeholders seeking information about the victims, logistical information – and possibly messages of unity and healing.

The operational emergency plan along with the crisis communications plan will identify short lists of activities, each requiring appropriate messaging:

Disaster Recovery

  • Protocols for community and employee engagement
  • Protocols for keeping city councils and school boards in the loop and ensuring cooperation
  • Reporting progress on a regular basis
  • Memorials and remembrances
  • Sustaining the recovery

Community Finances

  • Decide who will document to FEMA protocols
  • Determine fund balance policy
  • Plan what to do if the fund balance won’t support the disaster response

Media Management

  • Determine location for satellite trucks
  • Staff the 24-hour news cycle
  • Choose who speaks for the city or your company/organization
  • Be prepared for city, state or federal government to pre-empt the city
  • Monitor traditional and social media
  • Respond to rumors and misinformation
  • Create a separate website for disaster info and lead people to it
  • Create the crisis “brand” (for example, “Boston Strong”)

Volunteers & Donations

  • Decide who manages the volunteers
  • Choose how to recruit, screen, deploy & supervise
  • Handle donations of food and goods
  • Cash donations

The Crisis Management Action Steps to Take Now

  • Prioritize situational awareness
  • Prioritize employee protection
  • Protect your facilities (especially vacant buildings and offices)
  • Plan for business continuity
  • Create a crisis communications plan that dovetails with your business continuity plan.

The creation of a crisis communications plan starts with a vulnerability audit to determine which scenarios to prepare for. The plan answers these questions for each scenario:

  • What do you say
  • Who do you say it to
  • How do you say it
  • When do you say it
  • Where do you say it

Then, with messages, statements and news releases all approved, companies and organizations are better able to respond to situations and mitigate reputational damage.

Copyright Hennes Communications 2022 all rights reserved.
Photo credit: jsalida at Visual Hunt

For more information about how your organization can prepare for the situations detailed above, please contact Hennes Communications at 216-321-7774.

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