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Communication: The Critical Link for Crisis Recovery

19 Jul. 2017 Posted by aadams

Vivian Marinelli, Psy.D., FEI Senior Director Crisis Management Services

We’ve all heard about the need to communicate on the same channels during an emergency response, whether via technology or with the terms we use. However, there are additional aspects of communication that may often be overlooked during a crisis: Who needs the information and why.

The three major descriptors for overall communication following a crisis event are internal, on-site and external.

Internal Communication, Key Roles and Cohesive Messaging

Internal communication refers to all the various types of communication that takes place between the organization’s emergency response teams and the command center. It is initiated by the first notification of an incident to the individual role tasked with alerting emergency response team members of the event. For some organizations, the first notification is directed to an assessment group consisting of C-suite executives. This group typically will include the emergency response director and reviews information about the situation to assess the level of response required at that time. 

Many organizations utilize a tier-system model to assess the various crisis situations that might impact a company. Such an approach provides the emergency response team with a tool that can identify the organizational response support necessary for different types of risks or crises. A matrix develops that will determine the key team members or roles that need to be notified when a crisis occurs.

Once the necessary team members have been notified of a situation, they’ll need to be briefed and provided current information about the response and tasked with their initial responsibilities. Three critical teams during a crisis response are the command center, on-site response personnel and communications.

Organizations often incorporate an incident command system-like model in their emergency response planning to help identify clear chain-of-command reporting and communication. Since many team members are tasked with different responsibilities and are part of teams that go beyond the norm of their day-to-day obligations, this structure provides an easily understood process in which they can see how their role fits into the overall response and
communication links.

Internal communication does not just include the response teams, either. It also needs to address the entire organization. When a crisis occurs, other operations will continue. Therefore, staff tasked with maintaining daily operations need information on:

  • What has happened.
  • How it impacts operations.
  • Where to report for work, i.e. alternate sites.
  • When there is a change in schedule, if any.
  • What to say if approached by media, via personal communications or through
    social media.

The corporate communications team is responsible for developing and providing all messaging during a crisis, both within the company and to any external sources. A key guideline for crisis communication is to keep the messaging consistent. Although some of the content may vary depending on the audience, the overall message regarding the company’s involvement with the response, as well as the involvement of other agencies, should be cohesive. Internal communication should also provide updates to staff on any changes that have or might occur.

On-Site Communication, Coordination and Updates

On-site communication refers to the sharing of information between response teams. Although identified as “on-site,” this communication involves the corporate headquarter command center and the on-site emergency response teams for the company. These teams will coordinate additional support from external resources; as such, it is critical for the on-site team and the command center to have an open line for immediate communication. This can be accomplished by establishing and maintaining a conference bridge in both locations.

It is important to immediately set a schedule by which all teams will share updates on the response. This may begin on an hourly basis, as many tasks need to be initiated and completed. As the response continues, the schedule for reporting may increase in length as the number of updates begin stabilizing.

External Communication and Specific Audiences

External communication includes all communication that is focused on audiences outside of the immediate organization. External communication will be directed to the various stakeholders for the company including the board of directors, media, community and vendors.

The overall message about the company’s response to the crisis should be consistent across these constituents, although additional details relevant to each individual group must be communicated. For example, the board of directors will need to know how the crisis may impact the financial outlook and reputation of the organization, whereas the community will want to know if there is a direct threat or precautions they need to address.

During a crisis, an organization has to provide a steady stream of consistent communication and transparency regarding the response through all channels in order to regain or maintain the trust of everyone connected with the company and successfully survive disruption.



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