During a crisis, it is crucial to have an efficient communication process in place. The executive leadership team will make key decisions and the emergency response team will assign critical tasks to support a response.

While both teams are charged with specific responsibilities, there should be one leader to manage the response. This individual is like a symphony conductor or air traffic controller: They understand all the moving parts and know how to coordinate them successfully.

If various orchestra members or pilots operate without this leadership, chaos results. There may be a few individuals who would recognize the need to work cooperatively, sure, but many others would be operating independently while looking for guidance. In addition, there’s likely to be an overlap in services and an inefficient use of time and resources.

Without a proper communication structure in place, the following is likely to occur:

Scenario A:

Severe weather is impacting your organization. All department managers are individually contacting the HR manager to ask whether their staff should be sent home. In addition, staff who are due to report to work are also contacting the HR manager since they have not heard anything from their managers.

Can you imagine how overwhelmed the HR manager might be?

To prevent this situation, people in the emergency operations center (EOC) should assign group leaders who report to the EOC leader. The EOC leader will then communicate with the executive team on the appropriate response and any ongoing decisions and actions that are needed.

By establishing this line of communication, the EOC leader can manage the executive team, which can provide timely updates to key stakeholders. The EOC leader should also schedule regular updates with the executive team to receive reports and provide updates.

With a proper communications structure in place, the following is likely to occur:

Scenario B:

During severe weather, the EOC is activated. Department managers including HR are briefed and share concerns about staff. The EOC leader passes the decision to the CEO who decides to send staff home early and advises them not to return until all is clear. The EOC leader then briefs the executive team and staff are notified.

The process is streamlined because an EOC leader and an executive team have been identified.

The reason this works is simple: Proper communication channels have been set up. This principle revolves around the National Incident Management System (NIMS) and the Incident Command System (ICS) model set by Homeland Security.

NIMS was put in place to allow multiple government agencies to work together in a crisis. Instead of following a hierarchy where the top-ranked official is in charge, the NIMS model focuses on field-level management using the ICS model.

The ICS model provides a predefined structure that revolves around the incident commander and section areas that may make up multiple agencies. These sections are listed as command, operations, planning, logistics and finance.

Many organizations have adopted a modified version of this approach and implemented it into their emergency plans. This is ideal because it allows decisions to be communicated to those involved and resources to be allocated appropriately.

Learn more about the NIMS and ICS models and explore related training courses.