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How to plan your crisis communications in advance

Photo of David Gilbert, VP of Americas

David Gilbert

VP Americas

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1 Oct 2018
5 min read
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What you need to communicate, and with whom you need to be communicating

A good communications strategy is important to any business. But in the event of a crisis, communicating effectively becomes more important than ever for public safety. The stakes are high, and often, time is short. In this kind of high-pressure environment, a series of seemingly simple tasks become more difficult to execute than you’d think. Without a proper plan in place, it’s easy for this to lead to missteps with potentially devastating outcomes.

So what kind of things do you need to think about when you’re making a crisis communications plan? Here are five simple steps that, when considered in advance, can save you a lot of trouble later on.

1) What Has Happened?

While the specifics of a crisis are, by definition, hard to predict, it is possible to identify the broader categories of safety risks that are relevant to your industry.

For instance, if you’re in the transport and logistics industry, you’ll be susceptible to different kinds of emergencies than someone working in education, just as a local government is more concerned with community safety than a warehouse safety manager. Rather than school evacuations, your potential crises may have to do with vehicle crashes, IT outages, major delays, and shift fulfillment.

Once you’ve identified the types of crises that your business is most susceptible to, you can start to plan for the amount of time it will take you to assess different types of situations, and what kinds of resources you’ll need to resolve them.

2) Who Needs Information?

Different types of crises have different sets of stakeholders that will need to be informed, from emergency services to community leaders, and public safety agencies. Once you’ve identified your crisis categories, you can start to attach different contact lists to each.

It’s not enough, however, to create a contact list and ignore it until disaster strikes. Effective communication in the event of an emergency relies on contact lists that are also up to date. There’s no point, after all, trying to deliver essential information to a key stakeholder if you don’t have their current mobile number.

Just as important as having current contact lists is having a platform that is capable of storing them securely, reliably, and dynamically.

Modern communications platforms make crisis preparation easier by streamlining crucial aspects of contact storage. For instance, dynamic contact lists can automatically group relevant contacts into communications categories, while offering web portals that allow stakeholders to update their own contact details as they change. Meanwhile, keeping all personal information safe and secure.

3) What Do You Need to Communicate?

From public safety teams to trained law enforcement, under ordinary circumstances, even the best communicators make mistakes. But in high-pressure crisis situations, the risk factor for errors is dramatically increased.

So how do you ensure that your message is appropriate and relevant in advance? How do you ensure it contains all of the important information for compliant emergency management? How can you possibly remember to think about these things under pressure?

You can’t.

This is where – again – communications technologies come in. While you can’t be expected to know specific details in advance, you can use the right software to better coordinate rescue operations or wellness checks and address the public on multiple platforms by creating message templates for your various crisis categories.

By laying out all current and further information that needs to be communicated in case of emergency, you limit the details that need to be filled out last minute and minimize the risk of error. In summary, it's all about operational efficiency.

4) How Do You Ensure Your Message is Heard?

While many crises benefit from case by case management in advance, in most crisis situations, fast action is crucial. In fact, the decisions made during the first hour of an emergency event usually have as much impact on reducing risk as all subsequent decisions made during the communications life-cycle.

So, even if your contact list is up to date, how do you ensure the right access so that people see the message before it’s too late?

When it comes to getting your message across, the simple rule is: the more channels, the better. But when time is of the essence, SMS should be the shining star of your crisis plan.

With faster open rates than any other channel – an average of just 4 minutes – it’s highly likely that your stakeholders will be checking their phone before they check their email.

When it comes to traditional methods, crisis communications becomes a full-time job. However, with modern communication platforms, not only can you send your message instantly across multiple platforms, but you can also make sure it’s not lost in the ether. Some communications platforms offer the ability to ‘push’ your message, with pop-up mobile notifications that don’t disappear until they’re acknowledged. After all, in crisis situations, you can’t leave your open rate to chance.

5) …But Did They Get It?

It’s one thing for a recipient to open your message and quite another for you to know they’ve opened it. Having real-time visibility over the status of your message once it’s been distributed to key stakeholders is crucial to informing the next steps of your communications life-cycle. Without this visibility, you end up waiting through the radio silence and wasting time - which is precious during an emergency, especially when there's a large-scale natural disaster.

Modern communications platforms give you control of your message even after it’s been sent. With the ability to track the status of your message in real-time, you put time on your side, and make the escalation process both faster, easier, and more trackable.

Conclusion

Communicating under pressure is difficult and planning for the worst can be detrimental to the mental health of those in charge. After all, in crisis situations, there’s a lot at stake. By doing a bit of forward planning – thinking about the ‘what’, ‘who’, and ‘how’ of your potential emergency response – you minimize the chance of making a critical mistake at the last minute.

Smart communications platforms assist you and rescue services across all stages of the communications life-cycle. From initial planning to final reporting, if you have the right technology at your side, you can ensure you’re always prepared for the unexpected.

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