Communicating in Emergency Situations

disaster communicationsDo you have a disaster communications plan? I’m sure you do. Every organization has some kind of plan in a thick binder shelved away somewhere.

So maybe I should word the question differently. Do you have an active disaster communications plan? One that you have frequently practiced?

The importance of it is seen in situations like the recent fatal tornadoes that ravaged certain areas of Texas and Oklahoma. Even amongst the chaos, those affected had some sense of direction thanks to the officials who were in charge of the crisis communications.

They distributed vital information to the public: locations of shelters and triage centers, what affected residents need to do, how others can donate to the tornado victims, etc.

And that should be the goal for your organization—to be a compass in the midst of chaos.

Not having an active disaster communications plan is like having a fire drill, but never practicing it. What do you think will happen when a fire actually strikes?

“Practice isn’t the thing you do when you’re good. It’s the thing you do that makes you good.” – Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers: The Story of Success.

If your organization doesn’t have a disaster communications team in place for natural disasters, I suggest you get one in a hurry and practice, then practice some more. The moment tragedy strikes is not the time to be unprepared.

Need help making sure your plan is effective?

It’s difficult to provide step-by-step instructions on what your team should do and how they should practice because not all situations are the same. Luckily, the CDC has a very comprehensive Crisis and Emergency Risk Communication handbook that will help you in various scenarios.

It will help you prioritize the questions that need to be answered. What are the immediate dangers and risks? What do those impacted need to know now? How about next? And after that? Who will be the one(s) in control of getting this information out to the staff and public?

The resounding theme is the importance of those responsible for giving out the information to stay five steps ahead of what’s going on.

Even though there will be plenty of tweets and statuses floating around giving out all kinds of information, your organization needs to be the main source where facts are double-checked. It needs to be the place where the media gets its information and where residents can stay in tune to the facts.

Essentially—it needs to be the compass in the midst of chaos.

Hope Boyd
Written by:
Hope Boyd
Director of Communications, Strategic Government Resources

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