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Crisis Communications for First Responders

4 minute read - Posted by Daniel Wagstaff on Sep 26, 2018 6:00:00 AM

Any situation that is threatening or could become threatening and harm people, property, businesses, and even damage reputations is considered a crisis. The world is and has always been vulnerable to a wide array of crisis. People, institutions, organizations, countries, landscapes, everyone an everything on this earth could at one point be in crisis.

When it comes to crisis situations and crisis management, crisis communications are both challenging and tremendously vital, thus should be regarded with utmost importance. Aspects such as tone, language, medium, timing, and the message itself play key roles in the way crisis communications should be handled, especially in the case of first responders. If you do not prepare for a crisis, you will sustain more damage in the event of one happening.

What Are the Most Common Mistakes in Crisis Communications?

In order to better understand the way communications by first responders should be conducted in the case of a crisis, we need to look at what are some of the most common mistakes in these situations:

  • Dealing with a crisis only after it has become public
  • Letting reputation speak for the current situation
  • Treating journalists and media organizations as the enemy
  • Use a language and tone that is disproportional with the understanding of your audience
  • Not addressing the situation as a whole and focusing on particular aspects of the crisis
  • Communicating solely in written form
  • Assessing damage not based on evidence, but on best guesses
  • Using communications or strategies from previous crises with the hopes that they match the current situation
  • Relying on the fact that as long as you are telling the truth, there is no need to better manage the way you are doing it

There is of course a plenitude of mistakes that can be done in case of crisis communications, but the ones above are amongst the most common, and also amongst the ones to most trouble first responders, and widening the damages created by a crisis.

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What should be done in order to improve crisis communications for first responders?

The first thing to consider is to anticipate a crisis. Being proactive and thinking of all possible scenarios might help you a lot when the time comes. At the same time, there are crisis that can’t be averted, situations for which you also need to be prepared in terms of communications.

Be prompt. Be smart. Be useful.

As simple and easy to implement this sounds, there are a lot of categories falling under the imperative of these three short recommendations, from making sure that you have the phone numbers of all key internal contact around the world, having resilient protocols in place, evaluating the cost implications of all your statements, to setting in motion operational and logistical actions to better help with the situations. Oftentimes, people hear the word “communications” and think all a first responder needs to do is communicate the crisis to the world, and let others take it from there. But there are situations in which, depending on the crisis, a first responder needs to communicate much more than the presence of a crisis, situation in which first responders deal with more than being simple messengers.

What should be done about social media?

The world has changed tremendously with the development of the Internet. In today’s digital world, social media is both a blessing and concern or crisis communications. A lot of first responders are struggling to decide whether to ignore or make use of social media in a crisis. The stigma around this probably comes from the fact that social media platforms seem as uncontrollable environments where information can spread and cause even more damage. But the truth is that the rapidity with which information travels on social media can be of assistance more than people realize. In times of crisis, people turn to each other for help, strangers are helping other strangers, and social media is the perfect medium for that.

Social media is the most efficient method of delivering emergency response messages, after the text message alert system. But if you are dealing with a crisis that is not of much harm to other people, then you might think that social media is not the place for you, but as long as you avoid the mistakes mentioned above, and thoroughly implement your crisis communications strategy, there is no need to fear social media. Just keep in mind that as long as someone has a smartphone, they can become a reporter, so don’t think that just because you are outside the building on a break, or before delivering a message, you can say things regarding the crisis that you would not otherwise say in your message.

Speed, Frequency, and Interoperability Are Key in a Crisis

Communications challenges experience by first responders in the past have led many people to believe that no matter the crisis, there is no such things as an optimal communications strategy for them. And while yes, there is no such thing as having a crystal ball to tell first respondents how they should respond in a particular situation, if proper communications methods and strategies are implemented, they will not need one. Most of the damage from past crises have arisen from either the lack of a prompt respond, a frequency in delivering messages, and interchangeability problems which have made it impossible for messages to reach their target audience. Making sure that three aspects are covered should be part of any first responder’s strategy for a better communication process. More and more public-private partnerships are forming, and starting to fix some of the issues encountered in previous crisis, regardless of their nature. These partnerships are also improving safety for first time responders who face risks due to the nature of their jobs.

The one thing that needs to be remembered is that in times of crisis, a good communication strategy become less of a ‘strategy’ and more of a mean of gaining trust and reducing anxiety, but also a mean of achieving better outcomes and safer conditions, which is why crisis communications for first responders should never be seen as merely a strategy.

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Topics: crisis communications