An essential aspect of effective crisis communication is to divide the crisis into different stages, in order to prevent the adoption of a blanket approach to crisis management. A crisis can be divided into three stages:
The pre-crisis stage can also be described as the “warning” stage in which a member of the organization, usually the supervisor or manager discovers an impending critical situation, and warns the senior management about it.
At the initial stage of the crisis, mass communication is usually bypassed, with the crisis being limited to the higher tiers of the organizational hierarchy. It is the job of the managers to analyze the situation during this stage and determine its potential harm, as well as any necessary action that needs to be taken. When managers begin risk assessment, an emergency notification system plays an important role, as the organization’s emergency action plan is activated, with the communications being geared towards assembling the team members, executives, and officials connected to the incident.
The next stage of a crisis is the acute-crisis, in which the crisis becomes visible to people outside the organization. It is necessary to activate the crisis management team at this stage. In the case of a small business, this usually refers to the business owner and some key staff members. The crisis team members also make use of the crisis communication system to notify the “masses” about the incident at this stage.
Effective communication is imperative at the acute-crisis stage to ensure the constituents are made aware of the incident and are provided with the necessary instructions. First-responders are also called into the scene at this stage. As the crisis progresses towards resolution, the focus of communication shifts to providing regular status updates to the concerned audiences, modifying previous instructions, controlling rumors, and conferencing with leadership and responder teams.
When the crisis moves from the acute-crisis stage and is contained, this is the final stage of the crisis, known as the post-crisis. It is at this stage that the organization tries to recoup their losses, and show the community, shareholders, and customers the repercussions of the crisis through all-clear alerts and reassurance messages. The key goals of the organization in the post-crisis stage are to recoup the losses, evaluate the performance during the crisis, and identify necessary changes that need to be made in the crisis management system. Communication at this stage also involves post-crisis counseling.
When creating or updating an emergency preparedness plan, each of these stages should be identified and documented in full detail, including key contacts or functions within the organization that must be involved at each step. The result will be a much more complete and thorough document that provide the key information needing to be available at a moment’s notice.