Trust is the foundation of relationships. When your organization faces an emergency, communications (or the lack thereof) to your employees, customers, and other stakeholders can support or erode that foundation. Protect your organization’s reputation and relationships by being prepared to communicate in a crisis.
In an event, you need to know who to communicate to and how and when to do so. This requires preplanning. Make sure your emergency response plans have a communication component so you will know how to respond to each risk your organization faces. Essential components of a crisis communication plan include:
- Stakeholders: Identify the individuals and public or private groups your organization interacts with. Internal stakeholders include employees, volunteers, members of the board of directors, etc. External stakeholders include customers, suppliers, service providers, vendors, public and regulatory authorities, and the media. Think about what information each group would need to know from you during a crisis and what you would need to know from them.
- Spokesperson: Identify a single individual or small team that will handle dissemination and receipt of information from stakeholders.
- Strategy: Transparency and timeliness of communications are critical during an incident. Plan in advance what and how you are going to communicate with internal and external stakeholders, including alternate ways of accessing and sharing information. General statements, also called holding statements, can be prepared in advance and are released to stakeholders during an incident before detailed facts come in. For example, an organization operating in an area affected by a hurricane would release: “Our thoughts are with those who are in harm’s way and those responding to the storm. We have implemented our crisis plan and will be supplying additional information as it becomes available.” Review and revise these statements on a regular basis to make sure they remain timely and appropriate.
In developing your communications strategy and holding statements, consider the unique environment your organization operates in. For example, is litigation a concern? If so, it is prudent to include your legal counsel.
Once you have your communications plan, make sure it is part of your emergency preparedness training. The spokesperson or communications team should practice drafting communications when plans are exercised.
When the unexpected does occur, craft a message that is honest, clear, and concise. Foremost, assess the situation and collect facts. Your communications to stakeholders should be fact focused and not prospective. Explain what went wrong, commit to addressing the situation.
Be empathetic in your communications by including expressions of concern for those involved in the incident, your stakeholders, and the community. Don’t be afraid to say ‘I don’t know’ but be willing to go find the answer where appropriate. Your concern and honesty will support the trusting relationship you want to preserve through the crisis.
For more information on stakeholder identification and crisis communication, refer to Guidance on Crisis Communications and Emergency Response Notification Procedures at ReadyRating.org.