Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Highlights from Communicating During a Crisis: Best Practices from U.S. and Canadian Government Communicators



By: Cori W. Bassett, Strategic Communication Branch Chief, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Office of Public Affairs, February 2014

The Federal Communicators Network hosted the first of what we hope to be many joint panels featuring U.S. and Canadian government communicators via Webinar last Thursday.  It was a lively session with more than 300 people in attendance.

Gretchen Michael, Director of Communications for the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) for U.S. Department of Health the Human Services kicked it off showing an anatomy of a crisis. She hit all the major challenges a communicator will face during a crisis – rumors, limited access to facts, heightened public emotions and uncertainty.  She defined risk and talked at length about what risk is and what it means to different people and populations. 

In today’s 24/7 connected world where nearly everyone has a smart phone and the ability to send a message that can be spread in mere minutes, agencies have to be on their toes to combat rumors and try to get ahead of the story instead of chasing behind it.

Putting the essential principles of crisis communication into practice to stay in front of the story means:

  • Express empathy and caring 
  • Acknowledge people’s fear   
  • Explain what you know AND what you don’t know 
  •  Give people actions they can take 
  •  Make a public commitment to share more information when it is available
Looking for more how-to information?  Check out the Crisis and Emergency Risk Communication training program here.

The second presentation by Jacqueline Roy of the Transportation Safety Board of Canada discussed the Lac-M├ęgantic derailment, which occurred July 6, 2013 in the province of Quebec. The accident occurred when an unattended rail car carrying crude oil began to roll down hill and then derailed in the town of Lac-M├ęgantic. The accident caused more than 40 deaths and destroyed more than 30 buildings in the town center.

In the first hours of a crisis:
  • Assess the situation 
  •  Engage senior management
  • Mobilize your team
  • Reach out to the public and the media
In the first days of a crisis:
  •  Have communication advisors on site
  • Participate in daily tactic meetings 
  •  Keep internal communication flowing 
It is key to ensure media have access to the folks on the ground, not just the spokesperson, but plan wisely.  Include lead investigators in a news conference, but make sure they are prepped and ready to withstand the sheer force of many reporters.  Rotate in media trained specialists in areas relevant to the crisis at hand.
 
Once you start talking to reporters, use your website and social media to help get your word out beyond the media in attendance.

While the initial shock of the crisis will wear out over the course of days or weeks, there will be ongoing media requests for months sometimes years afterwards. Keep your notes and quotes.
Once the fever pitch lessens, pull the group together for a debrief and go over lessons learned and takeaways for the next crisis.

If you couldn’t attend on Thursday in person or online, you can review the first presentation here.

Looking for an even quicker summary of the event? Take a look at our live tweets below.

·        #crisiscomms #DigitalGovU Events are unpredictable, and each is a chance to improve for the next @CCOBCC @GovNewMedia

·        Being a resilient nation takes all of us #crisiscomms #DigitalGovU

·        On our #crisiscomms webinar w/@CCOBCC @GovNewMedia ->Gretchen Michael from @PHEgov is presenting right now #DigitalGovU

·        Deadlines in #crisiscomms are even more immediate than normal due to 24/7 news cycle and social media #DigitalGovU

·        Explain what you know AND what you don't know #crisiscomms #DigitalGovU

·        Crisis & Emergency Risk Communication (CERC) materials: http://www.bt.cdc.gov/cerc #crisiscomms #DigitalGovU @CCOBCC @GovNewMedia

·        Now on the webinar, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada discussing #crisiscomms for the Lac Megantic derailment #DigitalGovU #ccobcc

·        Assess, engage senior mgt, mobilize & act, liaise/reach out advises Canada's TSB for first hours of #crisiscomms strategy #ccobcc

·        Social media activity during #crisiscomms is very well received by media and public #ccobcc

·        Best #crisiscomms practices: strategic media briefings, social media, identify spokespersons, mx of evergreen media lines, updated website

·        Great #crisiscomms presentations from Gretchen Michael @PHEgov and Jaqueline Roy @TSBCanada ->Let's do this again @CCOBCC @GovNewMedia

1 comment:

  1. Fantastic summary of the event! I think we have a great collaboration in the making.

    ReplyDelete

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