Can you actually train your staff to handle crisis communications? You can!
Most organizations have routine fire drills, in which employees physically exit the workplace and gather in a pre-assigned area. In recent times, active shooter drills have entered the workplace. What if a natural disaster creates building damage or flooding at your place of work?
Most organizations have some kind of emergency plan for leadership to implement in times of crisis. Your communications team has a critical role to play in such emergencies.
The Activ Consulting Group recommends periodic “desktop drills” for communications staff to work together to craft important messages for employees, customers, board members, investors and news media in the case of a specific emergency.
Create a brief (written) scenario that could actually happen in your workplace or somewhere in your organization where there might be a threat to employee or customer safety.
- As the communications staff sits around the table, the discussion focuses on who does what. Key to the exercise is deciding what questions need to be asked and answered in a timely manner. Examples:
- What is the nature of the emergency? How did it come to whose attention?
- Is anyone’s safety at risk?
- What is being done now to address the emergency situation? Are officials beyond your organization on site, such as firefighters or police or other experts?
- If the emergency is over, was anyone at risk at any time?
- If there were any injuries (or worse) can you give brief information OR, pending notification of family members, when might those details be released?
- How did the emergency occur? What steps were taken to address it?
- Were any precautionary measures in place to avoid such an emergency?
- Will any new precautionary measures be put in place to avoid such an emergency in the future?
- Note that the communications director might opt out of the discussion as if he/she is out of town or on vacation and the remaining staff must handle the situation.
- Depending on the emergency situation, will media show up on site? Who will meet them and deliver a briefing – or periodic briefings – as more information becomes available.
- Is there a command center or executive round table convened to receive information and develop or approve messaging? Who from the communications staff will participate?
Key to the success of periodic crisis communications drills is the opportunity for staff to take turns drafting communications based on what is known at the time. After the initial scenario is discussed, additional details can be added to the discussion to update communications.
Fictitious details can be provided for a drill, of course. The team can then critique and edit the messages which might take the form of email memos to staff or urgent website postings or statements for members of the news media.
While such drills serve to teach communicators how to handle crisis communications, they also foster confidence in your staff’s ability to do the job in emergency situations.