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Communicating in the middle

For most emergency managers, it’s usually much easier to plan for what to do the moment a disaster strikes than it is to plan for ongoing communications or the aftermath. And while it is critical to map out your response and communication plans for letting people know about a critical incident and what actions to take, it is just as important to communicate during the intermediate and final stages of the event. Why is our focus so front-loaded? Because it is easier to visualize the start of a crisis, many managers focus on the beginning of the crisis while letting communications at the middle and end of the situation fall by the wayside or be left for in-the-moment decision-making. Whether it’s a fire breaking out in a building, a road glazing over with ice, or a sanitation system getting polluted and causing a health issue, the beginning always seems logical and the response more straightforward. “Get out of the building,” “don’t drive this route,” and “don’t drink the water as it’s not safe,” are all straightforward messages in an Alice-in-Wonderland kind of way that emergency managers find less challenging to map out. When things go from bad to worse: Planning for every stage of a crisis Once catastrophe strikes, it sets off a chain of events requiring rapid, concise, and well thought-out communication to a variety of audiences throughout the incident. Each incident has six stages according to Dr. Robert Chandler, renowned crisis communication expert: 1) warning, 2) risk assessment, 3) response, 4) management, 5) resolution, and 6) recovery. After your initial response, the crisis flares up or tapers off toward resolution, changing what and how you need to communicate. Failure to plan for these later stages of the crisis often leads to ineffective communication. For more information on the different stages of a crisis and what key issues need to be addressed during each stage, read more here. Rumors: Foil or fester What happens in the middle of a crisis is also when the wheels can jump the track – it’s the point in time when rumors start to raise their ugly heads in earnest. After the initial shock of an incident has worn off and people have more time to contemplate the situation in a less stressful environment, those with a propensity towards rumor mongering get to work. To address these rumors, one of the best tactics is to make sure your communications get out in front of rumors and stay out in front of them so that you are driving the information cycle instead of responding to someone else’s stories.

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