Did you know more than 145 billion text messages were sent last year? Believe it or not, at the dawn of the millennium, text messaging was a nascent technology in which you could only communicate with others on your carrier. It’s laughable now, but a unified system for communicating with friends on other carriers seemed as unlikely as videoconferencing from a mobile phone.
Well, all of these are commonplace now. Yet, some critical communications plans still rely on 20th century technology, such as chains of command or “call trees” until you get to the right people, with no interconnected communications. Typically, these emergency communications plans live in a binder in a protective plastic sheet, and the dust is blown off when they need to be put into play. This clearly should no longer be the case.
Yet some of the communications gaps exposed in two of the most major disasters of the last 15 years—September 11th and Hurricane Katrina—pointed to major issues in communications between organizations. Has the problem been addressed? Yes … and no. According to a late-2011 testimony from the Committee on Homeland Security, “While it appears that much progress has been made, anecdotal evidence indicates that many first responders still are unable to communicate with each other. Communications problems continue between fire and police departments within the same county; between police departments in neighboring counties; and between fire departments in adjacent towns.”
Technology clearly exists to fix this and improve situational intelligence and collaboration between these groups. During a critical event, it is possible to pull together many different stakeholders, including healthcare organizations, law enforcement groups and infrastructure agencies, to share intelligence and improve response.
I’ve identified seven communications scenarios that call for these strategic communications networks—that is, strategized approaches to crisis communications networks and connections, created before they are needed:
- Geographical Dispersion
The geographic location of each message recipient—along with their proximity to the crisis event—will have substantial impacts and implications which must be anticipated in crisis communications. Planning must also be made fixed locations vs. variable ones, based on the nature of the disaster.
- Number of Sequential Links in Crisis Communication Chain
The greater the number of sequential links, the greater the potential for communications breakdown—including information omissions, additions and distortions. Certain strategic points in the communication process demand critical streamlining to effectively minimize the potential for misunderstanding.
- Complex Hierarchical Frames
- Type 1 and Type 2 Communication Errors
- Transactional Two-Way Communication
- Communication Modality
- Layered or Bundled Direct and Continuous Communication
The more complex, the more potential for communications breakdown; it should be determined beforehand which hierarchies can be streamlined in the case of an emergency.
Not unlike the game “Telephone,” messages can be easily distorted when passed from person to person. Type 1 errors are those in which an omission or addition is part of the original message—in essence, the message is wrong from the get-go. Type 2 communications are ones that occur when this incorrect message is passed along—and more mistakes are typically made along the way. The measures that can be used to eliminate Type 1 errors—taking notes, asking questions of the original information source—can cause Type 2 errors to be confirmed.
Here messages are received *and* sent by the same people—an ongoing flow of interdependent information between parties in the transaction. There is potential for error, but also for feedback, information and error correction, all of which can be vital, but cause greater complexities.
It’s important to have multiple modalities (medium for communication) to effectively rach all audiences and help convey key issues. When considering voice or text messaging, it’s key to consider which modality will be most expedient and effective and create the least confusion.
This aspect of “The Network Effect” in crisis communication can enhance the interchange of information and communication effectiveness—but requires thorough understanding of mandates regarding information sharing—for example, HIPAA and healthcare.
The technology exists to power your emergency communications plans. By taking into account key criteria which applies to myriad emergencies, you can create a plan to put that technology to best use.
For more, check out our whitepaper, “Connected Crisis Communication: Seven Factors that Call for Strategic Communication Networks.”