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The role of critical communication during recent events

Critical communication has a major impact on emergency response. Crises will escalate quickly if an organization lacks an effective emergency preparedness and response strategy, and even a minor incident can cause major problems if an organization cannot communicate with its target audience.


To understand the importance of critical communication on emergency response, consider its impact during several recent events:


Superstorm Sandy – In October 2012, Superstorm Sandy brought severe weather to the East Coast, resulting in significant damage in many cities and towns. Sandy caused roughly 285 fatalities, $65 billion in losses, and left about 8.1 million people without power.


Because many phone towers were overloaded with calls or shut down entirely during the storm, communication was a serious problem for numerous organizations. However, social media provided significant value, as millions of tweets featuring the #Sandy hashtag were used to share critical information with large groups of individuals. In addition, thousands of Sandy-related videos were uploaded to YouTube, while around 10 storm images per second were shared on Instagram.


London Summer Olympics – The 2012 Summer Olympics, which took place from July 27 to August 12, featured thousands of event staff tasked with managing security over the 500-acre Olympic Zone. It cost $877 million to run security during the Summer Games, and various officials ensured they were ready to handle myriad situations.


To prepare for the Summer Olympics, a wide range of tests were used to review how police officers and other security personnel would respond in different types of emergencies. British police officers also practiced defensive counter-terrorism tactics and lockdown techniques in the months leading up to the Summer Games.


Boston Marathon bombings – On April 15, 2013, two explosions rocked the finish line of the Boston Marathon. The bombings resulted in three fatalities and left over 250 people injured.


Immediately following the Boston Marathon bombings, cell phone towers were overloaded with outgoing call attempts from concerned citizens. Meanwhile, many organizations avoided this issue because they had the ability to send messages via email or SMS.


The ability, or inability, to connect with constituents in crises affects an organization and its stakeholders. With a dependable emergency preparedness and response plan, however, an organization can control its critical communication throughout an incident.


To avoid communication breakdowns in emergencies, consider the following best practices and lessons learned for critical communication:


1. Develop and test a plan for clear communication – By incorporating a critical communication strategy into its operations, an organization can identify some of the challenges of in-crisis communication and guide staff through disaster and recovery.


2. Use both message maps and on-the-fly messaging – Planning ahead allows an organization’s leaders to consider how the message will affect and motivate all audiences.


3. Target the individual, not the device – The more communication paths that are available, the more likely it becomes that stakeholders will receive critical information and updates when infrastructure is compromised.


4. Leverage two-way communication – On-the-scene reports enable an organization to learn about an incident and relay updates to its target audience before first responders even arrive on scene.


5. Understand the cascading effects of incidents – Many stakeholders are affected by an incident, and creating a virtual network of organizations promotes collaboration and communication throughout an event’s life cycle.


6. Create situational intelligence through social media – Social media can be an important input for situational intelligence, helping organizations to create a more complete understanding of an event.


Evaluating the impact of critical communication during several recent incidents can help an organization develop a first-rate emergency preparedness and response plan. Incorporate the best practices and lessons learned for critical communication into this strategy to minimize risk, protect stakeholders, and effectively manage resources in emergencies.

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