The early stages phase of an incident constantly tests the communication team’s mettle and the CCP’s efficacy. News is fast-breaking, and demands for information skyrocket. During this phase, the magnitude of the incident, the threat to personal safety, and the initial steps toward recovery and resolution begin to be understood. Communication must begin early in the crisis, and information must be updated regularly, to allow stakeholders to make decisions, take actions to resolve issues, and mitigate the impact of the event before the crisis spins out of control.
The early stages of a WMD, terrorism, or all-hazards incident requires significant flexibility on the part of the crisis communication team and consistency and clarity in the messages the CCT disseminates. The messages must be timely, relevant, accurate, and clear. Clarity regarding objectives, language, decisions, and action is the most important factor. Communication team members, spokespersons, and subject matter experts must avoid the use of industry-related or agency-specific jargon and acronyms.
Proceed through this phase by executing the CCP, recording and building upon preceding actions, adjusting to changing circumstances, gathering and releasing accurate information to the public, and monitoring the media.
- Continue to develop the public information structure and processes per the CCP.
- Acknowledge that information may be sketchy.
- Continue to assess the situation, and adjust messages as needed.
- Craft messages with the following risk communication principles in mind:
- Express empathy
- Acknowledge fears.
- Encourage people to engage in positive activities.
- Offer anticipatory guidance.
- Address valid “what if” questions without engaging in speculation.
- Be a role model and challenge people to work toward positive solutions
- Us the national media, because they are the primary source people turn to for information.
The points listed above are discussed at length in Module 2.
Steps for the Early Stages Phase
Step 1. Information Gathering
- What is happening?
- What actions are being taken to address the situation?
- When should the situation be rectified?
- What else can be expected?
Step 2. Information Dissemination
- Respond to phone calls and inquiries
- Send out media releases and media advisories
- Establish time(s) for media briefing(s) and/or press conference(s).
- Develop a special website to inform the public about this specific incident; provide links to other websites, and publicize.
Step 3. Tracking and Cataloging
- Determine what information has been disseminated.
- Identify the methods through which information has been disseminated (media releases, announcement, PSA, etc.).
- Determine to which specific media (radio and television stations, Internet, flyers, etc.) the information was disseminated.
- Monitor the resources that are being used, including personnel, equipment and supplies, and the costs associated with those resources. Assign staff to manage logistics, such as requests for communication team resources, staging and distributing delivered resources, and demobilizing those resources when they are no longer needed.
Step 4. Support Services
- Provide the CCT’s needed supplies and services (food, toilets, counseling, child care, running errands, etc.).
- Consider the media’s needs (food, maps, hotel availability, toilets, and background information).
Step 5. Troubleshooting
- Determine who is going to solve unanticipated problems when they develop.
- Ensure that assistants, such as background information gatherers and runners, are available.
Step 6. Media Monitoring
- Monitor television, radio, and print media as they disseminate incident information.
- Monitor websites and chat rooms that are disseminating information about the incident.
- Check email frequently for messages from possible volunteers or from individuals and organizations offering various resources that could be used in the crisis communication efforts.
Remember that during a WMD, terrorism, or all-hazards incident, the national media will be the dominant channel of communication, because it will be the primary source of news and information for the public. Local media will pass information to the national media who will air and coordinate coverage of the incident. Local media will have to compete with national media for airtime; therefore, messages intended for local audiences may not be aired on a national broadcast.
During this stage of the incident, the most efficient way to prepare a media release may be by composing it on the standard media-releases form or template that has been included in the CCP. Then, as the crisis evolves, the CCT may follow up this standard media releases with feature stories about individuals or units involved in the response, outcomes, responders’ successes, or personal stories of those who were rescuers or victims involved in the crisis.
Media will expect a JIC or media center to establish from which they can prepare information to deliver to their viewers and listeners. Initially, the media recognizes the fact that much of their information must originate from the JIC. However, media representatives may eventually seek other locations from which to broadcast. Reporters have access to information from a wide variety of sources; people from inside and outside official channels are more than willing to talk to them. However, media personnel are more inclined to rely on official releases of information if that information is accurate, timely, fresh, and easily accessible. A well-functioning JIC working with the incident command and EOC can efficiently provide this type of information.
A WMD, terrorism, or all-hazards incident will result in a media frenzy. The following conditions may exist during the early stages of an incident.
- Diminished information verification. Tentative, sometimes incorrect, information may be released.
- Diminished adversarial role. Media representatives are genuinely concerned about the incident and will want to help the communications staff by disseminating important messages.
- Inadequate scientific expertise. Media personnel lack the technical or scientific background to quickly grasp new information or the implications of that information. Prepare to “fill in the blanks” without being condescending. Speaking plainly to the media is a good way to practice speaking plainly to the public during the emergency.