Step 6: Identify Key Communication Messages
Effective communication with various audiences is critical and involves a combination of the following:
- Strategy- knowing what information should be conveyed and to whom
- Psychology- knowing how the information might be perceived by the receiver
- Delivery mechanisms- knowing how to best convey the information
- Develop information that can be used to consistently answer anticipated questions.
- Emphasize that a process is in place. Define the process, describe the roles and responsibilities of emergency response personnel, and explain how and when the CCT will disseminate information.
- Refrain from patronizing the public by telling them that they have nothing to worry about or scaring them by telling them that they do have something to worry about—especially when there is little action that can be taken by an individual in anticipation of a crisis.
- Ensure that messages are culturally and demographically accurate and appropriate. Doing so allows the spokesperson and experts to speak with one voice.
Detailed information on strategy can be found in Appendix B
Psychology of disasters:
- Ensure that messages are clear and concise. Target audiences may not readily understand or accept complex messages during a crisis.
- Be aware that if part of a message arouses exceptionally intense feelings of anxiety, people tend to ignore the remaining content of the message.
- Prepare audiences for messages, especially those likely to evoke emotional responses, by providing brief introductory/background information on the subject.
- Recognize the emotional impact that tragic information might have on the audience.
- Validate listeners’ beliefs or opinions to keep them engaged in the message.
- “Inoculate” the audience by providing a small dose of the counter argument, just as a person can be inoculated by a mild dose of a disease organism.
- Be direct. Clearly state expected outcomes first.
- Refer to progress reports to deliver step-by-step instructions to listeners so that they can follow the ongoing development of a situation or to recap events for listeners who may have just “tuned in”
- Inform the audiences of the criteria that the CCT or the city/county/state EOC are using to assess the emergency situation.
- Explain why particular events occurred, or predict the consequences of specific inaction. Neither simplify conclusions nor make them excessively optimistic.
- Help target audiences understand and relate to complex information.
- Consider the following outcomes when making communication more appealing to specific target audiences:—Increase the expected gains
—Decrease the expected costs
—Increase the present social pressures
—Improve the individual’s ability to act
—Decrease the competitive alternatives
|Example: Suppose you want to encourage a community to prepare “family survival kits.”
Consider doing the following:
Increase expected gains—Give anecdotes about families who had kits and how they benefitted in earlier disasters, offer a number of possible expected uses for the kit.
Decrease the expected costs—Decrease the expectation of the monetary cost for a kit, and explain its longevity as a safety product for the home.
Increase social pressure—Involve the community’s Neighborhood Watch Program in promoting the concept. Ask neighbors to help each other develop kits specific to the community’s anticipated needs. Saturate communication channels with information about civic groups involved in the kit project.
Improve the individual’s ability to act—Make the list of kit items easy to use and widely available; encourage partner retailers to discount safety kit items during key times of the year.
Decrease competitive alternatives—Explain how putting together your own kit need not cost much or take much time, and that prepackaged kits may be less desirable, because they not customized to the individual family’s needs.
Refer to Figure 3.2 for an example of communications outcomes.
Figure 3.2: Communication Outcomes
Cultural factors also affect the communication process, including emergency communication, because cultural norms influence how people live and behave. Culture is a complex amalgam of values, ideas, attitudes, and symbols that shapes our behavior as it passes from one generation to the next.
A single individual can belong to several cultural groups. For example, within the “citizens of the United States group” are specific segments of the population that can be identified by sex, age, national origin, race, religion, a particular language or dialect, etc. Be sensitive to cultural factors within target audiences. Study the cultural communications characteristics of the community.
Reference groups influence individual behaviors as well. Of the various reference groups, the family is generally the most influential. Others might include the congregation of a particular church, parish or synagogue; school system; or social or civic group (Rotary, Optimists, fraternity, sorority, etc.). Enlist these groups to assist in the dissemination of messages that directed at specific target audiences.
Detailed information on the psychology of disasters can be found in Appendix A.
Information delivery mechanisms:
- Phone (including hotlines)
- Fax (including broadcast pre-programmed fax)
- Email (including listserv)
- Face to face (including town hall meetings or media briefings)
- Partner associations (use mailing lists of partners and stakeholders)
- Contracted media releases wires
- Mass media—radio, print, Web, TV
- Social Media
To ensure that messages are delivered in familiar formats and in language that the audience understands, the following information should be made available to the public:
- Multi-language text of all documents used to inform the public during an emergency
- Lists of designated storage location(s) of all informational material (including electronic versions)
- Methods for reproducing and disseminating informational materials during an emergency
- Specific communication channels, partnerships, and staffing pools that support public information release, reproduction, and dissemination.
Finally, identify methods to obtain and analyze feedback from stakeholders, partners, and target audiences. Elicit feedback from the public and let them know how to contact the jurisdiction/CCT. Target populations may respond directly or through the media, community leaders, emergency response personnel, congressional representatives, etc. This information can be used to assess the effectiveness of communication and response operation once the crisis has passed.
More detailed information pertaining to information delivery mechanisms can be found in Appendix B.
Step 7: Create a Crisis Communication Plan (CCP)
Crisis Communication Plan
- Section 1: Introduction–Policy
–When to use this plan
Crisis Communication Plan
- Section 2: Emergency Checklist–Before the emergency
–Day One: The First 60 minutes
–Day One: Hour 2 and Beyond
–Day Three and Beyond
–Actions to Consider
–After the Emergency
Crisis Communications Plan
- Section 3: Preparation–Services
–Emergency Kit Materials
Crisis Communications Plan
- Section 4: Roles and Responsibilities–EOC Communication Team
–Crisis Communication Team (CCT)
Crisis Communications Plan
- Section 5: Initial Response–Notification Procedure
–Media Holding Statement
–News Release Approval Form
–Checklist for Evaluating Message Components
–Workplace Violence or Disruption News Release
Crisis Communications Plan
- Section 6: Media Briefing–Conducting a Media Briefing
–Media Briefing Room
–Directional Signs to Media Briefing
–Media Inquiry Report and Log
–Call Tracking Form
Crisis Communication Plan
- Section 7: References–Background Information
Crisis Communication Plan
- Section 8: Phone Directories and Contacts–Media Directory
–Broadcast Media FAX List
–Crisis Communication Team Directory
When research has been completed, use the CCP to organize information into a workable plan. (A sample CCP is located in the “Module 3 Supplemental Material.”)
Unclear or undefined roles, responsibilities, and/or lines of authority often contribute to confusion and mixed messages that cripple and organization’s credibility. Developing and implementing a CCP will help to prevent such a situation.
The CCP must be developed with the worst-case scenario in mind, and it must be fully integrated into the comprehensive emergency response plans developed by the local, state, or national authorities. A WMD, terrorism, or all-hazards incident will involve the coordination of a number of local, state, and national agencies and departments who will then be able to mobilize and take advantage of shared resources (e.g., a city-wide telephone number to responds to public concerns).
The CCP must become a jurisdiction’s policy regarding the public information effort during an incident and must outline the public information procedures that are to be followed in the wake of such an incident. Occasionally, confusion arises concerning the terms “policy” and “procedure.” Policies
Are specific to certain aspects of the organization. Exceutive leadership sets policy, and administrators define and carry out procedures. The CCP must include both police and procedures for conducting the public information program during a crisis. The PIO must also require thorough coordination with counterpart agencies and approval by the jurisdiction’s chief executive or governing body.
A CCP should include the following elements:
- A signed endorsement of the plan
- A concept of operations
- Staff responsibilities
- Verification and approval/ sign-off procedures for releasing information
- A regional and local media contact list, which includes the contact information for after-hours news desks.
- Procedures to coordinate with the other public relations/communications entities within the jurisdiction, such as:–Public health organizations
- Procedures to coordinate with other emergency public information partners outside the jurisdiction, for example:–Governor’s public affairs office
–Local FBI public information special agent in charge
–American Red Cross
–Other non-governmental organizations
- Designated spokespersons and experts list
- Agreements/procedures to transition to a JIC (if activated)
- Procedures for procurement, documentation, and reimbursement for PIO operations
- Methods for disseminating information to the public, media, stakeholders and partners, such as:–news releases
- Methods for contacting PIO personnel outside of normal working hours
The CCP should systematically address all the roles, lines of responsibility , and resources required to provide information to the public, media, stakeholders, and partners during a WMD, terrorism, or all-hazards incident.
Above all, the CCP is a resource for “must-have” information. The duty of keeping the plan activated and continuously updated should be assigned to a member of the crisis communication team. This duty is the single most important responsibility assigned to the individual. He or she must update all the elements of the plan regularly and schedule periodic “review and revise” sessions with key communicators and emergency management personnel. When an incident occurs, and out=of-date plan is useless.
Figure 3.3 displays an example of CCP endorsement. This required document provides evidence to the emergency management team and executives that the CCT has devoted careful thought to the CCP during the development process, and that it has coordinated crisis communication response planning. This endorsement must be signed and dated by the requisite authority in the jurisdiction. It must then be re-signed and re-dated periodically to ensure that the CCP has been updated and remains current. A CCP endorsement validates the ownership and accountability of all those who sign it.
Figure 3.3: Sample CCP endorsement
Concept of Operations
The CCP should present an overview of the communication team’s strategies and tactics when dealing with the public information requirements generated by a major incident. It should include dealing with the public information requirements generated by a major incident. It should include an overall concept of operations, such as the way that the communication team will be organized and the type of management system that will be implemented. It should also include information regarding proposed operating locations, such as a JIC, a media center, or another type of communication teamwork space. Be sure to determine if an on-site field press center or simply a media staging area will be needed. Will the bulk of the public information forces be deployed forward or be dispatched from a rear area? The CCP should provide a general idea of how everything and everyone will work together to get the job done.
Consider including a section in the CCP that pertains to planning assumptions. These are basic assumptions, on which the plan is predicated, that must be realized for the plan to be completely effective. Failing to realize planning assumptions can create the need to make major adjustments in mid-operation or result in operational failure. Consider the following questions when writing planning assumptions.
- Can one assume that the ensuing disaster will be of a certain magnitude?
- Will the response to this disaster require a public information force of particular size to execute the operational concept, and will this force be available.
- Will relief forces from outside the jurisdiction be deployed? If so, when should this occur?
- Will particular operating equipment or facilities be available and when?
- Will mutual-aid agreements will be invoked and will they be completely fulfilled?
The difference between planning assumptions and operational realities must be considered. Ideally, the plan will be designed so that the difference is minimal. Work to eliminate as many uncertainties as possible.
Information that travels through official command channels during an emergency response must be released to the media, to the public, and to partners and stakeholders. This task can be done by a single individual or by an entire team. If a communication team is incapable of meeting the media, partner, and public information needs that are sure to arise during an incident, the CCP must identify a reliable source of additional support.
Regardless of who performs this task, the PIO is ultimately responsible for making sure that valid information is reaching the public.
Preparing for a Crisis: What the PIO Must Do
- Get a signed endorsement of the plan
- Identify crisis communication team members
- Define each member’s role and responsibility during a WMD/terrorist/all-hazards incident
- Train: conduct practice drills and exercises
- Articulate clearly defined procedures to verify and approve information
- Include a list of key media outlets, personnel, phone numbers, etc.
- Include procedures to coordinate that release of information with other agencies and entities involved in the crisis response.
- Identify spokespersons, include contact information
- Secure a place at the emergency response “table”
- Put agreements and procedures in place to activate a joint information center (JIC) and to obtain any needed resources for a 24 hours/day, 7 days/week operation
- Designate enough space to accommodate the crisis communication operation.
- Obtain contracts and memoranda of agreement with vendors (e.g. cell phone, media newswire service, freelance writers, etc.)
- Ensure that communication equipment is available and in good operating condition.
- Have an ample supply of office products (paper, staplers, binders, paper clips, etc.)
- Prepare a crisis communication kit that includes materials that may be needed during the triggering event and early stages phases.
When planning for the crisis communication response, include the following broad responsibilities.
Command and Control
- Delegate to responsible individuals or team the tasks that are related to the release of information to the media, public, and partners.
- Activate the CCP based on careful assessment of the situation and the expected demands for information by media, public, and partners.
- Coordinate with communication partners as outlined in the plan to ensure that messages are consistent and within the scope of the organization’s responsibility.
- Provide regular updates to incident command, EOC, and executive leadership as specified in the plan.
- Offer advice to the incident commander or jurisdiction leadership regarding the release of information.
- Ensure that risk-communication principles are incorporated into all public messages.
- Know incident-specific policies
- Review and approve materials to be released to the media, the public, stakeholders, and partners.
- Obtain require clearance of materials for release to media that involve policy or sensitive information not previously cleared.
- Determine the operational hours/days for the communications group, and reassess them throughout the emergency response.
- Ensure that public information operations resources are available (personnel, equipment, supplies, and various communication support services).
- Assess media needs and develop the means to fulfill those needs throughout the incident (e.g., daily briefings in person versus a website update)
- Establish procedures to credential news media representatives and account for their presence, or escort them while on-site.
- Respond to media requests and inquiries.
- Record, track, and prioritize media inquiries.
- Respond to media inquiries in a timely fashion.
- Support spokesperson
- Develop and maintain media contact lists, subject matter expert lists, and call logs.
- Produce and distribute media advisories and media releases.
- Produce and distribute materials (e.g., fact sheets, stock footage).
- Oversee media monitoring systems and reports (e.g., analyzing environment and opinion trends to determine if specific messages are needed, if misinformation needs to be corrected, and if particular concerns, interests, and needs arising from the incident and the response need to be addressed).
- Act as a member of the JIC or on-site team to deal with media relations.
- Serve as a liaison between the communications group and the JIC, if one is established during the incident.
Public Information and Community Relations
- Manage the mechanisms in place for responding to persons requesting information directly from the organization by telephone, in writing, or by email.
- Oversee public information monitoring systems and reports (e.g., analyzing environment and trends to determine if specific messages are needed, if misinformation needs to be corrected, and if particular concerns, interests, and needs arising from the incident and the response need to b addressed).
- Activate or participate in the telephone information line, the public email response system, and the public correspondence response system.
- Organize and manage emergency response websites (both secure and public)
- Establish and maintain links to other emergency response websites.
- Receive input from other communication group members regarding content and message needs.
- Use analyses from media, public, and partner monitoring systems and reports to adapt messages.
- Establish communication protocols based on prearranged agreements with identified partners and stakeholders.
- Arrange regular partner briefings and updates.
- Solicit feedback and respond to partner information requests and inquiries.
- Oversee partner/stakeholder monitoing systems and reports (e.g., analyzing environment and trends to determine if specific messages are needed, if misinformation needs to be corrected, and if particular concerns, interests, and needs arising from the incident and the response need to be addressed.)
- Help organize and facilitate official meetings to provide information to, and received input from, partners or stakeholders.
- Develop and maintain lists and call logs of legislators and special-interest group members.
- Respond to requests and inquiries from legislators and special-interest group members.
Verification and Approval Procedures for Information Release
A communications group must be able to release accurate information quickly, Prioritize information, and immediately start working to release high-priority information first. If the answer to a high-priority question is unknown, inform the media and public that a process is in place to locate the answer.
Ask the question: “Who in authority must review a new piece of information before it is released?”
Ideally, three people should officially clear a document before it is released: the IC or UC, the PIO (whose job could be in jeopardy if released information is wrong or counter to policy), and a subject matter expert. Legal authorities do not need to be consulted, unless the subject to be cleared poses legal implications. Although other individuals may review and comment on the product, they cannot delay its release by a higher authority. Professional courtesy dictates that product, they cannot delay its release by a higher authority. Professional courtesy dictates that response partners know what new information is being released. Have the mechanism in place to provide a courtesy check to those individuals and response agencies that have a stake in that information.
Clear all information simultaneously and in person, whenever possible. Point out any part of the document that requires careful consideration. Verify that the compiled information answers important questions from the public, media, or partners. If an analysis of the information reveals troubling trends, be prepared to handle any negative consequences regarding its release .
Help the response leadership understand that an incomplete but accurate release is preferable to no release. Get “need-to-know” Information out to the public fast. Get “want-to-know” information out as soon as possible without straining relationships with those who must approve the release of the information. The key to this area of emergency response is to prepare, clear, and disseminate as much information in advance as possible.
Obtain written release agreements, but expect them to change. Work in collaboration with other entities. Seldom does an organization exclusively own a piece of information. Typically, many levels of a response command can release information. Getting information to the public quickly and accurately is more important than who specifically releases the information. Once information is released, it can be incorporated into products for the public and partners that meet the needs of the target audience.
Regional and Local Media Contact List
Compile a comprehensive media contact list that includes the email addresses and fax numbers of regional and local outlets;. Test the email addresses or fax numbers periodically to be sure they are current. Because reporters and editors may change positions and employers frequently, the contact failure rate can be significant after only one year.
Before a WMD, terrorism, or all-hazards incident occurs, a PIO should establish himself/herself as a recognized member of the response team. Learn how the organization operates during an incident. Include an organizational chart n the CCP to locate associates quickly. Make sure that CCT telephone numbers and after-hours contact information are included in the first emergency notification list. Make sure that any response personnel who are generally “on call” know to contact the PIO immediately. Notifying the communication team during emergency response must not be treated as an afterthought. Respond to calls as soon as they are received.
Make sure that other response organizations or partners include the contact information of CCT members in their communication plans as well. Exchange names, numbers, and after-duty numbers, including those of the public health organization emergency response team. Understand one another’s roles and responsibilities. Be sure to obtain after-hours contact numbers.
Coordination Among Agencies
To deliver a consistent message, all JIS personnel must have continued access to the same information, releases, and talking points, and they must receive them at approximately the same time. Communication team members and public information partners need to be continuously informed on contemplated actions/strategies, emerging issues, and communications support requirements.
Establish procedures to coordinate with they other pubic relations/communications entities involved in or affected by the incident response, both locally and at higher levels of management. Implement and test these procedures often to ensure that all personnel continuously remain involved and informed
Compile and maintain the contact numbers of emergency response information partners (e.g., governor’s public affairs officer, local FBI public information special agent in charge, local or regional Department of Agriculture or veterinarian public information officers, American Red Cross officials, and representatives from other non-governmental organizations).
List of Designated Spokespersons and Experts
The plan should include a list of designated spokespersons and subject matter experts. Even though the names of specific individuals may not be available prior to a future incident, determine which emergency response positions or offices should be included on the list, then design a form that can be completed or updated with specific names as events develop. The PIO should have a clear idea of “which positions are responsible for what” and make this information known to public information partners in the JIS. The emergency response positions that must be included on this list are discussed in the following paragraphs.
As the senior communicator, the lead PIO may serve as the press secretary, conducting press briefings and moderating press conferences. This duty may also be delegated to a deputy or assistant PIO. Designate a substitute for those occasions when the primary press secretary is unavailable or off duty.
As the situation dictates, consider the chief executive, principal federal official, incident or area commander, or other such luminaries to fill the role of chief spokespersons. This person should avoid excessive media exposure and appear only for announcements of the greatest importance.
Designated Terrorism Experts
These people are experts in the fields of terrorism, biomedical science, and WMD/CBRNE.
Designated Spokespersons and Public Health Experts
Know who will serve as public health emergency spokespersons, and identify substitutes for each of them. Select candidates on the basis of ability and availability rather that solely on the position her or she holds. Maintain a contact list of designated spokespersons, and be prepared to offer the services of trained spokesperson to higher authorities or other media and civic groups if necessary.
Note: A basic media training manual is included in the Module 2 Supplemental Material.
Agreements/Procedures to Transition to a JIC (If Activated)
The CCP should contain guidelines for activating or transitioning to a JIC if an incident is large enough to warrant a multi-agency response. The preferred plan would be to organize communications forces in a JIC structure from the outset of an incident, then as more outside agency public information assets arrive, the JIC can simply expand to accommodate them.
Soon after the onset of the event, make certain that the JIC plan includes the public information function. Also, keep in mind that multiple incidents at multiple sites require multiple JICs. This situation may result in the formation of an area command along with an area JIC. Where the public information team fits into this organizational structure may depend on its geographical location or the level of government that is being served.
Most PIOs are accustomed to working with little or no budget. During an incident, the CCT must have access to supplies, people, equipment, and space. Use a needs assessment to identify needs and the procurement mechanisms necessary to fill those needs. The communication plan should include information regarding the location of needed resources, how much they cost, and the time frames in which they can be delivered. Tell the emergency operations leadership what is needed before emergency response operations have begun. Make sure that emergency operations plans allocate space, people, telephone lines, etc. for public information function. See the Procurement Checklist in Supplemental Material—-Module 3
The basic procurement items include the following:
- Operating space
- Contracts and memoranda of agreement
- Connectivity and Interoperability
Documentation and Reimbursement
Responders must document all activities undertaken and all losses incurred during the management of an emergency or crisis. Keep records of work orders, work schedules, overtime hours, invoices from outside agencies, and repair costs from possible future reimbursement claims. The PIO must also document expenses and remain abreast of financial issues. The PIO should be included in any team discussions regarding these issues.
Step 8. Create a Crisis Communication Team (CCT).
Take advantage of the “calm before the storm” to attend to the following:
- Identify available human assets, especially those who volunteer to participate with the communication team.
- Maintain a database of information pertaining to the availability and the recruitment of volunteers. Make sure their supervisors have agreed to release those staffers to assist with they emergency response effort.
- Register communicators by specialty areas, level of experience, willingness to work at headquarters or in the field, etc. Having a large number of people available to join the crisis communication team, will ensure the ability to maintain the operation for the duration of the event.
- Ask people to recommit semi-annually, and update contact lists at the same time to ensure an accurate inventory of human assets.
- Divide communication team members according to the types of jobs defined in the CCP. If the plan indicates that website maintenance or 24-hour phone operations support will be provided by another organization, do not keep those assignments active on the registry. Find out prior to an incident if unpaid, trained volunteers are permitted to augment communications operations. Indicate on the registry who is, and who is not, a volunteer.
- Make sure that each CCT member understands his/her role in implementing the plan. Require each member of the communication team to read and initial the CCP and discuss their respective roles with the PIO.
- Ask team members to identify any additional resources the communication team may need.
- Identify any additional training needs that communication team members may have. For example, are spokespersons and subject matter experts familiar with effective risk and crisis communication techniques? Do they require media and adversary training? Do clerical staff need training regarding telephone procedures?
- Simulate an incident and test communication channels to see how quickly communication operations can be activated.—-Are phone numbers and other contact information current?
—-Do contacts respond within 45 minutes of being contacted?
—-Are backups ready if primary responders are inaccessible?
—-Can assignments be assembled and delegated within hours of the launch of the operation?
—-How quickly can an initial “skeleton: staff produce, clear, and release a media update? Is it possible within two hours of obtaining information?
—-Are the initial steps of collecting information being considered (e.g., verification, notification, coordination, etc.)?
- Conduct practice drills regularly. Evaluate how well the communication team performed.
- Revise the plan as necessary.