The crisis management cycle has several stages. As you plan your crisis management response, you’ll have different steps for before, during, and after a crisis. Each stage presents different challenges. Further, those challenges look very different in a government agency as opposed to a private organization. This post will outline the “Before” stage for government agencies; in other words, the prevention of and preparation for emergencies.
Every year, government agencies will manage several emergency scenarios. These situations vary in size and impact, but always require a response. Critical communications are one piece of the emergency prevention puzzle. Here is a roadmap for how critical communications can best work to prevent and prepare for unexpected emergencies.
1. Devise All Worst-Case Scenarios
Depending on your location, size, and operation, different events will affect you. Now is the time to make a large list of all of them. When considering events, think about what would impact your community. If you’re in California, you may see the occasional earthquake. If you’re in charge of a mode of transportation, you might see a mechanical breakdown. Which events have the ability to pause or halt your operations? From small but frequent emergencies to large and devastating ones, create your list of emergencies.
2. Involve Leaders, Partners, and Stakeholders
The “Before” stage of a crisis is also an ideal time to involve other stakeholders, from subject matter experts to partners. You want to alert them to the fact that you’re planning and organizing ahead of time. They can help you set goals, or work through some of the more technical aspects of emergency response. They will also have a vested interest in the success of your crisis management plans. Some of the stakeholders you want to involve might be:
- Subject matter experts and consultants
- Other aligned agencies
- Legal advisors
- Emergency response teams
- Private partners that intersect with your agency
3. Map Your Message
Now that you’ve laid out what could go wrong, you need to figure out how to troubleshoot. That starts by mapping different messages to each scenario. You’ll want to plan a series of messaging templates that can be sent out at a moment’s notice. These messages will help you run through the entire emergency communication process for each given event. They will also be useful during drills, allowing you to analyze a message’s effectiveness and make edits as needed. Essentially, this map is a high-level outline of the type of templates you’ll need to create. It might look something like this:
- Earthquake: Alert staff, Alert community, Assign tasks to key personnel, Shelter in place, Evacuate
- Mechanical Disruption: Alert community, Ping mechanical response team, Notify managers, Update community
- Injury: Alert emergency responders, Initiate backup procedures, Assign tasks to alternate personnel
Not only do you want to map the templates for each process, but you also want to map your government communications hierarchy. Who will you alert first, and how do you organize your communication priorities? These should be set ahead of time.
4. Create Your Templates
You have mapped your messages, so now you should go one level down and write each template. In the moment of an emergency, you want to be able to send out specific crisis communications with the click of a button. There are a number of resources you can turn to in order to avoid poorly written mass alerts. In general, you should keep the following rules in mind:
- Do not include more than 4 key takeaways per template
- Put the most important words first, and keep less critical information second
- Keep your sentences short and clear
- Keep your messages free of internal jargon
- Do not use acronyms, where it can be avoided
- Keep in mind that anxiety will be running high and time may be running low
- Understand that not all facts may be known
5. Conduct An Emergency Drill
To prevent mistakes from happening, run a thorough government emergency drill that anticipates your agency’s top critical scenarios. Run through a fire drill, or conduct an exercise to test how quickly you can shut down your IT systems in the case of a breach. After your drill is run, have a peer-review process to reduce the risk of letting a mistake slip or letting misinformation disseminate to the public. You should also build in a thorough analysis after a drill is run, so that you’re measuring for effectiveness.
As a government agency, you carry the responsibility to ensure order and efficiency in the face of an emergency. Understanding the potential incidents you may face, and how you will communicate if they arise, is critical. This knowledge will help you to better manage a response, or in an ideal world, prevent the situation from occurring in the first place.