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How to effectively manage communications through emergencies

For many communicators, emergency communications can be a daunting concept. When we think of emergency communications, it’s easy to think of chaos or an uncontrolled environment — making effective communications challenging.

Bridget Aherne, Interim Head of Public Relations, Consultation and Engagement with Bristol City Council spoke of emergency communications in her presentation at the 2017 Public Sector Communications Conference in London. Bridget emphasised the need for preparing for different eventualities and scenarios. She shared her best practices for staying calm, making a plan and communicating effectively during situations when we may not have all the facts. You can watch the video of Bridget’s talk here.

Here are her tips for executing emergency comms and damage limitation measures:

  • Plan and Prepare

While it sounds cliche, being prepared is often the most important step in executing emergency communications well. But according to Bridget, planning is not a specific phase with a beginning and an end – it should be constant and ongoing. Emergency communications practices should be discussed and planned for on a consistent cycle, ensuring you’re ready when an emergency occurs. Also use change moments like staff changes or season transitions to reflect on current plans and protocols and update your emergency comms planning.

  • Define What Emergencies Are

Once you’ve identified your support team members, it’s a valuable exercise to run through various scenarios to define what an emergency looks like for your organisation. This can help prevent an emergency from becoming a full-on crisis.

  • Know That Things Will Go Wrong

No matter how prepared you think you are, things will most likely not go according to plan. It’s important to know this upfront to prevent panic when things change unexpectedly. While some scenarios call for adjusting your plan, others may require you to start again from scratch.

  • Seize Opportunities

An emergency situation may be the last place you think you’d have an opportunity to communicate positive, impactful messaging. In fact, emergencies can provide those chances to make a powerful impact on your audience and reach new people. Be open to them and don’t miss them!

  • Work With What You’ve Got

As communicators, we’re always looking for as much information as possible. But often during emergencies, details are scarce. You may need to focus on whatever information you have to hand, and communicate something (however small) versus nothing.

  • Practise Resilience

Emergencies can be traumatic experiences for those charged with communicating with the public. From natural disasters to data breaches, these scenarios have very real impacts on people and their families, so it can weigh heavily on team members responsible for communicating the details. Make sure the resilience is part of your planning and execution processes, and provide resources for those who may need support dealing with any emotional impacts.

For Bridget, practising resilience has meant seeking support in therapy. “As a community, we should be helping comms people get access to that type of support”, she explained.

To watch this session, or any of the other sessions during #UKComm17, check out the on-demand recordings and slides here.