Preparing and rolling out a communication plan is an often thankless, always difficult job. It’s one of those tough jobs that sounds so simple, but it’s not simple at all. It just looks “too easy” when it’s done right. When you’re doing your job right, nobody notices you and that’s a good thing.
In a crisis, your organization’s response (and how that response is perceived) largely depends on how you get information out to your community.
The goals for your communications plan should be three-fold:
1. Accuracy: It does no good to spread false information. Your information must always be accurate. (Nobody likes to send a correction or retraction.)
2. Clarity: Only include information that helps and nothing more. Don’t muddy the waters with unnecessary details. Don’t mix topics. Don’t over-explain. Just stick to the facts and actions needed.
3. Speed: Whenever anything happens, the rumor mill’s clock starts ticking. We live in the times of Twitter, Facebook and text messaging. If you think you have hours before any significant news breaks, you’re kidding yourself. Local news will post a story online as soon as they can. If all they have is an unofficial “tweet” to report, that’s the lead story. You need to be out ahead of that story.
Here at Omnilert, I get to work with institutions of all shapes and sizes on their emergency communications plans. I’ve seen great plans and I’ve seen less-than-great plans. Your notification provider should be a sounding board for ideas. I, for one, love it. Every time I work with a school, hospital, or any business on their plans, I learn something new that I can take with me to help the next group.
If there’s one nugget of wisdom I can share it’s this: The best plans always keep things simple.
When it comes to first response communications, simplicity is your best friend.
This is particularly true at the start of an incident. No matter what the crisis is, the nature of the your task is such that you’re never going to have enough time to get all of the facts you’d like to have together before you need to send an alert. (Remember, that clock is ticking while “Why haven’t they said anything yet” echoes throughout the universe…)
To get accuracy, clarity, and speed, you must keep the plan simple!
Some good ways to simplify using your ENS
1. Keep the first message short and to the point. There usually aren’t a lot of details at the start of an incident. I’ve written about templates before. Take advantage of template and scenario features to give your team simple, easy options to use in the initial phase of any crisis. You can always follow up with details later.
2. Set a clear policy of who should send that first alert. Having a clear chain of who-sends-what ahead of time will save you precious minutes and avoid finger-pointing later.
3. Keep message groups simple! I often see organizations over-think groupings. In my experience, the overwhelming majority of alerts are sent to “all users” (meaning every subscriber.) Why over-complicate your system with groups you don’t need? Be very shrewd when choosing your groupings. You’ll be happy you did so later on, when your system is easier to manage and simple to use.
4. Send to as many endpoints as soon as you can. Send your alert to all relevant media endpoints right away. If you’re sharing a text with 10,000 of your students, customers, or coworkers, it’s not a secret anymore. Go ahead and post to your website, Facebook, Twitter, and anywhere else right away.
Why? If you don’t control the story, the first person to “tweet” it will. If you have watched the news in the past 5 years, you know that media can and will read just about anyone’s twitter feed on the air. There is no vetting process anymore. Sure, they’d love an official statement, but that won’t stop the news from reporting. Why not make it easy for them: Get your message out first.
If you take those 4 steps to keep your initial communications response plan simple and easy to use, you’ll reap rewards. I can guarantee it. Nobody ever faulted an institution for being too clear and communicative in a crisis. In fact, the best ones always are just that: Clear and concise.
Why haven’t you heard of them? Because nobody makes the news when the emergency response plan is simple and just works. That’s the whole point.