Understanding the audiences that a business needs to reach during an emergency is one of the first steps in the development of a crisis communications plan. There are many potential audiences that will want information during and following an incident and each has its own needs for information. The challenge is to identify potential audiences, determine their need for information and then identify who within the business is best able to communicate with that audience.
The following is a list of potential audiences.
- Survivors impacted by the incident and their families
- Employees and their families
- News media
- Community—especially neighbors living near the facility
- Company management, directors and investors
- Government elected officials, regulators and other authorities
Contact information for each audience should be compiled and immediately accessible during an incident. Existing information such as customer, supplier and employee contact information may be exportable from existing databases. Include as much information for each contact as possible (e.g., organization name, contact name, business telephone number, cell number, fax number and email address). Lists should be updated regularly, secured to protect confidential information and available to authorized users at the emergency operations center or an alternate location for use by members of the crisis communications team. Electronic lists can also be hosted on a secure server for remote access with a web browser. Hard copies of lists should also be available at the alternate location.
Customers are the life of a business, so contact with customers is a top priority. Customers may become aware of a problem as soon as their phone calls are not answered or their electronic orders are not processed. The business continuity plan should include action to redirect incoming telephone calls to a second call center (if available) or to a voice message indicating that the business is experiencing a temporary problem. The business continuity plan should also include procedures to ensure that customers are properly informed about the status of orders in process at the time of the incident.
Customer service or sales staff normally assigned to work with customers should be assigned to communicate with customers if there is an incident. If there are a lot of customers, then the list should be prioritized to reach the most important customers first.
The crisis communication or business continuity plan should include documented procedures for notification of suppliers. The procedures should identify when and how they should be notified.
Protocols for when to notify management should be clearly understood and documented. Consider events that occur on a holiday weekend or in the middle of the night. It should be clear to staff what situations require immediate notification of management regardless of the time of day. Similar protocols and procedures should be established for notification of directors, investors and other important stakeholders. Management does not want to learn about a problem from the news media.
GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS & REGULATORS
Communications with government officials depends upon the nature and severity of the incident and regulatory requirements. Businesses that fail to notify a regulator within the prescribed time risk incurring a fine. OSHA regulations require notification to OSHA when there are three or more hospitalizations from an accident or if there is a fatality. Environmental regulations require notification if there is chemical spill or release that exceeds threshold quantities. Other regulators may need to be notified if there is an incident involving product tampering, contamination or quality. Notification requirements specified in regulations should be documented in the crisis communications plan.
A major incident in the community will capture the attention of elected officials. A senior manager should be assigned to communicate with elected officials and public safety officials.
EMPLOYEES, VICTIMS AND THEIR FAMILIES
Human Resources (HR) is responsible for the day-to-day communications with employees regarding employment issues and benefits administration. HR management should assume a similar role on the crisis communications team. HR should coordinate communications with management, supervisors, employees and families. HR should also coordinate communications with those involved with the care of employees and the provision of benefits to employees and their families. Close coordination between management, company spokesperson, public agencies and HR is needed when managing the sensitive nature of communications related to an incident involving death or serious injury.
If there are hazards at a facility that could impact the surrounding community, then the community becomes an important audience. If so, community outreach should be part of the crisis communications plan. The plan should include coordination with public safety officials to develop protocols and procedures for advising the public of any hazards and the most appropriate protective action that should be taken if warned.
If the incident is serious, then the news media will be on scene or calling to obtain details. There may be numerous requests for information from local, regional or national media. The challenge of managing large numbers of requests for information, interviews and public statements can be overwhelming. Prioritization of requests for information and development of press releases and talking points can assist with the need to communicate quickly and effectively.
Develop a company policy that only authorized spokespersons are permitted to speak to the news media. Communicate the policy to all employees explaining that it is best to speak with one informed voice.
Determine in advance who will speak to the news media and prepare that spokesperson with talking points, so they can speak clearly and effectively in terms that can be easily understood.
|The above is an excerpt from the article, “Crisis Communications Plan.” For more information, please visit www.ready.gov.