Recent news stories about the threat of Ebola and the confirmed first cases of enterovirus in Tennessee have caused me to reflect on my time as a state public health communications and media relations director. Those days were some of the most rewarding (and yes, challenging) of my professional career.
My work contributed in ways large and small to protecting, promoting and improving the health of state residents. My former colleagues and I spent significant time planning and practicing for public health emergencies. Such preparation came in handy when I worked in joint information centers and responded to media calls about disasters and outbreaks. For a while there, it felt like Tennessee was experiencing a run of bad luck with the coal ash spill in 2008, H1N1 flu outbreak in 2009 and the Nashville flood of 2010.
As the Alan Lakein quote goes, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” I’m convinced state first responders are as prepared as possible to address public health emergencies because of the considerable time they dedicate to preparing for crises before they happen.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for all businesses and organizations. Too often, companies procrastinate or don’t plan at all for business continuity, much less consider their crisis communications needs. This is a wise investment of time and resources, and integral to the successful response during natural and man-made disasters.
Sure, there are some things we cannot anticipate about emergencies. However, there are several precautionary steps businesses can take to prepare for the impact of hazards: from tornadoes, hurricanes, and floods, to widespread illnesses. Among the many aspects of developing a business continuity plan is crisis communications.
It is essential for businesses to communicate quickly, accurately and credibly when a disaster strikes and as the situation evolves over time. How organizations respond to and handle crises can have lasting implications for their public perception and image, positive or negative.
In the information gathering phase of this process, start with the following questions:
Later as your crisis communications plan comes together, seek input from your audiences. Once it is written, get their feedback and remember to test the plan through crisis communications tabletop exercises and simulation drills. Review and re-evaluate your crisis communications plan afterward to address gaps and examine opportunity for further enhancement. Lastly, repeat this process regularly, at least a few times a year, to ensure you stay prepared.
*Note: Last week, Amanda Anderson blogged about “6 Crisis communications considerations as U.S. hospitals prepare for Ebola” and it is well worth a read, particularly for those in healthcare organizations.
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