Public Relations Guidelines for Real-World Emergency Management

Communication during a crisis is a critical part of emergency response, managers should be ready to answer tough questions.

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Disasters have become media events. Through a variety of mediums, the 24-hour cycle of breaking news increases the awareness of natural and man-made disasters. Companies must be prepared to voice factual and timely information before falsehoods and negative public images spiral into rumors and publicity nightmares.

Despite the added strain of publicity during a crisis, engaging with media outlets should be incorporated into the planning process. Media has the ability to rapidly communicate public safety messages to communities, potentially reaching necessary resources and affirming proactive measures are in place. Consistent, accurate messages by company representatives alleviate public anxiety and provide a level of credibility and response competency. The more information that is provided, the less the media will have room for interpretation.

Initial Emergency Management Communications

Initial media contact should contain the following elements:

  • A brief, focused, and factual description of the situation and initial response actions
  • Processes established to minimize and counteract the emergency
  • A statement of commitment to return to “business as usual”
  • An expression of empathy
  • Access to subject matter experts to answer media inquiries
  • Timing for media follow up (only promise what can be delivered)

Potential Crisis Management Questions

Reporters covering a crisis situation want more information than can typically be provided. By understanding the expected information, companies can create a public relations plan that results in accurate and seamless communications. In any crisis situation the media looks to answer the following questions:

  • How and why did the emergency happen?
  • Was there forewarning?
  • Are people and the environment safe?
  • Are there additional risks and what are they?
  • Are all victims accounted for and being helped?
  • How does the situation affect the site?
  • Who or what caused the situation?
  • Can it be fixed?
  • Who is in charge?
  • Has the situation been contained?
  • What can be expected, now and in the future?
  • What can be done to protect others?
  • What resources or actions are needed from the community?

A sudden crisis will likely to generate news coverage that may adversely impact employees, investors, customers, suppliers, and possibly the community. It may directly harm a company's reputation, offices, and revenues. Public relations planning should be developed as part of an overall disaster management plan in order to sustain a positive and productive relationship with every level of stakeholder and the community at large.

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