By Judy Pal

As first responders and emergency managers, we know the importance of timely, responsible, and ethical communication during a crisis.  We are tasked with ensuring the right information, gets to the right people, at the right time, so they can do the right thing.

While most of us participate in annual or bi-annual desktop crisis tabletop exercises, it’s important to maintain communications plans year-round and to stay on top of trends to ensure when a crisis hits, you are prepared to respond immediately.

The definition of ‘immediately’ has changed drastically over the years.  Ten years ago, immediately may have been within the hour.  Today, with the advent of social media, ‘immediately’ means within the first three to five minutes of a crisis.  How can you be prepared to do that when information coming in so early in an event is usually (a) sketchy and (b) wrong?

That’s where this advanced crisis workshop comes to bear. Throughout my career in law enforcement, government, and the professional sports and entertainment industry; I’ve dealt with myriad crises ranging from line of duty deaths and employee malfeasance to terror attacks and natural disasters.  They all share significant similarities, danger zones and potential pitfalls.

In this one-day workshop, we’re going to spend time discussing the current trends in information dissemination during a crisis, including speed, decontextualization, and rumor. Today’s Public Information Officer (PIO) or Media Relations Officer (MRO) must be prepared to work within this new paradigm while providing information that will help move a community forward through whatever crisis is occurring, minimizing fear and maximizing safety.

An agency (and the agency head) will be judged on its preparedness and response to a crisis, more than the crisis itself. Not surprisingly, every crisis progresses through specific steps.  Once you are able to identify them, it becomes easier to move through each phase and anticipate what’s next.  Meanwhile, the media has its own unique phases of coverage in crisis.  Again, understanding this progression allows you to prepare messaging that will most benefit your community.  Your goal in communicating in crisis is to simply move the narrative forward, while helping defuse fear, engage your community, and help victims heal. One must be aware that in crisis, the understanding level of your audiences drops one to three grade levels – so simple, active messaging is key. These messages must include key elements that both inform and engage your audiences in order to empower them be ‘survivors’ rather than ‘victims’.

You’ll walk out of this session with a template for building your crisis response plan, a proven way to communicate in a way that will be heard and not taken out of context, as well as strategies to ensure you are able to manage the narrative and correct misinformation. 

In addition, we’ll be sharing best practices and new ideas to manage the social media beast since it now takes up so many lanes on the information highway.  Dealing with the speed of rumor, and those who wish to negatively capitalize on your community’s fear or lack of information will be critical. 

Lastly, participants will learn a useful method of responding to media questions while ‘keeping the main thing, the main thing’.

Truly looking forward to coming ‘home’ to Ontario to share experiences and hard-learned best practices.  Emergency services share a brand. Your success is our success, so join us on May 11 for a full day of crisis communications strategies and takeaways.

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