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How Crisis Communication Plans Work

Internal Communications Plan
Creating a plan before a crisis happens will help to avoid chaos and more danger.
Creating a plan before a crisis happens will help to avoid chaos and more danger.
© Photographer: Assignments | Agency: Dreamstime

Another important job of the crisis communications team is to choose an internal communications manager. This person's job is to look after the safety of all employees and constituents, which could include clients, vendors, neighbors and community leaders. If a crisis -- like a fire or a school shooting -- occurs, the internal communications manager works with police and emergency officials to communicate essential information to all involved, such as employees, staff, teachers, students and parents.

During the crisis communication planning stage, the internal communications manager collects contact information from all employees and constituents. This contact information must be exhaustive (home and cell-phone numbers, e-mail address, instant messaging (IM) and fax numbers) and updated frequently.

To make his job easier, the internal communications manager might consider implementing an emergency notification system to reach thousands of constituents instantly. Many subscription services allow an individual to send an emergency message to all communications platforms simultaneously (phone, e-mail, IM and fax).

Through these services, a notification can be initiated over the Web, via e-mail or even over the phone. One major advantage of subscription emergency notification systems is that employees and constituents can update their own contact information directly into the system and set preferences for the best way to be reached in an emergency.

Media Strategy

A member of the crisis communications team needs to establish and maintain relationships with the local media before a crisis occurs. Media relations are one of the chief responsibilities of public relations, so this job probably would go to the team member with the most public relations experience.

What's important is cultivating a relationship of openness and trust between the organization and the reporters who cover it. This is done by pitching stories, ideas and expert commentary to reporters in good times, not just times of crisis. The media relations specialist should keep an updated list of all local and national reporters who cover the industry, their contact information and their deadlines.

List of Potential Weaknesses

In the general practice of crisis management, it's recommended that a company or organization undergo an honest self-assessment to predict where potential crises may arise. Sometimes an outside public relations firm may need to be hired to examine fully the organization for lapses in ethical or legal judgment.

The crisis communication team studies this list of potential crises and drafts talking points.

Fact Sheets and Other Documents

As part of the crisis communications plan, someone needs to maintain up-to-date fact sheets about the organization and its programs. If a crisis occurs, this information can be distributed to reporters at press conferences or during interviews.

A crisis communication plan is only good if it's vigilantly maintained, updated and rehearsed. Old contact information is useless during a crisis, as are stale relationships with the media. Members of the crisis communication team need to meet regularly to double-check contingencies and make sure all team members are well trained in their roles.

Now let's talk about how crisis communication works during an actual crisis.