How Crisis Communication Plans Work

During a Communications Crisis

When a crisis erupts, put your plan into action.
When a crisis erupts, put your plan into action.
© Photographer: Oriontrail | Agency:

At the first sign of a developing crisis, the crisis communication plan needs to be put into action. The first step should be to ensure the safety and security of all employees and constituents. The internal communications manager should activate the emergency notification system to send information to employees and constituents about the crisis, what's being done to resolve it and what they should do in the interim.

Depending on the nature of the crisis, the proper emergency authorities may need to be notified as well -- police, fire and local emergency management officials.

Internal crisis communication is crucial for safety and for information management. If employees get their information from watching and reading news reports -- especially negative news reports -- their morale could suffer. Employees must be made to feel like "insiders," or they will act like "outsiders." If employees don't feel like trusted members of the team, they could become sources of unwanted leaks to the press [source: U.S. Department of State].

To even keep well meaning employees from offering too much or inaccurate information to the press, it's recommended that the crisis communication team issue internal statements that employees could read if contacted by the press. The statement could refer reporters to an upcoming press conference or suggest they contact the official spokesperson instead.

When to Go Public?

The mantra of crisis communications is "Tell it all and tell it fast" [source: Communications for Management]. It's better for negative information to come directly from the organization in the form of an honest apology than from its critics in the form of a damaging indictment.

However, a fine line exists between responding quickly and acting hastily [source: Continuity Central]. Going public about a crisis is irresponsible if you don't have sufficient information, and more importantly, satisfying answers about what you're doing to resolve the situation.

A smart first move is to send out a press release covering the basic who, what, when and where of the crisis. The organization should also display concern for any victims involved or damages incurred. The idea is to always be the one supplying the most information the fastest.