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Better Crisis & Emergency Communications Cheat Sheet (DRAFT) by [deleted]

Six Tips for Better Crisis and Emergency Communications

This is a draft cheat sheet. It is a work in progress and is not finished yet.


The best way to navigate high-s­tress situations is to prepare in advance, though some emerge­ncies are hard to predict. As you put plans in place, keep in mind the following tips for stream­lining your process and making your commun­ication more effective.

1. Create a chain of command

First and foremost, you need to make sure that your staff knows their commun­ica­tions role in an emergency. Under normal condit­ions, you may prefer an organi­zat­ional structure that focuses less on hierarchy and more on group work, but that system needs to be modified in a crisis situation. This is especially true for creating, approving, and implem­enting commun­ica­tions. For instance, a recept­ionist contacted by the media should direct all calls to a specific person on the commun­ica­tions staff, but that same person may be asked to write press releases.

2. Identify all audiences

Quickly gather all of the inform­ation about the people affected by this event or situation, including people within geographic areas, specific commun­ities, and people living under different condit­ions. As with many health issues, crisis situations adversely affect some popula­tions more than others. These popula­tions include, but are not limited to, non-En­gli­sh-­spe­aking groups, those with mental illness, the elderly, the Blind and Deaf commun­ities, and immigr­ants. Identify the vulnerable popula­tions in your jurisd­iction and understand that they might require different messages or different media for commun­icating those messages.

3. Pre-test messages, when possible

It’s hard to perfectly anticipate a crisis situation, but try your best to plan ahead for more predic­table circum­sta­nces, like the flu or an earthq­uake. Create messages about these events before they happen, and test them with different popula­tions. Then, if the worst happens, you won’t have to guess what to say.

Crisis Emotions

The chart above is from the CDC’s guide to Crisis and Emergency Risk Commun­ica­tion. In the left column, it displays stresses common among people affected by a crisis situation, and the next column lists manife­sta­tions of those emotions. In the far right column you can also see the way those manife­sta­tions are charac­terized and how certain factors reinforce each other.

4. Recruit liaisons

Collab­orate with community leaders within your various popula­tions to help facilitate commun­ica­tions during a crisis and to test your messages. These people may serve as interp­reters, transl­ators, and cultural naviga­tors, and they will make your commun­ica­tions team more robust. More import­antly, they will help you build trust.

5. Be on time

When it comes to inform­ation in a crisis situation, the public expects you to be first, right, and credible. Sometimes this is possible, but not always. When you feel confident in your inform­ation, you can use social media or text messaging to commun­icate quickly. Keep in mind, however, that people who use social media and text messaging will try to respond and ask more questions, and they will demand their answers immedi­ately. If you plan to use either of these methods, it is best to have someone dedicated to responding to these requests in a timely manner.

6. Prepare for the media

You or someone on your staff will be respon­sible for coordi­nating inform­ation with the media. You will need to respond to questions, write press releases, and make sure your messages are approp­riate and accurate. This can be challe­nging, especially when it all has to be done in a short amount of time. The CDC has compiled a list of templates that will help you anticipate the needs of the media and other groups who may need your attention.