Communications During a Crisis

The recent loss of airliners from Egypt Air and Malaysian Airlines has illustrated the need for all organisations to prepare to address incidents and learn from the experience of others. Every organisation needs to benefit from the lessons learned from tragedies and plan what they would need to do should disasters of this scale occur and impact upon their own organisation.

These tragedies illustrate the need to provide families, staff and other stakeholders with information. Many organisations, however, have on occasion repeated the mistakes of historical incidents that have affected other organisations when notifying families, staff and stakeholders through the use of technology; in the past through the use answerphone messages and more recently through text messaging. The negative backlash from both the families and the media highlights that in giving this type of sensitive message it is vital that it be communicated with compassion and not through something as impersonal as texting. The communication tool used for delivery can have the same importance as the message and needs to be considered within the BCM crisis communication plan as it can have a serious impact on both short and long-term organisational reputation. As a result of the mistakes made and lessons learned means that many organisations are looking to introduce microsites to provide their statements and web links and otherwise unlisted telephone numbers for the exclusive use of the families of the victims and other relevant stakeholders.

Similar challenges can be relevant to all organisations that have numerous stakeholders and who will be concerned in responding to a crisis. Vital to organisational BCM and crisis management planning is the need to ascertain who their stakeholders and partners are and have pre-planned agreements and policies in place for all of their respective roles during a crisis situation.  These arrangements will help save valuable time during a crisis and reduce the risk of duplication or messages that are in conflict with each other.  When a crisis happens, the organisation’s responsibility for communication with the media and stakeholders should not be entrusted to any other group who will necessarily be looking after their own reputational needs rather than being concerned with the reputation of others who are involved.

Misinformation or lack of information can lead to media speculation and criticism. At the onset of any incident, all relevant information should be gathered and analysed as BCM actions need to be based on facts. Only known facts should be used as jumping to conclusions regarding the cause or possible outcomes can lead to misinformation and delays.  Recent examples involving Airline disasters where assumptions were made regarding terrorist activity as being the cause of the disappearance is believed to have hampered the investigation of mechanical system and other possible failures.