Crisis Communication StrategiesTraining for critical and unforeseen events is important for any organization, especially in the era of COVID-19, civil unrest, and a downtrodden economy that has shuttered the doors of thousands of businesses. Companies understand the importance of information materials and work to develop them accordingly, such as proper response protocols, procedures, and contact information for disastrous events. This also includes multi-media use, etc., but organizations may neglect the effect the event has on human behavior. This is where it all comes down.

While the collateral clearly describes what to do and when to do it in detail, people resolve to single-word actions in a crisis, such as run, call, help, hide, etc., which tends to mask the critical information they should be able to recall. Arthur Samanky provides a keen perspective, highlighting the methodology needed to counter communications problems. In Run!: Not The Crisis Communications Plan You Need, Samansky (2002) appropriately identifies the deficit in planned communication.

Though the order to “run” may be the only and most critical, life-saving command at that moment, it is unplanned, uncontrolled, and undocumented. The dilemma reveals how we listen and react in crisis as being primal, which is not logical. Critical and lengthy information is filed away and lost as if it were another language, such as how we pretend to listen to airline attendants during their safety speeches while we mock them and discuss other matters (Samansky, 2002).

According to The 10-point Guide to Effective Employee Communication During a Company Crisis (2005), “it’s necessary to increase the internal communication frequency since employees have a high demand for updated information as well as the desire to provide continuous feedback” (p. 8). This increase cannot be understated. Translated, the guide indicates that workers need the right information exactly when they need it, not weeks or months ago, which may seem counterproductive in planning for a crisis but is a critical part of communication that can’t be ignored.

Ideally, organizations should offer the most simplified instruction, such as who (a person or persons), what (type of crisis), when (immediate or in the next 12 hours), where (this location), etc., then provide the exact information needed for the moment. From there, additional information can be provided that is more exacting. Otherwise, details are already lost, misinterpreted, or executed out of order, leaving most in a state of confusion.

Perhaps organizations could separate crisis by its extent of impact or type of harm while providing a communications strategy on a scale. A COVID outbreak, for example, is a separate crisis than an active-shooter, while a flood in the records room is different than a pending hurricane. These distinctions require alternate responses and processes. While it is impossible to effectively account and plan for every type of crisis and expect others to remember them, a strategy and sense of priority can be fruitful.

For example, An Amber Alert or Weather Advisory provides the means, method, timing, and exact information needed, nothing more. The military instills chain-of-command and readiness so that soldiers can respond effectively, not ponder page numbers in a user’s manual or training guide. And just like in a colony of ants that have no plan for a future crisis, but pour water down their hole and their communication frequency instantly shifts to adapt to the exact moment. Therefore, there is efficiency in being ready, but there is also logic in training and walking through the motions of crisis response to train and retrain the mind to respond effectively. Test your plan, gather new questions, ideas, and data, then be ready to adapt.

Samansky, A. W. (2002). RUN!: That’s Not The Crisis Communications Plan You Need. Public Relations Quarterly, 47(3), 25.

The 10-point guide to effective employee communication during a company crisis. (2005). The Business Communicator, 5(9), 8-9.