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Intranet sites can also be used during a crisis. Intranet sites limit access, typically to employees only though some will include suppliers and customers.

Library's Crisis Communications Planner: A PR Guide for Handling Every Emergency

Intranet sites provide direct access to specific stakeholders so long as those stakeholders have access to the Intranet. Coombs a notes that the communication value of an Intranet site is increased when used in conjunction with mass notification systems designed to reach employees and other key stakeholders. With a mass notification system, contact information phones numbers, e-mail, etc.

Contacts can be any group that can be affected by the crisis including employees, customers, and community members living near a facility. Crisis managers can enter short messages into the system then tell the mass notification system who should receive which messages and which channel or channels to use for the delivery. The mass notification system provides a mechanism for people to respond to messages as well. The response feature is critical when crisis managers want to verify that the target has received the message.

The crisis response is what management does and says after the crisis hits.

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Public relations plays a critical role in the crisis response by helping to develop the messages that are sent to various publics. A great deal of research has examined the crisis response. Practitioner experience and academic research have combined to create a clear set of guidelines for how to respond once a crisis hits. Be quick seems rather simple, provide a response in the first hour after the crisis occurs. That puts a great deal of pressure on crisis managers to have a message ready in a short period of time.

Again, we can appreciate the value of preparation and templates. The rationale behind being quick is the need for the organization to tell its side of the story. When a crisis occurs, people want to know what happened. Crisis experts often talk of an information vacuum being created by a crisis.

The news media will lead the charge to fill the information vacuum and be a key source of initial crisis information. We will consider shortly the use of the Internet as well. If the organization having the crisis does not speak to the news media, other people will be happy to talk to the media. These people may have inaccurate information or may try to use the crisis as an opportunity to attack the organization. As a result, crisis managers must have a quick response. Carney and Jorden note a quick response is active and shows an organization is in control.

It lets others control the story and suggests the organization has yet to gain control of the situation. Arpan and Rosko-Ewoldsen conducted a study that documented how a quick, early response allows an organization to generate greater credibility than a slow response. Crisis preparation will make it easier for crisis managers to respond quickly.

Buffer: Communicate openly and consistently

Obviously accuracy is important anytime an organization communicates with publics. People want accurate information about what happened and how that event might affect them. Because of the time pressure in a crisis, there is a risk of inaccurate information. If mistakes are made, they must be corrected. However, inaccuracies make an organization look inconsistent.

Incorrect statements must be corrected making an organization appear to be incompetent. The philosophy of speaking with one voice in a crisis is a way to maintain accuracy. Speaking with one voice does not mean only one person speaks for the organization for the duration of the crisis. As Barton notes, it is physically impossible to expect one person to speak for an organization if a crisis lasts for over a day.

Watch news coverage of a crisis and you most likely will see multiple people speak. The news media want to ask questions of experts so they may need to talk to a person in operations or one from security. The crisis team needs to share information so that different people can still convey a consistent message. The spokespersons should be briefed on the same information and the key points the organization is trying to convey in the messages. The public relations department should be instrumental in preparing the spokespersons.

Ideally, potential spokespersons are trained and practice media relations skills prior to any crisis. The focus during a crisis then should be on the key information to be delivered rather than how to handle the media.

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Once more preparation helps by making sure the various spokespersons have the proper media relations training and skills. Quickness and accuracy play an important role in public safety. When public safety is a concern, people need to know what they must do to protect themselves.

Sturges refer to this information as instructing information. Instructing information must be quick and accurate to be useful. For instance, people must know as soon as possible not to eat contaminated foods or to shelter-in-place during a chemical release.

A slow or inaccurate response can increase the risk of injuries and possibly deaths. Quick actions can also save money by preventing further damage and protecting reputations by showing that the organization is in control. However, speed is meaningless if the information is wrong. Inaccurate information can increase rather than decrease the threat to public safety. The news media are drawn to crises and are a useful way to reach a wide array of publics quickly. So it is logical that crisis response research has devoted considerable attention to media relations.

Media relations allows crisis managers to reach a wide range of stakeholders fast. Fast and wide ranging is perfect for public safety—get the message out quickly and to as many people as possible. Clearly there is waste as non-targets receive the message but speed and reach are more important at the initial stage of the crisis. However, the news media is not the only channel crisis managers can and should use to reach stakeholders. Web sites, Intranet sites, and mass notification systems add to the news media coverage and help to provide a quick response.

Crisis managers can supply greater amounts of their own information on a web site. Not all targets will use the web site but enough do to justify the inclusion of web-base communication in a crisis response. Mass notification systems deliver short messages to specific individuals through a mix of phone, text messaging, voice messages, and e-mail.

Crisis Management and Communications

The systems also allow people to send responses. In organizations with effective Intranet systems, the Intranet is a useful vehicle for reaching employees as well. If an organization integrates its Intranet with suppliers and customers, these stakeholders can be reached as well. As the crisis management effort progresses, the channels can be more selective. Victims are the people that are hurt or inconvenienced in some way by the crisis. Victims might have lost money, become ill, had to evacuate, or suffered property damage.

Kellerman details when it is appropriate to express regret. Expressions of concern help to lessen reputational damage and to reduce financial losses.

Crisis PR: Prepare to fight emergencies with a communications plan

Experimental studies by Coombs and Holladay and by Dean found that organizations did experience less reputational damage when an expression of concern is offered verses a response lacking an expression of concern. Cohen examined legal cases and found early expressions of concern help to reduce the number and amount of claims made against an organization for the crisis. However, Tyler reminds us that there are limits to expressions of concern. Lawyers may try to use expressions of concern as admissions of guilt. A number of states have laws that protect expressions of concern from being used against an organization.

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Another concern is that as more crisis managers express concern, the expressions of concern may lose their effect of people. Hearit cautions that expressions of concern will seem too routine. Still, a failure to provide a routine response could hurt an organization. Hence, expressions of concern may be expected and provide little benefit when used but can inflict damage when not used.


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