EMERGENCY PLAN: New advice to handle comms in an emergency has been published and you need to read it


A valuable addition has been published on how to communicate in the wake of a terror attack.

The ‘Crisis Management for Terrorist Related Events’ download has been posted by the CIPR and Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure. You can find it here.

I’ve a theory that emergency planning is permanently 9th on the default to-do list of most public sector people. It never rises much above and it never falls much below. Life and a lack of resources gets in the way. But having drafted an emergency planning comms plan I can see its importance.

‘The thing is,’ an emergency planner once told me ‘by law you need an emergency planning comms plan and you really don’t want to be sat in a witness box of a public enquiry explaining why yours is six years out of date and you cou;dn’t remember what it said.’

In 2005, after the 7/7 London bombing, the turn around time for social media was 90 minutes. Today, it is seconds.

It’s worth remembering that the advice here isn’t channel-specific. It’s not acknowledged in the document but its worth flagging and this is a strength. While Twitter has been the source for breaking news for some time it may not always be. Increasingly, I’m pointing people towards Facebook and in particular relevant Facebook groups as places where the shockwaves play out. There may be other places too for different audiences.

What’s good about this document

There’s clearly research that’s gone into it.

Incidents contributors have worked on are a list of everything from the past few years.

But be mindful that focus for this advice is everyone, so if you run a bar, a transport hub or a business this is aimed at you. It is the broad comms industry not those who know the Civil Contingencies Act.

The flowchart of how to approach things is a good thing.

Pic flowchart, 'Crisis Management for Terrorist Related Events'
Pic flowchart, ‘Crisis Management for Terrorist Related Events’

Pic flowchart, ‘Crisis Management for Terrorist Related Events’

This sounds obvious, but the flowchart that looks at before, during and after is only useful if you look at it before, know what it says during and apply the lessons after.

The advice to let the police take the lead is utterly invaluable to any communicator.

Back in 2011, a branch of the NHS in the West Midlands was busy tweeting that the town was on fire after they picked up false online rumours. It really, really, really didn’t help and yes, they were spoken to very directly.

Grab bags with kit, a hard copy of the emergency comms plan a laptop and chargers are a must and its good to see this flagged-up.

Flagging internal comms is an absolute must but often only occurs long after the event. It’s good to see that flagged here.

Absolutely, switch off the automated messages at this point. Besides, there’s nothing so crass as a Burns Night pre-pic as a major fire rages.

The advice on looking after staff in this document feels important. I’ve heard blue light comms people talk of how they handled terror attacks and I’m struck by the long shadow they case across the team.

The guide also gives advice on the differences between a terror attack and a cyber attack and that’s useful.

But public sector people need to remember

This isn’t aimed solely at public sector people, so the advice may feel slightly didactic if you’ve lived through communicating an incident yourself.

Advice about pre-writing content and make only minor adjustments I’d question if you have hands-on experience of the area.

It’s worth knowing that the first tweet post-Manchester Arena attack from Greater Manchester Police acted to flag up reports of an incident. They planted a flag in the sand to say: ‘We know there’s been something. We’re on it. Keep following and we’ll keep you posted.’

This was the lessons of the 2011 riots played out in realtime.

So, the approach of tweeting asap I’d go with. You don’t have to give the whole story straight away.

The document tells non-public sector communicators to build links with the public sector. It makes sense. The shopping centre manager should know the basics. But I doubt in practice if the multiplex comms team know exactly how and who will respond in a crisis. Often, those relationships across the public sector could be stronger. Across the business community I suspect they’re almost non-existent in places who’ve never known an emergency.

If you are a hard-pressed comms person working for a cash-strapped council in the north of Scotland all this may feel remote and your to-do list may be plenty busy enough, thanks. I get that. But its just funny where careers go and to be armed with worst-case scenario advice also looks really helpful for the low-level emergency such as a flood, a major traffic accident or a fire.

A great concern I have is that great parts of the public sector have skimped and saved with their out-of-hours coverage and rely on goodwill and the junior comms officer’s own brand new iphone.

That’s simply not good enough.

Picture caption: Tony Webster / Flickr

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1 Comment

  1. Useful signpost / nudge / reminder, thanks. As always, you nail it: “A great concern I have is that great parts of the public sector have skimped and saved with their out-of-hours coverage and rely on goodwill and the junior comms officer’s own brand new iphone. That’s simply not good enough.”

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