Emergency Preparedness and Response

Why You Need a Crisis Communication Plan

Being prepared means you should already have a plan that addresses crisis communication. Why? Companies that isolate themselves in times of crisis will be blamed by a distrustful public. Companies that openly and honestly deal with the press and the community are apt to receive fair coverage resulting in improved public perception and trust–even in the face of problems.

What’s In the Plan?

A crisis communications plan should outline the steps that ensure an adequate facility response to the press and the community at large in the event of an accident. Adequate planning provides the essential foundation upon which successful crisis communication is built. The crisis communications plan should address:

Company policy on public communication
Company background document
Spokesperson and duties
Media contacts development
Interview policy

Crisis planning for a chemical emergency is 95 percent of the game. Effective on the-scene crisis communications depends on the preplanning: the choice of a spokesperson, the ability to follow the plan, and ability to perform well during interviews and press conferences.

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Practice the Plan

Ok so you’ve got your plan together but without practice, attempts at crisis communication are often unsuccessful. Without a plan, the chances of success diminish.

Planning alone is not enough. The plan must be practiced. Written exercises and simulations are both excellent training tools to ensure that the plan works, that the thinking among management officials is sound and consistent, and that interviews will be conducted successfully.

The following hypothetical crisis exercise is an example of a useful and painless training tool.

A truck carrying a volatile chemical intermediate that your facility uses in pesticide formulations overturns en route to your facility. Four drums in the shipment are breached. Containment and cleanup are well under way without further mishap when the local newspapers and TV camera crews arrive. The camera person, who, of course, is wearing no protective gear, strays too close to the leaking drums and is overcome by the vapors. He is quickly taken to the hospital, where he is resting comfortably the next day.

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Answer these questions:

How do you deal with the irate TV station manager? What do you tell the rest of the media about the mishap?

How do you address the fears of local parents whose children attend school one-quarter mile away from the accident scene?

How could the injury to the camera person have been avoided? What would you do differently next time?

This type of exercise, together with emergency response simulations, is invaluable. With practice, you will know better when to activate your plan and increase the chances that you will follow the plan that you worked so diligently to develop.

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