Wednesday, September 28, 2011

First Response in a Crisis

The concept of first responders came to mind recently when I was involved in a discussion on how fire, police and emergency medical personnel respond to emergency situations. While the term may have been around a long time, “first responders” took on new meaning on September 11, 2001 when we saw these everyday heroes run toward the problem while trying to help everyone else escape.

Their real-life example provides a certain model for those who may serve as “first responders” of a different sort – crisis communications.

That said, the first thing that a first responder does is assess the extent of the problem, who is affected, how they might be affected, and the potential risks to the public. This all serves to help alert all who might be affected to at the very least, remove them from or keep them safe from danger. First responders must follow clearly established protocols for establishing a perimeter around a problem area, and then they must enter the fray, doing what they’ve been trained to do to take control of the situation and then resolve it.

No matter who you talk to, a police officer, a firefighter or a paramedic, all will tell you how important it is to have clear lines of communication and an established chain of communication and decision-making so that first responders can do their jobs.

In the business world, an effective first-response strategy is to apply some of these basic principles to crisis communications:

1. Assess the risks to those already affected and those who could be affected.
2. Make sure the public well-being is top of mind from the very outset.
3. Make sure your response team is properly trained and briefed on the situation before they get actively involved.
4. Have established operational protocols in place, including chains for communication and timely decision-making.
5. And make sure that you have sound systems in place for communication within the team.

All of this is very basic and very fundamental to the larger process of gathering information, assembling a crisis communications team, and creating the strategies, messages and action plan required to put forth an effective crisis communications response.

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