Thursday, April 18, 2013

Some New Realities for Crisis Communicators in the Wake of Two Explosions

Two terrorist-planted bombs exploded during the Boston Marathon on Monday.  A fertilizer plant exploded in West, Texas on Wednesday.  People died.  People were injured.  The events were captured as they happened on smart phone cameras, portable video cameras, surveillance cameras and by live, professional media news-gatherers.

There wasn’t one second of delay between the time of these catastrophic events and when the media began to report.

We not only live in a 24/7 news cycle, but because of the ubiquitous nature of electronic recording devices, it seems access to raw information on breaking news events is the standard.

Against this backdrop, crisis communicators need to understand the following:

·         The media does not need to come to you for information in the earliest stages of a crisis. They have access to witnesses and witness video and photos and will go live with that content before they will verify or flesh out coverage with additional facts.
·         They will come to you to for details and will immediately expect additional information and verification, oftentimes using source material you or your organization hasn’t seen because it’s so fresh and could have been provided by witnesses.
·         Video of any crisis can and will find its way to YouTube almost as soon as the individual recording it can upload it.  Minutes.  Video of the fertilizer plant explosion was recorded by an individual and posted on YouTube before most of the country knew of the event.
·         The media will speculate and will make mistakes, sometimes big ones.  They will base their questions on their own speculation and the speculation of others.  They will get leaks from official law enforcement and other local, state or federal agencies.  They will come to you for confirmation. 
·         If first responders are involved, their organizations and other government leaders will likely take the lead on early phase communications.  Companies involved will likely be expected to cooperate, but if the event involves public safety which could be at risk, police fire and other like agencies will take the lead.
·         Hospitals and healthcare workers will serve as secondary sources of media information.  While some hospitals may be well trained at handling breaking news, some hospitals in rural areas may not be so prepared. 
·         In the first minutes of any major news event, particularly where public safety is at risk, politicians and others may give into the temptation to politicize the event. 

While most crisis situations involve a range of factors beyond our control, crisis communicators have never faced an environment where so much is beyond the control of our organizations, while at the same time, the expectation for immediate answers is equally strong.

This is a new age where in the media facts and accuracy have taken a back seat to dramatic images and video.  And the demands of the 24-hour news cycle, along with the pressure for media to draw viewers and readers is stronger than ever.

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