Every year my college, Harding University, conducts a disaster drill that simulates various crises and allows the university to develop strategies to use in the event of an actual disaster.
This year’s disaster simulated a multi-vehicle accident. Many students and staff participated in the event as well as emergency personnel within the local community. Theatre students portrayed injured students, nursing students were present to bandage them while local EMT’s loaded students into ambulances. Firemen and police officers were onsite along with Harding’s public safety officers. There was even a helicopter onsite for practice with life-flights.
Public Relations students, like myself, attended to get a better understanding of crisis communications. We were able to get an idea of how Harding University’s Public Relations office were to respond in the event of an actual crisis.
For starters in the event that a serious injury or death occurs communications professionals are not to be the first to release that information. Law enforcement must inform family members before the university can. However, this doesn’t mean the communications team simply cuts off all communication with the public. It’s vital that the communications team create a way for the public to access all information regarding these types of events. This can be done by:
- Creating a website that is frequently updated with factual information regarding the event. This can be shared across various platforms to allow the public to have easy access to information as it comes.
- By holding a press release where media personnel can come to access information and ask questions. This allows the communications team to develop the message and allows that specific message to be released rather than information that may be misleading or untrue.
It’s important that the information is accurate before posting. It is better to wait and post accurate information than it is to rush and post false information. Developing strategies internally can help to prevent miscommunication that may cause false information to surface. A good example of this is that Harding University must ensure that every staff member knows who direct calls to and aren’t attempting to answer questions they may not have the answers to. Having good internal communication is just as important as external when managing a crisis.
Overall, I believe staying prepared for these types of scenarios are important for everyone working in communications.