Who's on First? - Defining your Crisis Communications Team
Delegating staff to support your crisis communications response when you are in the thick of a crisis does not work well. It could compare with starting a baseball game without the players knowing what positions they are playing. To borrow a line from Abbott and Costello, "Who's on First?" Organizations need to build their teams to ensure they can respond as quickly as possible to an incident when it happens. They need a game plan.
Roles and Responsibilities
Consider the roles that would need to be filled. Begin identifying the position, the person to fill that position and job description of what the role entails. Clearly outline your team in your Crisis Communications Plan and have those members sign off on the positions they are going to assume. Doing this will ensure they understand their specific roles and encourages them to be ready to perform them when the time comes.
In a perfect world where you have staff, your team might include (but is not limited to):
Lead Communicator: Takes on the role of the Information Officer IO in the EOC (if using the ICS model) and to act as the liaison to the Crisis Management Team.
Lead for external communications: Managing public information and updates
Lead for internal communications: Managing employee communications)
Social Media Guru: Manages your website updates as a hub of information and your social media feeds and a team of people to support monitoring your social media.
Scribe or administrative support to work with the Crisis Communications Team
Spokesperson (must be media trained and should be a member of your leadership team)
Support staff for managing call centres, call-in lines etc.
I have recently witnessed larger, well staffed municipalities fail at communications, and smaller, resource-tapped organizations excel with public information - and everything in between. The size of your current communications team doesn't matter. What does matter is how you build the capacity of "your team" in advance of a crisis. I have personally been a team of one in a large global organization, and I have been in other situations where I managed people across several geographical boundaries. Sometimes, I was by myself trying to juggle it all. I learned very quickly I had to knit a team with the resources I had available to me to respond to a crisis effectively.
For example, have you considered building capacity to manage a crisis with internal resources cross-trained to perform a communications role? I have used this approach successfully and have shared the same approach with various large industrial complexes to take non-communicators (engineers and accountants!) and teach them to provide bench-strength in a crisis. You can also consider a collaborative approach with a neighbouring community. Can you support one another in a crisis or emergency? Do you have a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for emergency response? Could this extend to include the communications role?
The key is to identify the need, develop a training program, and practice together to become more confident and competent in the roles. Use the opportunity to support professional development and credit your employees for taking on these critical roles. Your organization is depending on your communications team to deliver in a crisis. Make sure you are preparing now by identifying "who" you want on your team. Do not try to write the game plan at the top of the second inning.
For more information about creating capacity from within to develop crisis communications teams, public information officer training, crisis communications or media interview workshops please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.