What Is Crisis Communication? A Guide for Beginners


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In every industry, at businesses of all sizes, crisis communication is a common topic of discussion. With every passing year, a growing number of companies are investing more time and resources into emergency communication methods and planning. In fact, an estimated 84 percent of organizations have an emergency communication plan in place, according to the Business Continuity Institute. Fifty-five percent use three or more emergency communication processes. And yet nearly two-thirds say they aren’t confident about their preparedness for a crisis event.

So, organizations recognize the importance of crisis communication and are investing heavily in related processes. But all the while, they feel as unprepared as ever.

To understand the disconnect, let’s take a closer look at the basics of crisis communication:

What is crisis communication?

Crisis communication refers to the technologies, systems, and protocols that enable an organization to effectively communicate during an emergency situation.

Businesses of all kinds must be prepared for a wide range of potential crises, including severe weather, fire, crime, terrorism, product recalls, reputation crises, and PR incidents. Crisis communication ensures that all relevant personnel can quickly and effectively communicate with each other during such crises, sharing information that will allow the organization to quickly rectify the situation, protect employees and assets, and ensure business continuity.

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What are the goals of emergency communication?

The main goal of crisis communication is just that: to enable seamless communication during a crisis. The methods of communication might include text messages, phone calls, app-based alerts, or even announcements made over a company’s PA system.

These messages are meant to equip the recipient with the knowledge that he or she needs in order to make appropriate decisions and take effective actions during an emergency. For example, during a hurricane, employees may need to shelter in place. In the event of a fire, they might be told to evacuate the building. Or as a PR crisis unfolds, the leadership and PR teams may use emergency communication tools to relay updates and approve statements to the media.

Who needs it?

Companies of all sizes, in all industries, face a growing number of threats. And due to the instantaneous nature of today’s news media, it’s more important than ever for organizations to be able to respond quickly and confidently anytime a crisis emerges.

Crisis communication is designed to connect a variety of individuals to one another, such as:

  • Different groups of employees
  • Members of leadership and their subordinates
  • Your crisis management team and the rest of the company
  • Your PR team and members of leadership or other relevant employees
  • Your IT team and department heads
  • Your security personnel and local police, first responders, or government officials

Really, crisis communication is helpful for every organization, as well as for every employee and stakeholder.

How is crisis communication done well?

Although the ideal approach to crisis communication may be slightly different for each company, several best practices have emerged that can be helpful in establishing a program at your organization:

Communication should be in real time.

This ensures that employees and other stakeholders have access to the most up-to-date information as the emergency unfolds.

Information should be accessible anywhere.

Emails and manual phone trees don’t do a good job of providing crisis communications to employees who may be away from their desks, and both are ineffective during a power failure. It’s more effective to communicate using mobile technology, which goes where the user goes.

Messages should be relevant to the individual.

Not every employee should receive every message during an emergency; that just slows down his or her response time by flooding him or her with irrelevant information. Ideally, your system should be able to target specific individuals and departments, such as PR and IT, to ensure the most pertinent information gets to those who need it most.

Thanks to mobile smartphone technology, these best practices are now within reach for all organizations. Mobile crisis management apps enable employees to receive emergency notifications on their smartphones or tablets, allowing for real-time communication in any location. Members of your leadership or crisis management team can instantaneously deliver relevant information throughout the duration of the situation, updating appropriate team members as needed.

As a result, people at every level of your organization are equipped with the right information, at precisely the moment they need it most. This helps streamline emergency response, protect people, keep physical and digital assets safe, and minimize lost productivity and revenues.