I was reading an article today that was discussing the value of apps to share immediate messages in a crisis. The writer questioned why it had taken so long for the French authorities to share messages this way, particularly as it was something they had highlighted from previous incidents. It is easy to challenge the decision making but we need to understand the problems and pitfalls as well as see the opportunities.
Crises can take many forms but at the moment the threats from terrorism is something that are occupying the thoughts. Being able to respond quickly when a situation emerges is more challenging now than at any time in the past. The technology developments and rolling news as well as the societal changes have made everyone demanding of immediate information. This is problematic when authorities are focused on ensuring they get out the most accurate information as once the inquiry starts to review the decision making they don’t want to be found wanting.
Maximising the use of all available channels to get the information out has been the priority. But with communication teams under pressure due to reductions in staff, it will become less about channels and more about the approach, the messaging and the support of other agencies. The priority has to be getting the right message to the right people and to correct inaccuracies wherever they are found.
Behind all the technology there are still people needed to launch the system and to check what is being said. If you take for example the Twitter Alert system it isn’t automated and needs someone to push the button to use it and also to write the tweet. It is something that critics should remember when they are reviewing the communication response to a situation. From the outside the world is a very different place.
What is vital is that we all have emergency communication plans that are up-to-date, tested and ready to go at a moment’s notice. We need to have staffing available to draft in so that we can not only deal with the initial stages but can continue to work round the clock for a number of days. Getting vital safety messages out in the initial stages has to be the priority whether that is through social media, an app or the traditional media. There is no quick win involved, it is about hard work, determination and a commitment to move quickly and deal with it.
All communicators need to reassess their emergency communication plans and be clear how they would be supported. These are challenging times.