Dealing with a pandemic was always going to be one of the biggest tests any organisation or any individuals will have to face. Learning from the experiences we have been through is vital to ensure that we build resilience and increase readiness for future crises. The National Audit Office’s report published today (Initial learning from the government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic) was an interesting look at what more can be done in the future. But it is not just a report for crisis managers and government planners there is important findings for PR and communication professionals.
The report provides a reminder about what is important in ensuring crisis readiness and in building an effective response. It doesn’t cover recovery but as we are not there yet that will need to be a report in the future.
It is important to remember that this sort of review is not about blame it is about learning. We have to learn as we go through the crisis so we avoid making the same mistakes again and we can improve the response. Debriefing and reviewing should be a key part is our crisis management.
The report highlights the importance of planning for events. It was something I learnt from an early stage in my police communication career. I was struck by the amount of white folders in the emergency planners room which was filled with plans for literally every eventuality. I would not have been surprised if it included zombie apocalypse plan. Organisations and governments need to think the unthinkable and get prepared.
The preparations need to include roles and responsibilities that are clear. The report highlights how effective governance are important for a rapid response. You have to know what you and your team are going to do so that you can a lot into that role when the worst happens. Communication teams need to have those clear roles and responsibilities defined and test them ready for the moment a crisis happens.
A third key point that the report highlights is the role of effective communication. It can strengthen public trust and the report also says it can help to achieve policy objectives for governments. It is the way you can help people make sense of what has happened but also what is being done to respond and what it means for people.
We have learnt a lot during the past 14 months and while there may be crisis fatigue there is no time to take your eye off the ball. It is time to look at the learning, identify improvements and be ready fo whatever happens next. This is time to expect the unexpected and prepare for the uncertainties of the future.