Faced with a crisis there is one thing that no responder, leader, or organisation should forget and that is the people who are affected by what has happened. I have talked about this for four years and passionately believe there needs to be a change in the way crisis response and particularly crisis communication is approached. It is what spurred me to write my book and is what I will talk about at the Emergency Planning Society conference next week.
I was pleased this week to see the National Police Chief’s Council (NPCC) formally signed up to the The Charter for Families Bereaved through Public Tragedy’. This is something that has been talked about a lot over recent years. The Charter needs to be understood by PR and communication professionals working in both public and private sector. While the focus is on those institutions that are likely to be leading the response to a disaster the same elements should be at the heart of the way all organisations respond.
To start with is the following point in the event of a public tragedy that the police will look at “deployment of resources to rescue victims, to support the bereaved and to protect the vulnerable”. It is the point about support to those affected, the bereaved and others that should be at the centre of all crisis and emergency responses. It also points out that “We do not knowingly mislead the public or the media.” I would hope that for communicators this should not need to be pointed out. Members of the CIPR and the PRCA are aware of the ethical considerations and the responsibility that communicators have especially at times of extreme pressure.
But it is the second point that is made that matters to me which is “Place the public interest above our own reputations”. If only this was the approach taken by all businesses and organisations then they would be able to make better decisions and be in the position where the response is focused on the right aspects. When I train teams I have a long list of organisations where this wasn’t the case and the crisis communication could not achieve what was needed. Reputation management as a sole focus of any crisis response is likely to lead to ineffective and failing communication. (You can read more about the NPCC comments on the charter here https://www.npcc.police.uk/Charter%20for%20Families%20Bereaved%20through%20Public%20Tragedy/Charter%20for%20Families%20Bereaved%20through%20Public%20Tragedy%20NPCC.pdf)
The next stage is for more organisations to sign up to this approach to ensure that what matters when dealing with disasters, emergencies and crises is that people are at the heart of the response. Those who are affected should be front and centre when taking action and critically should be at the heart of the communication. The announcement this week has had limited coverage and I only spotted it through Twitter. I hope in the coming weeks this is something that the CIPR and PRCA take up to discuss with members. I will continue to talk about, share and try and help organisations to ensure their plans, processes and policies are focused on the right things – the people.