Communication With the Public During Crisis Situations

Subject: Environment
Pages: 6
Words: 1633
Reading time:
6 min
Study level: College


In modern society, each firm or organization is susceptible to a crisis given the fact that even the largest bureaucracies are unable to handle a disaster in case it does not employ the modern steps towards emergency mitigation. Due to the emergence and development of communication channels, the organization is unable to swindle the public into believing that the situation is under control or it could be controlled. The public can follow the overturning of events through various forms of mass media and social media. This implies that the organization must design effective strategies whenever a disaster crops in because stakeholders would be disgruntled to hear that the management is playing with their minds by reporting something different from the real event. Disaster managers in previous events such as Tsunami, Hurricane Katrina, and the 9/11 crises were unlucky because the public was getting updates from other sources before they could report their lies. Therefore, disaster managers are required to prepare amicably to address the crisis in the manner in which it deserves (Fearn-Banks, 2007). This entails coming up with strong policies that would resolve the issue of communication since the public feels satisfied if the organization updates them on the real things happening on the ground. Without adequate communication, the organization might not be able to respond in the time leading to more damages. Moreover, defective communication would mislead stakeholders, including the employees of the organization who might even be angry and react unpleasantly. Some will even have negative perceptions towards the organization with some viewing it as incompetent while others concluding that the management is criminally negligent.

Communication Team

The first thing to do after realizing that a problem has occurred is to constitute a crisis team of which the senior management of the organization must be included. They must be included because they represent the face of the organization, even though they don’t need to participate in designing the strategies. The chief executive manager or the managing director should lead the team, with the chief legal officer accompanying the team. Others included in the team are the senior finance officer, the head of human resources, and the director of operations. The in-house public relations officer will assess the situation and determine whether to involve the PR consultant specializing in handling sensitive public communications. As the emergency manager reconstitutes the crisis management team, the services of the legal counsel should not be neglected because the public relations officer may utter some words that may jeopardize the objectives of the organization. In many cases, the views of the public relations officer have always conflicted with those of the legal counsel, but this does not mean that the legal team should be omitted from the team. One of the organizations managed by Arthur Anderson lost a legal battle owing to the conflicts between the legal counsel and the public relations officer. Therefore, this would be taken into consideration when constituting a crisis management team.

After constituting a crisis management team, identifying the spokespersons of the team would be another step that would follow immediately. It is understood that only authorized persons should speak on behalf of the organization since the information released to the public at crisis time is very sensitive. It is recommended that the chief executive officer or the managing director should be the one in charge of disseminating information to the public to avoid any unnecessary confusion. However, this does not mean that other employees are not authorized to speak since they have adequate knowledge regarding the operations of the organization. Research shows that some organizational heads are poor communicators, even though they are good strategists. It is upon the crisis management team to ensure that they select a good orator that would pass information to the public. Those in charge of handling the crisis should be equipped with the necessary skills to help them in handling questions from the public. The crisis handling team will be required to respond to journalists, members of the public, employees, and other stakeholders including the owners of the firm.

Potential Advantages and Challenges

One of the advantages is that the disaster management team can easily make use of the prevailing communication channels to spread the information freely to many people at the same time but a reasonable cost. Social media enables the disaster management team to mobilize resources and alert the public at no extra cost. This could be compared to the previous disasters whereby the emergency team had to rely on the mass media, which was extremely expensive and unreliable because it could report only pieces of information. Crisis communicators have benefited a lot from social media because they just have to post some information to sites such as Facebook and Twitter and everything would be spread over to other internet users. Studies show that with the advent of social media, many people participate in crisis mitigation because they receive information on time. There are no temporal and geographic barriers meaning that the crisis management team has an opportunity of liaising with people from different regions without necessarily paying for the service. People converge on social sites once they hear that a disaster is looming somewhere. This would be a perfect opportunity for the emergence team to disseminate information since it would reach very many people at ago. There is the idea of sensemaking whereby social media users try to interpret what could be happening around them. Some may even take photos and send them to those who have no chance of accessing the site. This dispels fears that people may develop because crisis managers are often faced with the problem of convincing the public that everything is fine (Coombs, 2007).

On the other hand, the greatest challenge facing the emergency management team in modern society is how to handle the public. Even before the team prepares a report to be presented to the audience, some misleading information could be in circulation. This happens when the competitors are after destroying the image of the organization. Some competitors may claim that the water is already contaminated is not fit for human consumption. The public may demand a chemical test, which is an additional cost to the organization. Social media has always been accused of spreading propaganda since the source of information found on it is always questionable. If the management is not careful, the crisis may escalate into something big that would not even be handled. Another challenge regarding social media is that it triggers a crisis because members of the public would not be willing to wait for official communication from the management.

Differences in Communication Processes Used in Crisis Communication

Crisis communication processes are different in the sense that the communicator should know his or her stakeholders including internal and external stakeholders. These people matter most because the crisis affects them directly. For instance, crisis communication appreciates the efforts of employees hence they should be consulted effectively before going ahead to implement the designed policy. In crisis communication, every worker is considered the representative of the organization meaning that he or she is an ambassador of the firm. They should be the first people to be informed. This differs from other forms of communication because employees are usually addressed differently. Once equipped with relevant messages, employees would be willing to pass accurate information to the members of the public. In crisis communication, the emergency team should always design holding statements that should be released as soon as the disaster is experienced. For instance, the crisis team would move to assure the public that the organization cares so much for their health and it has implemented some of the plans to ensure that people are not affected. Moreover, the team will assure the public that the issue is being resolved since a contingent of experts is already working on the problem. The organization designs a message that empathizes with the affected by claiming that our feelings and mind are with those who might have been affected in any way (Heath, 2006). The organization promises to release additional messages that would clarify some issues as the issue is being resolved. This process of communication is not common in any other form of communication.

Use of Technology

As earlier stated, technology defines the success of the firm in modern society. In a crisis, the emergency team should develop some strategies that make use of technology effectively. Before the advent of social media as the means of communication, traditional means of passing information such as the use of fax were frequently utilized. The use of radios and televisions was also effective, but social media have surpassed them. The organization has effective means of reaching both internal and external publics. The organization could use technology effectively by developing a system that would deliver a message to the intended person, through either the mobile phone or email. Technology has enabled experts to design devices that can deliver messages to many people at ago. However, the crisis team should not utilize a single form of communication since it can be tragic. The Virginia Tech disaster became worse because the crisis team resorted to the use of email only. Therefore, the use of various channels would be recommended in case the message is to reach many people at the same time. Technology should be used to contact all stakeholders since it is an easy process.

Media opportunities during this management crisis

The organization has an opportunity to clarify some of the issues that have been affecting the organization for days through social media since many people would be following the proceedings. The marketing managers and any other official could utilize the opportunity to elucidate to the public some of the problems that have affected the performance of the firm.


Coombs, W. T. (2007). Attribution theory as a guide for post-crisis communication research. Public Relations Review, 33(1), 135-139.

Fearn-Banks, K., (2007). Crisis communications: A casebook approach. (3rd ed.). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Heath, R. L. (2006). Best practices in crisis communication: Evolution of practice thorough research. Journal of Applied Communication Research, 34(3), 245-248.