Resilient Crisis Communications

Duncealot

Defending against the initial onslaught is a small element of a larger crisis management plan. You still need to know how you’ll prepare, survive, endure and recover from bad days (’cause this guy ain’t gonna last long.)

I live in one of the Rockefeller Foundation’s “100 Resilient Cities,” which is a program funding innovative thinking and action to overcome issues that challenge preparedness, response and recovery during crisis. Norfolk for instance, where I make my home, faces issues of serious coastal flooding problems and the inadequacy of its infrastructure to support mass evacuations.

Resiliency is easy to define for individuals and organizations – it is the ability to successfully survive crisis X or ongoing issue Y with minimal or delayed outside assistance.

“Resilient crisis communications” has been a topic of conversation for Paul and I for a few weeks now. It isn’t something that’s written into very many crisis plans, but it should be.

Paul and I had a model for this when we were both members of a deployable special force that focused on incident response and mitigation. We had more need for resiliency than many people, since we were often deployed to assist with someone else’s crisis, instead of one in our own backyard. Understanding that most crises are local in nature, the fundamental measures we took for “big one” after “big one” can apply to anyone – whether you’re traveling across town or across the country to help mitigate disaster. We planned for the worst – that we would be “on our own” for indeterminate time periods.

Here’s how we maintained our “resilient crisis communications” posture – the ability to sustain message broadcast ability with minimal or delayed assistance:

Always Be ‘Always Ready’ – The motto of our former organization is Semper Paratus (Always Ready), and we embraced it. Our incident response posture was Team A “wheels up” and on the way to an incident within two hours; Team B, within 12. We could be contacted no matter the circumstances and were packed and ready to go. Timetables can be adjusted for local emergencies, and having one helps manage staff expectations.

Sustain Operations – Our stated goal for each team was to be able to maintain 24-hour operations for 21 straight days. That meant having the right gear in the “go kits” – not just to take care of business, but to take care of ourselves. We worked from the assumption that there would be inadequate infrastructure every time we deployed – and that saved our butts more than once! More than one person responding to an incident allows for shift work, if needed.

Safety First – We brought general personal protective equipment with us on deployments, but were qualified for and ready to use the highest levels for all hazards. We also knew the simple stuff for sustaining operations – massive amounts of caffeine might help you in a sprint, but water helps you more in a marathon; being physically fit before a crisis lengthens the time to “burnout,” etc. Have the right personal gear in your go kit.

Know Your Job – We went to every disaster knowing exactly what role we would play, how it would work and what we would be doing. You can’t completely pre-script operations, but you can attain expert knowledge of the systematic approach to communications during crisis incidents – and that’s what makes the job doable.

Know the Language of Crisis Management – If you’re in America and have the potential to be involved in any crisis situation, you will work with a government entity – from, say, a local fire department or all the way up to DHS. Every organization from local to federal uses the incident command system to organize and maintain operations. The more familiar you are with it now, the better to maintain resiliency during the next crisis.

Know Your People, Know Your Gear – People make mistakes and gear breaks. Planning for both ahead of time adds sustainability to your crisis communications endeavors until more help arrives. Taking a few-minute “training timeout,” even in the midst of a huge crisis, can help re-direct course for anyone who needs it. Equipment breaks at the most inopportune times – know how to fix it, or have a backup (and pay extra for water-proof, bash-proof, everything-proof, if your budget allows).

Collaborate Whenever Possible – We’ve written extensively here about collaboration. Being resilient was the baseline from which we always sought to build, and joining with partners going through the same incident is smart.

Triage the Issues – No incident commander ever said the words, but the unspoken request for our services was typically, “Please fix everything.” Easier said than done in most crises. We routinely prioritized – and often re-racked those priorities – during response situations to maintain our ability to keep moving forward successfully.

Be Semper Gumby – A take on Semper Paratus. Simply: “Always Flexible.” We often had to come up with innovative ways to solve problems and, at times, take calculated risks. We also had to be open to the ideas of others, which were sometimes better than ours.

Demobilization is the Goal – Working yourself out of a crisis is what it’s all about, and keeping that in mind every step of the way can drive how you do what you’re doing. This seems like common sense, but in the fog of war that can occur during crisis response, it is easily forgotten. Keeping the goal in mind turns a “do what you have to do” mentality into a “do best what you should do.”

Demobilized ≠ Mission Complete – A key factor in maintaining resiliency is learning from your successes and mistakes. We did an after action report for every incident, large and small, and implemented lessons learned into our tactics, techniques and procedures. A constant goal was to be even more resilient on the next deployment.

You don’t have to be a full-time crisis responder to achieve these baseline resiliency requirements. But, believe us when we say, everyone has a need for them at a crisis down the road, if individual or small working team resiliency is part of your plans.

Photo Cutline: Paul dressed up and posing in medieval gear that was on display during a seaside festival in Whistable, UK. Photo was taken by mortified relatives whom he was visiting in Rochester.

Talk to me, Goose.

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