Crisis Communications Job Aids for Your Next Incident

wonka_crisisIn the overall scheme of things, there’s two ways to manage crisis incident response, and the communications component that is part of it — just wing it and make it up as you go along, or take a systematic approach. I’ve witnessed both, and (spoiler alert!) the former might produce occasional successes (due, mostly, to luck), but the latter is always effective and efficient.

Part of the systematic approach of crisis incident management is the use of job aids. Helicopter rescue pilots use them. Incident commanders during hurricane response and recovery use them. Good public information officers – those people charged with internal and external communications during a disaster – use them. In the chaotic maelstrom of circumstances surrounding disaster, job aids should be simple and help you maintain focus on the tasks at hand.

Whether you’re preparing for the inevitable crisis you may face in the future, or are tasked with establishing a disaster joint information center, a cache of job aids at-the-ready now can help you during the initial stages and carry you through to successfully endure the crisis and carry out your duties — communicating vital information to affected publics and other stakeholders.

The U.S. National Response Team Joint Information Center Model is a nearly 200-page document that can give you everything you need to know before crisis strikes, during your response and what to do when the crisis is coming to an end. Here’s links to a few of the better, one-page job aids contained within the document, that you can print out and put into your plan, or load onto your mobile device for the go-kit:

  • Establishing the Initial Response – A simple checklist for any public information officer or professional communicator who needs to assemble an organization quickly to meet media and community info needs.
  • Establishing a Joint Information Center – As an incident moves along, the initial public information officer often hands the reigns to someone else, who may need to establish information dissemination partnerships for the long haul.
  • Incident Communications Daily Checklist – Tree-top level reminders for the myriad tasks that need to be completed by a public information officer or joint information center staff.
  • Message Design – This job aid prompts the user to use empathetic brainstorming to determine the information needs of publics affected by crisis.
  • Media Analysis Worksheet – As more people work together to communicate incident information, record keeping becomes more vital. This worksheet is an effective way to keep track of media (or any other contacts), and track information requests and rumors.
  • Risk Communication Strategy Sheet – A bare bones, but effective framework for constructing messages that address risk that may arise during crisis events. Pairs nicely with the message design job aid.

For an explanation of some of the acronyms in these job aids (there aren’t too many), or a more complete document to work from for your crisis communications plan, check out the entire model from which I’ve extracted these one-pagers.

4 thoughts on “Crisis Communications Job Aids for Your Next Incident

  1. I work in government public information and am tasked with emergency related functions. Anyone not comfortable with the incident command system should read up now before the emergency occurs. The difference between a media circus and a coordinated response may very well lie within YOUR hands as a PIO. Thank you for this great article Brandon!


    • Couldn’t have said it better myself! Once you use it in real life – whether at an incident or exercise – you see the power of the system. Thanks so much reading and the kind words!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. As someone new to the industry, what, if any, do you use for on-demand signage in an emergency/crisis such as “First Aid Station”, “Road Closed”, “Volunteers Sign-In Here” etc. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Pete.

      Typically some of the signage in your examples would be provided by the finance and logistics folks, or the people at an incident responsible for the specific task at hand (e.g., first aid staff). From the communications perspective, two thoughts come to mind: pre-made information boards/posters and internal information posters.

      The former can be generated at any time, and can include evergreen information about your organization, or about processes or equipment you use to mitigate disaster. During prolonged incidents, you may need to engage the public at meetings or open houses, and those information boards can be useful for larger audiences that may not be able to get “face time” with presenters.

      The latter would be something produced on-site (think poster printer) to keep incident workers informed of the latest “big picture” news and/or how the public/media is reporting on what is happening. At larger incidents, the public information/communications staff typically knows much more about what is going on than many response workers, and internal comms tools like daily “news updates” posted in spaces where workers gather can keep them informed enough to pass along information with people they interact with in the field, and it can be a good morale boost (i.e., incident workers see the big picture and/or progress, and can see how their individual efforts are contributing).

      Thanks for reading!


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