Please welcome Kjell Brataas, a native Norwegian residing just outside of Oslo, serving as a senior communication advisor with Norway’s Ministry of Transportation. Kjell cut his crisis comms teeth on some devastating events, such as the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004, in which 84 Norwegians died, and the 2011 terrorist attacks in Oslo and on the island of Utoya, during which 77 people were killed.
He’s recently packaged his experiences and the lessons learned into a book, published in February, called, “Crisis Communication: Case Studies and Lessons Learned from International Disasters” and he’s now working on a second book that will focus on victim support after tragedies.
In this first post here, Kjell shares an article based on his book and one of the models he uses to prepare for crisis.
On a side note – and by way of a reminder – we don’t do “pay for play” with our contributors. If we like what they’re saying and we think it’s of value to you, we’ll share it. No payment or quid pro quo involved.
I have worked on two major crises hitting Norway, and both times we found that the various departments handling the situation should have talked to each other before the crisis hit.
When a tsunami in Asia killed 84 Norwegians in 2004, I helped out at the government’s telephone support center – where neither the IT department nor any kind of support team had been part of the planning. The result was that there was no adequate system for registering phone calls, and it took more than six hours before we got something to eat.
After the terror in Oslo and on Utoya in 2011, several ministries had to move their entire staff to a new location – where “the fight for the cable” became a daily routine when connections to the Internet were sparse. I have also found that in spite of living in 2018 and constantly hearing about “a paperless society”, crisis managers, heads of companies and government officials want talking points and situation reports on paper. That means that the crisis teams need access to printers – even if they are not working from their regular offices.
Having internal resources that know each other and that have trained together are vital to the outcome of a crisis impacting a company or an organization. Within minutes after a crisis hits, the communication staff needs to coordinate messages and set up systems for handling the situation, but this is not something they can do alone.
The “Communication Product Loop” below illustrates how various parts of an organization need to interact to produce news releases, internal information and other products for various stakeholders. With the crisis communications team in its core, the model explains the vital role of good communication between various departments, starting with its top leadership, HR, IT and a support team.
CEO: The head of the company must be involved from the start. Quite often, he or she is informed by someone from the communication (COMM) team that a crisis has occurred, and they then have to agree quickly on the way forward. They need to discuss the first statements and prepare answers to questions from the media and the public.
HR: If the crisis involves internal personnel being hurt or killed, HR will have their hands full, too, and will need to cooperate closely with COMM regarding what is happening, who is involved and how to inform colleagues about the situation.
IT: Very few communication products can be made without the use of a computer. The IT department therefore needs to be involved from an early stage, making sure Wi-Fi is working, that the company’s web site can handle increased traffic, provide extra mobile chargers or set up a video conference.
SUPPORT: Most crisis situations are demanding and hectic, meaning that there is seldom enough time to make photo copies, order pizza or prepare a meeting room. A dedicated support team can bring much needed extra hands and literally provide nourishment to the staff handling the crisis. Such a team often consists of secretaries or people from other departments not working on the crisis, but another solution is to bring in a colleague’s son or daughter to help make coffee and empty the dishwasher.
To help leverage the loop more effectively, I believe in short and structured meetings in “peacetime” to discuss with internal resources how to best handle a crisis. Such a meeting should be held at least twice a year, with a dedicated agenda and with a follow-up sheet as its result. The agenda could include:
- Follow-up from the last meeting
- Recent events that could also have struck the company
- Alternate locations for the crisis management team
- Alternate systems for email, file storage and telephone meetings
- Routines for updating lists of employees’ next-of-kin
- Updates to contact lists, including external resources and collaborators
Communicating in a crisis will always be challenging, but with good planning and exercises, reaching stakeholders with the right “products” is possible. The key, in my opinion, is to focus on practical matters, prepare in advance and learn from others.