Crisis Communication


Definitions: Risk vs Crisis communication

Risk Communication: Exchange of Information about health risks caused by environmental, natural, technological, agricultural, or industrial products – (Might Happen)
Crisis Communications: the exchange of risk-relevant & safety information during an emergency situation
Crises are dynamic, unexpected events that involve a significant threat, ongoing uncertainty, and usually greater intensity than longer-term risk situations. Crises require immediate and effective actions to lessen harm.
Complex Emergency is a major humanitarian crisis of a multi-causal nature that requires a system-wide response.
Types of Crisis
Immediate crisis – often of the natural disaster or major emergency type (earthquakes, etc.).
Emerging crisis – (Complex Emergencies) – can be anticipated and minimized at early stages – Displaced Population is direct consequence.
Sustained crisis – involves situations that may linger for years ( such as Drought).

Public Sector Complexities

Multiple roles: Public Sector (Government) is:
             (i) as a risk-generator, regulator & communicator
             (ii) also responsible to deal with consequences of a major crisis situation
  • Because of possible long distances between people & event it has to rely on mass media to transmit the message to public
  • Public sector needs to be ready to coordinate Crisis Communication with non-governmental & community organisations as their outreach & capacity is needed at that time
  • Because of the more spontaneous nature of crisis situations, crisis messages are typically less polished & often reach news coverage more than the risk communication messages


Best Practices*

*(Cited: Matthew Seeger, Professor & Chair in Dept of Communication in Wayne State University
           Vincent Covello, Director  Center for Risk Communication NY)
  1. Process Approaches and Policy Development: Crisis Communication is most effective when it is a part of decision-making process itself. Therefore communication strategies should be fully integrated into decision- making
  2. Pre-Event Planning: Pre-setting initial crisis responses so that decision-making is more efficient.
  3. Partnerships with Public: Accept public as legitimate and equal partner. During a crisis, public should be told what is happening and dialogue should be two-way.
  4. Listen to Public’s Concerns & Understand the Audience: Respond accordingly.
  5. Honesty, Candor, & Openness: In public communication be honest & open – win their trust
  6. Collaborate & Coordinate with Credible Sources: Developing pre-crisis network is a very effective way of collaboration. Coordinating messages enhances the probability of consistent messages.
  7. Meet the Needs of Media & Remain Accessible: The media are the primary channel to the public. Rather than viewing the media as a liability in a crisis situation, communicators should engage the media through open communication
  8. Communicate with Compassion, Concern, & Empathy: When communicating with the public, media or other people involved in the crisis, designated spokesperson should demonstrate compassion, concern and empathy.
  9. Accept Uncertainty & Ambiguity: Best practices in Crisis Communication start with acknowledgement of uncertain ambiguity of a crisis. Warnings must be issued even when some level of uncertainty exists.
  10. Messages of Self-Efficacy: There is a great importance of messages that provide specific information telling people what they can do to reduce the harm. These messages of self-efficacy can help restore some sense of control in an uncertain situation.
Short Analysis of 4 crisis in KP viz Crisis Communication
  1. IDPs of Malakand – May 2009
  2. IDPs of North Waziristan – June 2014
  3. Floods 2010 – Aug 2010
  4. Floods & Earthquake 2015
1. IDPs of Malakand – May 2009
  • Emergency Response Unit exclusively for Swat IDPs established to manage crisis
  • Media Cell – Started from scratch
  • Media Cell was primarily to deal with the website’s promotion, & create awareness about fund-raising for IDPs
  • Designed ERU’s logo – Branding done
  • Specialists for print, electronic & social media hired
  • Devised mechanism to ensure that ERU responded to emails & Feedback
  • Communications Officer available to media & others 24/7
  • Coordination mechanism on media with Army established

2. IDPs of North Waziristan Agency

  • No dedicated Media Cell established – media handling by Governor’s House too
  • Full access given to media at Peshawar, Partial at Bannu
  • Communication with effectees through Print & Electronic media (FM also)
  • Army established Crisis Communication mechanism with stakeholders
  • Some circles in IDPs played government due to non-communication plus other motives and due to limited media access as policy, govt response always stretched
3. Flood & Earthquake 2015
  • Initial lack of Crisis Communication
  • No formal mechanism of Crisis Communication especially with District Administrations
  • No formal incharge – PDMA with EOC tried to fill in gap but a centralised control room with authority over all government strands was not there
  • Openness with media ensured lesser negativity
  • Media responded to openly and flooded with reports – positive impact
  • PressCons, Social Media, access to TV channels ensured – levels of spokespersons not pre-determined

Impediments & way forward

  1. No proper / notified Crisis Communication strategy anywhere in disaster or crisis management (atleast not visible or commonly known even to senior decision makers)
  2. CGTM  (Credit Goes to Me) is the biggest challenge as every authority & dignitary requires to be seen to be doing something or everything. Most of the time this competition disturbs the effort
  3. Crisis tourism thins out resources & concentration – most of the time the district administration runs around to look after VIPs
  4. No formal (actual) Civil-Military Coordination esp at initial stage of crisis. Civil Military Coordination Committees need to be in place as a structural arrangement and regularly in touch with pre-determined SOPs and protocols – to be activated whenever any crisis occurs automatically
  5. Civil servants capacity – no training on media management & marketing – they cannot market what the government is doing- in future, pre and in-service training should include module on media management and marketing
  6. “Get Dirty First” should be the moto. Wrong should not be defended but accepted openly to move forward with remedy and not spend time in needless defence.
  7. Balance between “Persuade” & “Inform”. Public needs to be truthfully and timely informed of what the truth is so that they are able to take hard decisions – to move from an area etc.
  8. Crisis Communicators are also going through crisis and we tend to forget that. With their own families under duress, government should be cognisant of their needs too.
  9. Volunteer Independent Reporters network needs to be established at each Union Council level to report on each part of the province in any crisis as independent feedback mechanism for corrective actions.
(Developed from a presentation made on Crisis Communication at Information Services Academy to visiting participants of MCMC)