Mixed Messages During Disaster Situations

To provide clarity in communications, whether it is in the awareness of BCM or during a disaster situation, there are some pitfalls that companies need to be aware of.  When organizations take the following pitfalls into account the chances of a clear and consistent message can be achieved. 

  1. Mixed Messages – This occurs when a message is placed on a phone line stating that a specific action is required of employees or that family members should call an identified number but when a company executive or spokesperson is in front of the media, they are asking that employees and family call different numbers.  It also occurs when the actions of the corporation aren’t matching what is being stated.  For example, it could be communicated that an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) has been activated but the EAP provider states they haven’t been contacted. 
  2. Too Many Messages – Providing too many messages can cause problems.  Before the content of one message has been received and comprehended, there is already a second message being disseminated.  This makes it hard for those receiving the message to keep up with the status, especially if one is missed because people are already acting on the first message.
  3. Poorly Timed Messages – Sometimes messages are provided at the wrong time.  During a disaster it’s not wise to send email messages to employees or clients in the middle of the night expecting them to do a specific action or provide a response by early morning.  The chances of the message being received are slim to none.  Another example of a poorly timed message is one where content is provided when it’s not required.  For example, if a test or exercise hasn’t been performed recently then there is no reason to disseminate a message stating the results of a test that was performed over a year ago; it simply is poorly timed and is probably no longer valid in its content.
  4. Wrong Delivery Channels – All delivery channels should be utilized when getting a message across to employees, either during a disaster or as part of the BCM awareness program.  Using the radio to distribute messages may not be as effective as utilizing the television medium but all methods should be utilized.  Not everyone will be watching television but they may be in the car listening to the radio.  Or they could have the radio on in the morning while making breakfast and not have the television on.  Use more than one method to reach employees.  There are pro’s and con’s to every method but the more methods utilized the better the chance of having one of those delivery channels successfully delivering your message.
  5. Failure to Communicate – This is the simplest item on the list.  Failing to communicate will only cause additional issues for an organization.  If no communications are provided to employees on what they should do when a disaster occurs, senior management can’t blame employees for not knowing what the expectations are.  Also, not communicating to external sources when a disaster occurs means that rumour, conjecture and ‘best-guesses’ will make the headlines and the more sensational the headline, the more the company will suffer for not providing communications.
  6. Not Testing Messages – Like all BCM components, an organization should develop some message templates and test them out during tests and exercises.  The more refined and better prepared the messages are, the easier it is for an organization to provide timely and concise messages to employees, media and other external sources.  Based on the results of some of the communication messages tested stronger and more defined message templates can be developed. 

Communication is a fundamental aspect that identifies good corporations from bad ones; how they communicate to employees, vendors and the surrounding community.  When a disaster strikes – and inevitably, a disaster will strike – communications will be a cornerstone in ensuring the right messages get out to the right people and that they understand what the message(s) is.  Having the opportunity to pre-validate ‘disaster’ communications will help aid a corporations through disastrous times for when a situation occurs.  Communications are utilized in every aspect of restoration, recovery and response elements and finding any potential ‘gaps’ or ‘errors’ in assumptions and communications messages will help ensure additional issues aren’t encountered above what the corporation is already trying to address.

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2 thoughts on “Mixed Messages During Disaster Situations

  1. I certainly agree with your points about the importance of communication and appropriate messages.

    I have had some fun drilling and rehearsing PR and Corporate Communications areas over the years. One of the key issues has often been the ability to get accurate information to inform messages, good crafting of the message and Executive approval – all in a timely manner.

    Made much worse when the message needs to be cleared from a global HQ in another time zone.

    • I’ve always thought that communication was one of the main pillars to ensuring a good response in a disaster/crisis situation. You could have great plans and processes in place but if you can’t communicate effectively and in a timely manner, then all the plans and processes in the world isn’t going to help the situation. In fact, there’s a good chance confusion, rumours and conjector will run rampant and then you’ve created another disaster for yourself.

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