One of my professors always says there is no such thing as a crisis in public relations. What he means is that we, as public relations professionals, should always know what’s out there, what’s happening, and we should have a plan in place for when, not if, the crisis hits.
Since 2002, Harding has conducted an annual disaster drill on campus to test its emergency plan. Staff, faculty and students from different fields of study on campus work with local police, fire, EMT and hospital staffs to simulate an emergency and to practice the response effort.
This year, the drill was a multi-vehicle car accident, involving a bus, with multiple casualties and injuries. My PR tactics class had the opportunity to observe the communication side of the response.
We were on site at the accident, observing and asking questions about the typical barrier for media and the process to communicate with law enforcement to update numbers and keep people informed with the latest news. While we were on site, part of the crisis action team met in another location to work on a press statement to be released within an hour of confirmation that the accident had happened.
For this particular drill, law enforcement would serve as the first source for information. Families of victims would be notified by law enforcement. Numbers would be reported to the communication team by law enforcement. Law enforcement would hold the first press conference with an initial response on the situation. One of my takeaways from the drill is the importance of establishing a relationship with local authorities. Knowing the right people is crucial during a crisis; it speeds up the process and leaves fewer unanswered questions when it is time to take action.
Another lesson I learned is that accuracy trumps speed when it comes to relaying information during a crisis. Getting the facts right should always be a priority, but when it’s a matter of life and death, the stakes are higher. Get the facts right the first time.
After the disaster drill ended, our class sat down with Harding’s Vice President of Communication Jana Rucker to discuss the press statement and the chain of command in place for when a crisis comes our way. Her advice was to always anticipate, prepare and practice.
Thank you, Harding, for your learning opportunities, for your preparedness in every situation, and for your commitment to growing and being better every day.
Photo courtesy of Harding University