There are a variety of types of emergencies that can devastate a community. Effective communication may be the only resource we have at the start of an emergency, whether it be a technological or natural hazard, like a major structural failure, loss of water supply, fires, floods, tornadoes, or radiation exposure. It can significantly impact how the community responds and recovers after a crisis.
What is Crisis and Emergency Risk Communications (CERC)?
Over the years, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has compiled multiple data points regarding best practices surrounding communication, issues with management, and historical lessons learned, to create the Crisis and Emergency Risk Communications (CERC) manual. This manual serves a fundamental purpose as it creates a path of improved communications to lessen the negative impact of an emergency. The CERC framework can help you make the best decisions possible and guide the community through words and information.
Improved communications through CERC make planning for emergencies and executing those plans more fluid during a true crisis. It can prevent fatalities and injuries, reduce property damage, protect the environment and the community, and make for a speedy recovery to resume daily operations.
The Six Principles of CERC
The Crisis and Emergency Risk Communication (CERC) manual is broken down into six principles to make it easier to reenact. The six principles that can help your organization and community prepare, respond, and recover from a crisis are:
- Be First
- Be Right
- Be Credible
- Express Empathy
- Promote Action
- Show Respect
Usually, the first source of information becomes the most crucial. You’ll want to communicate the most accurate information you have as quickly as possible. Time is of the essence.
Information told promptly is essential but not more important than giving the public the correct information. The right answer is what builds credibility. The correct answer can include what information is known or unknown or what is being done to fill the gaps.
Don’t sacrifice honesty during a crisis. Instead, maintain credibility by staying truthful.
No matter what emotional state a person may be in, expressing empathy is a fantastic building block to connecting with a community going through a crisis. People are already facing an incredible challenge during an emergency, so addressing people’s feelings will help build rapport.
Giving people a meaningful task is one of the best ways to curb panic and anxiety during a crisis. Promoting action gets them involved, takes their minds from an extreme emotional state to a more logical state, and gives them a sense of control.
People feel vulnerable during a crisis. Being disrespectful will not build trust or rapport. Showing respect creates cooperation and community bonding.
Four Types of Communication
Crisis communication can make or break an organization’s reputation or viability. For this reason alone, it’s crucial to understand the types of communication and how they correlate with who the communicator is, the timing of the communication, and the purpose of the message.
The four types of communication are:
- Crisis Communication
- Issues Management Communication
- Risk Communication
- Crisis and Emergency Risk Communication
During crisis communication, a member of the organization affected by the crisis has an urgent and unexpected time pressure to deliver a message that explains the facts and information of an emergency and persuades them to act in a way that reduces harm.
Issues management communication is like crisis communication with the same type of communicator; however, the crisis is anticipated, and the communicator has more control of the timing.
Risk communication typically occurs before a crisis and is delivered by an expert who is not directly impacted by the event. Since the emergency is not happening at that moment, the timing of such a crisis is anticipated but has little or no time pressure, with the primary purpose of empowering decision-making.
Crisis and Emergency Risk Communication (CERC) combines the above-mentioned communication types. The communicator is an expert impacted by the outcomes, the timing being urgent and unexpected, and the message’s mission is to explain, persuade, and empower people to make intelligent decisions.
CERC Principles and Resolving Emergencies
Crises have narrow timeframes in which people must communicate promptly, effectively, and respectfully. Following the six principles of CERC can decrease the harm done during an emergency and establish rapport and trust within a community. Knowledge of the four communication types can help better understand who, what, and when the communication types are used or should be used during a crisis.
Barbara Reynolds, a Ph.D. CDC Senior Crisis and Risk Communication Advisor says it best, “The right message at the right time from the right person can save lives.”
Crisis + Emergency Risk Communication (CERC) Introduction, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Emergency Planning, Canadian Centre of Occupational Health and Safety