Every crisis has a rhythm, with different phases occurring at different times. Scaling an emergency into multiple phases organizes a crisis and creates control and direction when an actual disaster hits your community.
The Four Phases of a Crisis
To produce the best results, Crisis and Emergency Risk Communication (CERC) must adapt to the different phases of an emergency.
The four phases of a crisis are:
During the preparation phase, the focus is to create partnerships, draft, and test messages, make plans for typical disasters, and decide on the approval process for releasing information to the public. Building relationships with other organizations and the community establishes a shared concern that can identify everyone’s role during an emergency, making the response flow effectively. It’s crucial to determine how the information will be disseminated. Communication must be accurate, simple, and repeated multiple times to help keep people safe.
Test messages can consist of social media messages, infographics, and flyers. The main goal behind these drafted messages is to create a clear message that the community can process without issue. In the prep phase, you will want to make sure you’re planning for an emergency likely to occur in your area and develop a communication plan that ties into the plan.
Showing empathy, providing straightforward explanations of risks, promoting action, and offering clear communication and description of response efforts are the foundation blocks of this phase that builds trust and rapport. Remember, people can only take so much information at once, so it’s best to provide simple communications and spread the news over time.
This phase consists of providing background information and explaining ongoing risks. Different groups of people will be at risk for some things that others might not be like exposure to the flu by older people and children will cause more severe side effects. People living in disaster zones will need different information and action steps versus someone living on the outskirts.
The more hands and minds working as one in an emergency, the better. Encourage people in the community to work as a team in both the response and recovery of an event. Something as simple as checking in on a neighbor can save lives. Another huge part of this phase is nipping rumors and misunderstandings immediately.
The resolution of an emergency is its recovery from a crisis. At the end of an emergency, people still need to be encouraged to take action or remain observant. There’s a continuation of expressing empathy for those who’ve suffered an unrecoverable loss.
This phase is just as important as the preparation phase because this is where plans for the preparation phase are revisited and changed to better suit future emergencies. It’s a great time to promote the community in future preparedness while the crisis is still fresh in mind. After-action reports are critical to document, discuss, and share learning lessons. Try to leave emotional responses out of the discussion and stick with the facts. From there, plans are evaluated, and communication improves for the following incident.
Objectives During the Four Phases of Crisis
There are three objectives a communicator must maintain throughout all four phases of a crisis:
- Community engagement
- Empower decision-making
Include all types of community members in the planning and response of an emergency. Some member examples could be religious leaders and union officials. Be an active listener by taking in their feedback and ensuring they are considered in decisions. Allow the community to decide what serves their best interest. Both during and after an emergency, evaluate the response and get feedback on how messages are received. Evaluate any gaps in information during an incident before it’s too late.
Pitfalls to Avoid
Every emergency may stumble upon issues, but many can be avoided. Prevent mixed messages handed down from multiple experts. Release information on a timely basis and ensure it’s delivered on time so that it can be used effectively. Keep paternalistic attitudes at bay. Counter any and all rumors as soon as it breaks the surface. Lastly, avoid public power struggles and unnecessary confusion.
Keeping the Rhythm of CERC Alive
Proper communication can change everything during an emergency. It can help organizations succeed in their mission, maintain trust in the community, and reduce illness and death. Following the four phases above and avoiding possible problems before, during, and after can significantly impact how the district handles an event and how prepared they are during and for future emergencies. Community engagement, empowering people to make decisions, and evaluation are all keys to a great communicator.
Crisis + Emergency Risk Communication (CERC) Introduction, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Emergency Planning, Canadian Centre of Occupational Health and Safety
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