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7 Corporate Social Media Strategies for Incident Management

Posted on Thu, Jul 16, 2015

In today’s expansive world of smartphones and instantaneous social media reporting, incident commanders no longer have the luxury of controlling communication with the public and media. As a result, a company must establish an incident management communication plan that includes a facet for assessing and distributing communication through social media.

Social media communication has advanced from its origins as a picture-sharing medium strictly used by young adults, to a comprehensive, informative, and responsive communication tool. Companies must incorporate these platforms that instantly validate observations, enable shared experiences, and provide valuable information.

Public relations planning that includes a social media element must be developed as part of an overall incident management plan. In order to sustain a positive, productive, and profitable relationship with stakeholders and communities, proactive corporate visibility and timely communications is essential. Established Twitter feeds, Facebook pages, and company websites can be used as sources of incident communications. Employees, the press, and communities want to know the details of “what happened”, “who/what was impacted”, “why did the incident occur”, and “what will happen” in the near future.

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The more timely and detailed the information, the less chance the public and media outlets will have room for interpretation. In order to regulate inaccurate perceptions, an incident management communication plan must contain the following elements:

  1. An initial brief, focused, and factual description of the situation: Even if the situation is ongoing, the current facts must be presented barring any information that may cause further harm.
  2. Initial response action details: Identify the “who, what, when, and where”. The “why” is often speculative in the early stages of an incident. Refrain from communicating the “why” until all the facts can be evaluated and confirmed.
  3. Ongoing processes established to minimize and counteract the emergency: Identify what process and procedures will be in place in order to restore the scene to a “business as usual” scenario. This may include, but is not limited to:
    1. ongoing security measures
    2. safety mandates, such as shelter in place or evacuations
    3. supply chain disruptions
    4. employee directives
    5. request for assistance/volunteers
  4. A statement of commitment to return to “business as usual”: Companies must communicate their intent/attempt to return the affected area to its original or improved state. If ‘business as usual” will be delayed or altered, details of those terms must be communicated when logistics and associated details are confirmed.
  5. An expression of empathy to those affected by the incident: If an incident affects employees, stakeholders, and/or the community, a company should make every effort to “be human” and show compassion. However, communicating “acts of compassion” speak louder than words.
  6. Access to subject matter experts to answer media inquiries: Experts that understand the details of the incident and how it relates to operations can often provide specific, factual information. These individuals can often be representatives that explain “why” an incident occurred. If a company does not provide expert analysis, the public and media may seek out alternative sources that may not have all the necessary deductive and accurate information to the specific incident.
  7. Timing for follow up information: Companies should only promise what can be delivered. A companies should refrain from predicting response times. While exercises should give incident commanders a general sense of time frame, each scenario is unique. Companies should provide employees, the press, and the public with incremental times for situational updates. Those times should be hard scheduled but should not interfere with the response. Even if additional factual information is not available, the public information officer (PIO), or the designated representative, should maintain communication.

Social media engagement has become one of the “lessons learned” from the 2013 West, TX fertilizer plant explosion. Frank Patterson, Waco-McLennan County emergency management coordinator, called the incident a “CNN event”. “We didn’t use social media. It ate us up,” said Patterson. Misinformation and rumors surrounding the explosion saturated the Internet.

It is imperative for a PIO or representative to effectively manage and engage in media communication and social media chatter. For larger companies or if operational risks and worst-case scenarios have the potential for a considerable impact, it may be advantageous to establish a communications team that includes a social media monitoring facet. Regardless, companies must be tuned into the vast digital network of social chatter. While the specific incident circumstances will define a response strategy, basic communications processes typically remain consistent. Viral rumors and antagonistic communications can often be inhibited with a timely, factual, and proactive incident management communications campaign.

Tags: Incident Management, Media and Public Relations

The Relationship Between Crisis Management and Public Relations

Posted on Thu, Feb 27, 2014

How well are companies positioned when it comes to crisis management? Does your company have a plan in case a crisis erupts?  Public relations planning should be developed as part of an overall crisis management plan in order to sustain a positive and productive relationship with stakeholders and the community at large. Public perception can dictate the profitability, the success, and/or the failure of a company.

The 24-hour cycle of breaking news and the popularity of social media increases the awareness of mass disasters and targeted crises, perpetuates rumors, and accelerates and a potential “blame game”. Incidents, whether natural or man-made, become media events. In order to control internal and external perceptions, a company must prepare crisis management communication tools, processes, and procedures.

An exercised crisis management plan, as well as company policy, should dictate what information to release, by whom, and when. Information MUST be accurate and communicated in a timely manner. The execution of crisis communications should begin in planning phase, not on the verge of, during, or after an incident. Unfortunately, during the height of a crisis, bleak realities and raw emotion may alter communication agreements and promote misinformation.

Engaging with media outlets is often an element of a response and must be incorporated into the planning process. Through crisis management planning, specific training, and all-inclusive exercises, companies can avoid public power struggles and confusion before a situation occurs. While some companies dread the journalistic nature created by an incident, the media has the ability to rapidly communicate public safety messages that can potentially reach necessary resources. With affirming proactive public relation measures in place, communications can alleviate public anxiety and provide a level of corporate credibility and response competency.

The more detailed the information, the less chance the media will have room for interpretation. In order to regulate inaccurate perceptions, initial media communications should contain the following elements:

  • A brief, focused, and factual description of the situation and initial response actions
  • Processes established to minimize and counteract the emergency
  • A statement of commitment to return to “business as usual”
  • An expression of empathy
  • Access to subject matter experts to answer media inquiries
  • Timing for media follow up (only promise what can be delivered)

Typically, reporters covering a crisis situation want the company to provide more information than is possible. Most often, information is withheld because:

  • Facts are still being gathered and confirmed
  • The response is current, fluid, and changing
  • Primary notifications and response communications supersede public relations  (ex: notification of families, safety of staff)

However, by understanding journalists’ “expected” information, companies can create a public relations plan that results in appeasing, accurate, and seamless communications. In any crisis situation the media looks to answer the following questions:

  • How was the crisis created (what happened)?
  • Why did the emergency happen?
  • Who/what is to blame?
  • Was there forewarning?
  • Are people and the environment safe?
  • Are there additional risks and what are they?
  • Are all victims accounted for and being helped?
  • How does the situation affect the site?
  • Can it be fixed?
  • Who is in charge?
  • Has the situation been contained?
  • What can be expected, now and in the future?
  • What can be done to protect others?
  • What resources or actions are needed from the community?

Companies must be aware that media coverage of an incident can adversely impact employees, investors, customers, suppliers, and possibly the community. It may directly threaten a company's staff, reputation, infrastructure, and/or revenues. Public relations planning should be developed as part of an overall crisis management plan in order to sustain a positive and productive relationship with every level of stakeholder and the community at large.

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Tags: Conference, Crisis Management, Communication Plan, Media and Public Relations

Twitter Hashtags in Emergency Management

Posted on Mon, Sep 09, 2013

As social media becomes ingrained into society, emergency managers should capitalize on the boundless information available from these interactive platforms. Social media can provide user-generated content regarding ideologies, location-specific observations, and first hand experiences that allow emergency managers to respond accordingly. Social media‘s reach, frequency, usability, and immediacy can be utilized as response tool and reveal real-time public perceptions of a company at any given time.

Twitter, the 140-character real-time social communication site, was developed in 2006 and has rapidly gained users since its inception.  According to eBiz (as of August 8, 2013), Twitter is ranked 2nd among the “15 Most Popular Networking Sites”.  Because of its instantaneous updates and popularity, emergency managers can utilize information for a variety of response activities. It can provide messages inclusive of web links, pictures, audio and video content.

As discussed in the TRP blog entitled “Emergency Management Planning and Social Media” companies should develop processes for monitoring and evaluating social media during an incident in order to collect accurate, real-time intelligence, as well as to obtain a basic consensus of public opinion.  The disciplines of social media and emergency management need to interface before an incident happens, not during the response itself. The Twitter hashtag tool, #, allows readers to connect to conversations regarding specific topics or incidents. Utilizing the hashtag tool allows for concentrated, situational communications and can bring specific topics into focus for emergency managers.

Hashtag Guidelines for Emergency Managers

According to Twitter, hashtags are used to categorize Tweets via keywords.  Twitter guidelines regarding hashtag usage is as follows:

  • Use the hashtag symbol # before a relevant keyword or phrase (no spaces) to categorize those Tweets
  • Hash tagging assists in Twitter searches. (ex: #wildfire)
  • Clicking on a hashtagged word in any message shows all other Tweets marked with that keyword.
  • Hashtags can occur anywhere in the Tweet – at the beginning, middle, or end.
  • Hashtagged words that become very popular are often Trending Topics.
When a specific hashtag is selected, Twitter displays results for all posts utilizing the same hashtag. However, it is important to consider that hashtags key terms may not be consistent. For example, when searching for information related to the August Tuolumne County, California wildfires, hashtags included a variety of combinations: #yosemite, #Cafire, #RimFire, #Tuolumne. It is important to utilize a multiple variations of an incident when searching for information on Twitter.

 

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Common Emergency Management Hashtags

A series of emergency management hashtags were identified in Social Media 4 Emergency Managers’ blog, “Active Hashtags”. The list below includes many of those identified in the “Active Hashtag” blog, as well as other that have since been utilized.

General Hashtags

  • #preparedness - General term for all topics under the preparedness umbrella
  • #incidentmanagement - Topics relating to managing an incident from activation to recovery
  • #SMEM - Social Media and Emergency Management
  • #VOST - Virtual Operations Support Teams
  • #EM - Emergency Management
  • #Incident - An occurring event. More specific information may be gathered by utilizing a more detailed hashtag
  • #Crisis - Crisis management
  • #businesscontinuity - Business Continuity information
  • #HSEM = Homeland Security Emergency Management
  • #businesscontinuity - Information relating to business continuity
  • #SM - Social Media
  • #Hazmat - Topics involved with hazardous material
  • #WX - Weather-Specific Tweets (for state-specific, these will be preceded by state initials such as #NYWX, #TXWX).
  • #2BeeRdy - Grassroots non-profit movement of Social Media volunteers who've come together to spread the emergency preparedness message.
  • #Regulations - Topics associated with local, state, or federal regulations
  • #disasterrecovery - General term for all topics related to disaster recovery
  • #emergencyplanning - Topics related to emergency planning

Government Hashtags Sampling

  • #FEMA - Federal Emergency Management Administration
  • #RCRA - Resource Conservation and Recovery Act
  • #NFPA - National Fire Protection Association
  • #EPA - Environmental Protection Agency
  • #OSHA - Occupational Safety and Health Administration
  • #NPM13 - National Preparedness Month 2013
  • #PHMSA_DOTPipeline Hazardous Material Safety Administration

Conference & Association Hashtags

  • #NEMA - National  Emergency Management Association
  • #IAEM - International Association of Emergency Management
  • #UASI - Urban Area Security Initiative
  • #VSMWG - Virtual Social Media Working Group (w/ DHS Science & Technology Directorate)
  • #IAEMETC - IAEM Emerging Tech Committee
  • #NG911 - Next generation 911 initiative
  • #Cleangulf – Clean Gulf Conference
  • #VPPPA - The Voluntary Protection Programs Participants’ Association, Inc, is a nonprofit association of cooperative safety and health management systems.
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Tags: Emergency Management, Emergency Preparedness, Incident Management, Media and Public Relations, Disaster Response

Global EHS Response Planning, Preparedness, and Challenges

Posted on Thu, Aug 22, 2013

As companies expand operations and become more global, applicable location-specific threats and risks must be identified and incorporated into preparedness measures. Enterprise expansion requires environmental, health, and safety (EHS) managers and corporate regulatory teams to sharpen their global understanding of regulations, security needs, and associated components of emergency response plans and strategies specific to location of operations.

Whether a facility is domestically located or abroad, ensuring compliance and employee safety requires a streamlined, coordinated, and exercised response plan. All response plans within the corporate enterprise should address site-specific facility details, appropriate response processes, standardized company-wide best practices, and should maintain compliance with local, state, and federal regulations.

A poorly managed and inadequate response, whether an emergency on non-emergency incident, can negatively affect a company’s reputation, business interests, and relationship with key regulators, partners, and local entities. However, global branches outside headquarters’ domain may present additional preparedness and response challenges. Cultural differences, infrastructure challenges, or security priorities may heighten preparedness priorities and planning efforts. As a result, a multinational company may be particularly vulnerable to crisis or emergency response situations.

High-level crisis management responses may stem from either emergency or non-emergency situations. While necessary emergency responses likely affect the safety and health of employees and/or the facility infrastructure, non-emergency situations can arise that potentially impact company reputation and operational longevity. Response plans should be developed for each potential emergency or non-emergency scenario that could cause significant damage to local operations or company-wide. Crisis management or emergency response planning may incorporate, but is not limited to the following:

Environmental Stewardship: Disparity in international, country, state, county and corporate environmental standards.  Environmental regulations may vary regarding:

  • Facility or site requirements
  • Transportation
  • Hazardous spills
  • Equipment safety
  • Fire-fighting method
  • Gas releases

Natural Disasters: Each geographic location is saddled with specific potential natural threats.

  • Earthquakes
  • Hurricanes/Typhoons,
  • Sand/wind storms
  • Tornados
  • Flooding
  • Tsunami

Employee issues: While every facility must prepare for potential employee issues, global companies must pay specific attention to the following:

  • Cultural differences
  • Language barriers
  • Labor relations challenges
  • Workplace discrimination or harassment
  • Disgruntled workers
  • Health and safety disparagements
Marketing: Global markets and unethical business practices can create non-emergency scenarios resulting in the need for crisis management:
  • Price gouging
  • Supply availability
  • Recalls
  • Deceptive business practices

Security Breach: A security breach can affect multiple aspects of a company, from business continuity to the physical safety of employees.

  • Computer hacking
  • Catastrophic IT failure
  • Facility security measures
  • Civil unrest
  • Personnel/employee security

Corporate Governance: Corporate changes can initiate unrest, disrupt operations, and company reputation:

  • Mergers
  • Organizational restructuring
  • Downsizing
  • Facility closings
  • Management successions/promotions
  • Financial reporting integrity

Industry/Sector Issues: As industry specific equipment, regulatory advancements, and technologies evolve, preparedness should continually adapt to include safety processes, continuity procedures and best practices.

  • Supply disruptions
  • Punitive regulations
  • Equipment advancements

Illegal Activity: Faults in humanity may be intensified by location specific conditions, supply and demand, and/or greed. Preparedness measures should include business continuity and crisis management procedure for the following circumstances:

  • Extortion
  • Bribery
  • Fraud
  • Malfeasance
  • Criminal Investigation

Political/Social issues: As companies strive to be profitable, political and social issues can interfere with daily operations. Situations that may affect productivity include, but are not limited to:

  • Human rights
  • Terrorism
  • War
  • Political or social unrest
  • Economic disparity
  • Discrimination

Though preparedness, companies can minimize the effects of costly crisis and emergency situations. Timely resolutions with limited impact to the facility, employees, the environment, reputation and the financial bottom line will allow companies to better position themselves for prosperity and longevity. Additionally, strategic preparedness and a response focus across global entities can propel international EHS best practices and bolster worldwide economic stability.

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Tags: Social Unrest, Crisis Management, Facility Management, Emergency Management Program, Security plans, Political Instability, Media and Public Relations, Workplace Safety

Incident Response Communication Plan and NG9-1-1

Posted on Mon, Jul 22, 2013

The ability to swiftly and effectively communicate incident details and subsequent response actions is an important factor of effective incident management. The standard "phone tree" has evolved into a variety of dynamic communication modes used to interact with internal and external responders, and stakeholders. Most professionals have several phone numbers, multiple email addresses, and can receive SMS (text) messages and digital images.

Because of the vast availability of this technology, it is essential to pre-plan standardized methods and notification procedures that will allow companies to rapidly communicate. If a company uses more than one practice (i.e. e-mails, texts, or telephone calls) to reach responders and stakeholders, the chances are improved that the message will be received. Responders should identify, agree, and exercise a primary means of communication in order to respond readily. Communication mode consistency and training in response communication procedures can streamline anticipated methods and assure messages are received promptly.

Just as common communication methodology is important for communication, commonly understood terminology is essential. A multi-agency incident response requires simple and parallel language. Communicating through unfamiliar company radio codes, agency specific codes, perplexing acronyms, unanticipated text messages, or specialized jargon will disconnect and confuse employees, responders, and/or stakeholders, possibly prolonging a response.

According to FEMA, common ICS terminology helps to define:

  • Organizational Functions: Major functions and functional units with incident management responsibilities are named and defined.
  • Resource Descriptions: Major resources (personnel, facilities, and equipment/ supply items) are given common names and are "typed" or categorized by their capabilities. This helps to avoid confusion and enhances interoperability.
  • Incident Facilities: Common terminology is used to designate incident facilities.
  • Position Titles: ICS management or supervisory positions are referred to by titles, such as Officer, Chief, Director, Supervisor, or Leader.

But even with an effort to institute advanced technology into communication methods and streamline procedures with injected common terminology, not everyone on the emergency notification lists has access to various modes of communications. This is particularly true of the current 9-1-1 system. While there have been many improvements to the 9-1-1 system over its nearly 45 year history, (notably the ability to locate and route wireless callers), the call center infrastructure has remained fundamentally the same.

According to the US Department of Transportation’s Research and Innovative Technology Administration (RITA), “The nation’s current 9-1-1 system is designed around outdated telephone technology and cannot handle the text, data, images, and video that are common in personal communications and critical to future safety and mobility advances.”  To combat this, the “Next Generation 9-1-1” (NG9-1-1) initiative calls to retrofit call center infrastructures in order for call centers or Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs) to receive emergencies reports in a variety of digital means. RITA explains that the NG9-1-1 is a system comprised of hardware, software, data, and operational policies and procedures that will be able to:

  • Enable 9-1-1 calls from a variety of networked devices
  • Provide faster and more accurate information and delivery to responders. Delivery will incorporate better and more useful forms of information (e.g., real-time text, images, video, and other data).
  • Establish more flexible, secure, and robust PSAP operations with increased capabilities for sharing data and resources, and more efficient procedures and standards to improve emergency response.
  • Enable call access, transfer, backup, and improved interoperability among PSAPs and other authorized emergency entities.

President of the NENA Executive Board, Barbara Jaeger, ENP, told 9-1-1 Magazine that “it could be eight to ten years before full, seamless real-time text to 9-1-1 is available across states and the nation unless NG9-1-1 is prioritized and adequately funded”.  However, the initiative seems to be a priority to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The FCC stated that text to 911 would have nationwide availability by May 15, 2014. The FCC stresses that text to 911 will be a complement to, not a substitute for, voice calls to 911 services.

Durham, North Carolina’s emergency communication center is one of the first NG-9-1-1 systems in the US. The Durham center lays the groundwork for other call centers to accept text, images, and video once mobile carriers make this an available option to their customers. Ideally, the NG9-1-1 capability will be instrumental in providing law enforcement, firefighters, EMTs, and other first responders detailed, incident-specific information, possibly resulting in a more efficient response.

An FCC press release stated, “In addition, to help eliminate consumer confusion while text-to-911 capability is being phased-in, the carriers have committed to provide an automatic “bounce back” text message to notify consumers if their attempt to reach 911 via text message was unsuccessful because this service is not yet available in their area. Such a message would instruct the recipient to make a voice call to a 911 center. The four carriers (AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile) will fully implement this “bounce back” capability across their networks by June 30, 2013.”

As NG9-1-1 implementation gains momentum, companies should evaluate notification and disclosure procedures in order to align corporate communication practices with advanced emergency communication strategies. As a result, timely notifications can be initiated and acted upon in the event an incident occurs at your facility.

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Tags: Emergency Management Program, Communication Plan, Media and Public Relations, Social Media, Emergency Action Plan, Notification Systems

Top Ten TRP Corp Blogs to Advance Emergency Management in 2013

Posted on Thu, Jan 03, 2013

As we begin 2013, TRP would like to share the list of our readers’ top ten blog from 2012.  While the topics vary, the goal of each blog is to provide a resourceful, informative article that guides professionals in developing effective emergency, crisis, and business continuity plans. We hope emergency managers, first responders, and safety professionals can utilize these blogs to advance emergency management and business continuity efforts in 2013.

Our Top Ten 2012 Blog Articles Include:

10. Resource Management in Emergency Planning and Response: Highlights ideal response plan resource management procedures and the seven categories of resources that may be required. (July 16, 2012)

9. The International Standard for Business Continuity: ISO 22301: The ISO 22301, which was published as of May 15, 2012, specifies requirements to plan, establish, implement, operate, monitor, review, maintain and continually improve a documented management system to protect against, reduce the likelihood of occurrence, prepare for, respond to, and recover from disruptive incidents when they arise. (Feb. 27, 2012)

8. Evolving Communication Methods for Effective Emergency Response: Explores the new Commercial Mobile Alert System (CMAS), an emergency communications tool, that enhances public safety by transmitting information to wireless devices in the event of an emergency. (June 14, 2012)

7. An Overview of Crisis Management Teams: Provides details regarding the roles and responsibilities of a Crisis Management Team. (Nov. 1, 2012)

6. Industrial Fire Pre Plans and Fire Fighting Tactics: Highlights the minimum details that should be included in a fire pre plan and when a defensive response approach may be warranted. (Nov. 19, 2012)

5. Common Incident Command Management Characteristics: Identifies the  proven management characteristics that contribute to the strength and efficiency of the overall emergency management program. (July 12, 2012)

4. Incident Action Plans and the ICS Components: Provides a basic understanding of Incident Action Plans and the ICS forms that are typically included. (Oct.  29, 2012)

3. The Emergency Operations Planning P: Identifies the primary components of the common emergency management “Planning P” image. (Sept. 20, 2012)

2. The National Integration Center and NIMS: Details how the National Integration Center (NIC) promotes compatibility and NIMS compliance between the private corporate sector and its jurisdictional counterparts. (August 6, 2012)

1. Emergency Exercise Scenario Types for Disaster Management: Highlights the Department of Homeland Security’s four types of exercise or drill scenarios used in risk management and emergency planning. (May 10, 2012)

For tips and best practices on designing a crisis management program, download Best Practices for Crisis Management.

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Emergency Communications Planning in the Oil and Gas Industry

Posted on Mon, Dec 10, 2012

In a crisis situation, effective response communications enables employees, stakeholders, and customers to be informed of the current situation and allows all parties to set realistic expectations of a response. During the aftermath of superstorm Sandy, Hess Corporation, a prevalent fuel supplier in the northeast region of the U.S., published timely information on fuel availability levels at its working gas stations for the public. This effort allowed Hess customers to determine a course of action, while limiting extraneous efforts to attain fuel. Since the emergency situation was not limited to a specific site, the company prioritized broad-based emergency response communications to address the needs of its customers.

A regional emergency event can extend far beyond a facility’s borders. Communicating timely and accurate information to facility managers, critical decision makers, emergency response teams, stakeholders, vendors and contractors, and the public is an important element to any emergency management function.  This is especially true in communicating response and recovery operations in the highly regulated oil and gas industry, which is critical to a stable infrastructure and a productive economy. If a company or a region suffers an incident affecting oil and gas companies, the financial and societal costs can escalate quickly. Effects may include, but are not limited to:

  • Production loss
  • Inventory depletion
  • Supply shortages
  • Employee safety
  • Brand and reputation
  • Customer dissatisfaction

According to FEMA, the foundation of an effective disaster communications strategy is built on the four critical assumptions:

1. Customer Focus: After an emergency, there is a need for highly effective communication between company leadership and facility employees. Typically, these facility employees become the first line of communication and main relationship facilitator between customers and the company. Effective and proactive communication can result in positive customer interaction, which maintains company reputations and strong relationships.

2. Leadership Commitment: This commitment must include, but is not limited to;

    • Communication among site managers and all business units
    • Advancing contact verification procedures
    • The development of a communications strategic framework with checklists and response criteria that will guide the communications decision-making process
    • Notification procedures for stakeholders, both internal and external.

3. Inclusion of Communications in Planning and Operations: Communication procedures should be included as part of emergency response plans.  Each team member should have clear procedures for receiving and disseminating information. Public relations personnel should be included in emergency planning aspects and emergency exercises.

4. Media Partnership: Media has the ability to rapidly communicate public safety messages to communities, potentially reaching necessary resources and affirming proactive measures are in place. Consistent, accurate messages by company representatives alleviate public anxiety and provide a level of credibility and response competency. Public relations planning should be developed as part of an overall disaster management plan in order to sustain a positive and productive relationship with every level of stakeholder and the community at large.

“With a typical oil pipeline pumping more than $3-million worth of oil an hour, effective communications are essential in keeping revenues flowing.”1   If and when an emergency occurs, clear communication is crucial to protect lives, the environment, the surrounding community, as well as profits and reputation. Effective emergency communications should:

  • Result from accurate data collection
  • Clarify initial emergency response initiatives
  • Be timely and current
  • Remain concise to accurately define necessary tasks
  • Include time parameters and follow up procedures
  • Be strategic in how tasks should be accomplished

Establishing and committing to communications and public relations efforts define lines of communications with all partners, enables leaders to communicate response efforts and requirements, and ensures that public affairs staff has the training and the tools to be successful to maintain company reputation and client relationships.

1:  TETRA: Enabling Critical Communications in the Oil and Gas Sector, 2009, www.motorola.com

 

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Tags: Corporate Hurricane Preparedness, Crisis Management, Incident Management, Oil Spill, Emergency Management Program, Media and Public Relations, Social Media

Social Media and the Emergency Manager

Posted on Mon, Oct 01, 2012

As Hurricane Isaac churned in the Gulf in August 2012, public sector emergency managers were turning to social media to relay important information, as well as monitor feeds for trends relating to evolving emergency situations.

“This is the first time we’re rolling out full-blown Twitter and Facebook as well as our notification system through e-mails,” said Broward Emergency Manager Chuck Lanza in regards to Hurricane Isaac’s impact. “Any message that we send out will have to do with preparedness, evacuations, sheltering, stuff that’s easy to understand that people can get the message and act upon it pretty quickly.

Emergency managers must adjust to the “new normal” information flow and associated technologies. A new generation of internet-shackled employees is coming into the workforce, and is becoming increasingly dependent on social media for information. Within a short time span, social media has grown from a hobby-like befriending outlet into a vast two-way communication network, unlike radio and television. The concept of social media as a communication tool has garnered the attention of Federal Emergency Management Administration, which introduced a new course in July, 2012, entitled IS-42 Social Media in Emergency Management. 

According to the FEMA Social Media’s course description, “Social media is a new technology that not only allows for another channel of broadcasting messages to the public, but also allows for two way communication between emergency managers and major stakeholder groups.”

Emergency managers can utilize social media to communicate preparations for, necessary responses to, and recovery from an emergency event. Unlike passive traditional press releases and media interactions in which message content was typically controlled and timed, social media is accessible on a 24-hour basis with the potential for average citizens dispersing content. According to the Social Media in Emergency Management course, “The Internet has evolved from a static path of sharing information to a dynamic communication conduit for all to contribute”.

Common social media sites used by Emergency managers include, but are not limited to:

  • Blogger, Wordpress, and similar platforms: Allow for a single author or a group of authors using one account to post content and links as a series of articles or posts arranged in a chronological sequence like a diary or journal.
  • Twitter, a micro-blogging site: Provides users with a platform for 140 character messages that may include web links, pictures, audio, and video content.
  • Facebook and Google+: Allows individuals or organizations to keep others up to date on their status and activities or to advertise events.
  • LinkedIn: A professional platform used form communities of practice, for continual learning, and sharing of better practices.
  • Flickr, Picasa, YouTube, Vimeo, and Tumblr: Media sharing site that can include text commentary, group photos or video. 
  • Wikis: Repositories for information or documentsOnline encyclopedias typically offer subject specific areas where information can be obtained.  Wikis may be used as an outlet for users to submit ideas, solutions, or their opinions. 

“Social media has added credibility challenges to the formerly unquestioned voice of the emergency manager.” - Tom Olshanski, Director of External Affairs at the U.S. Fire Administration

Social media creates its own set of challenges for companies incorporating the newest information medium into its emergency management process. These challenges include;

  • Leadership buy-in: Questions about the reliability of information, fear of the unknown, misuse, or abuse.
  • Potential lack of content control: Any witness with an Internet connection can report on an incident and the emergency response.  The potential reputational fallout can be catastrophic for a company if inaccurate information goes viral.
  • Global reach: Information shared on most social media is accessible by the masses, despite location.
  • Security policies: Social media platforms may be perceived as potential security risks for highly regulated facilities.
  • Personnel privacy: Policies must be in place to determine tracking, storage and usage of sensitive data.
  • Organizational capacity: Emergency management team may be unfamiliar with social media or might lack the skills required to use it effectively.
  • Sustainability: Overloaded emergency staff may not have the time necessary for a dedicated social media effort.
  • Company documentation: Legal records retention requirements for archiving communications at State and Federal level can damper use of social media tools. Social media usage is outpacing changes to legal documentation requirements
  • Multi-channel feeds: One post can be disseminated to a number of social media outlets making information viral before facts are confirmed.
  • Publicity: The public obtains its news and information from multiple sources (television, radio, and the World Wide Web) and chooses what, when, and in what form it receives it. Public relations efforts must cross-pollinate amongst various mediums.
  • Reversed Information Chain: A Company may receive information regarding its own company or facilities from outside sources. Eyewitnesses can be the first to “break the story”, potentially leading to a negative company reputation. The public perception may include discussions of a company cover-up or ignorance to its own failures, if a public statement is delayed.

However, despite its challenges, companies involved in an emergency can benefit from social media in critical ways that aid in emergency response: 

  1. Speed: Direct communication between informants and those who need information enables responders to react faster, minimizing the duration of the emergency.
  2. Relevance: Disseminate the right message to the right audience
  3. Accuracy: Ensure information is correct, confirmed by company sources, and backed up by facts or direct observation. Multiple informants can confirm accuracy or inaccuracies.

Emergency managers, in coordination with public relations personnel, should maintain a crisis management plan to address potential challenges and proactively inform employees, stakeholders, and the public regarding any company incident. This process should highlight situational awareness, company efforts to combat the emergency, and mediation measures to prevent the incident from reoccurring.

Initial social media contact via written messages, photographs, and videos after an emergency should contain the following elements:

  • A brief, focused, and factual description of the situation and initial response actions
  • Processes established to minimize and counteract the emergency
  • A statement of commitment to return to “business as usual”
  • An expression of empathy and concern for those involved in the incident and response.
  • Access to an employee with subject matter expertise to answer inquiries
  • Timing for media follow up (only promise what can be delivered)

For tips and best practices on designing a crisis management program, download Best Practices for Crisis Management.

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Tags: Emergency Management, Incident Management, FEMA, Media and Public Relations, Social Media

Public-Private Emergency Management Partnering Organizations

Posted on Mon, Jul 23, 2012

Emergency management partnering organizations can help bolster national preparedness by bridging communication between the private and public sectors. By actively participating in these partnerships, companies can improve their capabilities in emergency management through:

  • Sharing successful models and best practices
  • Communicating effective tools
  • Joint training and exercising programs
  • Identifying functional funding streams for enhancing emergency management programs

Although numerous state and local partnering organizations exists, FEMA identifies four national inter-operable partnerships that advocate prevention, preparedness, effective response, and swift recovery from disasters through effective education, research, and shared expertise.

The following national partnerships are identified by FEMA:

BEOC Alliance: (Business Emergency Operations Center): The BEOC Alliance aims to improve and strengthen emergency management effectiveness of government, FEMA, business partners, and non-governmental organizations through dynamic partnerships comprised of academic communities, private sector entities, and government. Its goal is to make the private sector self-reliant and self-sufficient during emergencies and disasters through information sharing and shared situational awareness.

Citizen Corps: This grassroots movement was launched in 2002 to strengthen community safety and preparedness through increased civic involvement. Citizen Corps is administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, but implemented locally. Communities across the country have created Citizen Corps Councils as effective public-private partnerships to make their communities safer, more prepared, and more resilient when incidents occur. 

InfraGard: A partnership between the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Cybervision unit and the private sector developed to promote timely information sharing, analysis, and ongoing dialogue between its members and the FBI. InfraGard is an association of businesses, academic institutions, state and local law enforcement agencies, and other participants dedicated to sharing information and intelligence to prevent hostile acts against the United States. InfraGard Chapters are geographically linked with FBI Field Office territories.

Ready Campaign: A partnership among the Ad Council, FEMA, Department of Homeland Security, National Preparedness Directorate, and Citizens Corp designed to educate citizens in preparing for and responding to emergencies through national public service advertising (PSA) campaigns. The goal of the campaign is to increase public awareness and promote involvement in a basic level of preparedness. One of the main operational principles within the Campaign is to effectively utilize force multipliers as message bearers and recruiters to encourage action

For a sample Emergency Response Checklist, download our helpful and informative guide.

Tags: Resiliency, Emergency Preparedness, Event Preparedness, Media and Public Relations, National Preparedness

Evolving Communication Methods for Effective Emergency Response

Posted on Thu, Jun 14, 2012

As more people are abandoning their hard-wired phone lines for mobile technologies, the ability to effectively communicate and broadcast emergency information to the masses through traditional means is narrowing. In April 2012, a new mobile emergency communications tool was unveiled in efforts to enhance public safety by transmitting information to wireless devices in the event of an emergency. The Commercial Mobile Alert System (CMAS) allows the public to receive wireless location-specific emergency notifications without the concern of congesting standard mobile voice and texting services. The CMAS is the system interface to the Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) service that wireless carriers are bringing to their customers.

CMAS/WEA alerts can be activated by authorized government agencies (local, state or federal), or the National Weather Service.  However, only CMAS/WEA-capable mobile devices can receive the notifications. According to FEMA, WEAs alerts will:

  • utilize a unique ring tone and vibration to signal receipt of an alert to distinguish it from a regular text message.
  • automatically “pop up” on the mobile device screen
  • be limited to 90 characters.
  • not preempt calls in progress. 

Individuals will be able to opt-out of Imminent Threat or AMBER alerts. However, under Executive Order 13407, individuals will not be able to opt-out of Presidential alerts.

Very few mobile devices are currently compatible with the emergency alert system.  However, wireless providers are continuing to launch new models that are WEA capable. Certain devices can receive a software upgrade to receive the alerts, however, older models may need to be replaced.

The alerts are geographically based and broadcasted to wireless phones in a specific location, not to specific individuals. According to Verizon Wireless, alerts will only include information provided by authorized senders. The emergency alert information may include, but is not limited to

  • Alert Category
  • Event Type
  • Response
  • Severity
  • Urgency
  • Certainty

Any capable device in the wireless company’s coverage area will receive the location-specific alert.  Wireless customers who travel into an affected area after the WEA was originally sent will still receive the alert, if the alert has not expired. With this new system, agencies will be able to geo-code a particular area to alert individuals based on cell towers, including tourists who may be at a location for business or pleasure.

To confirm Wireless Emergency Alerts are available in your area and if your device is capable of receiving the alerts, please check with your carrier. Below is a list of carrier links that detail their involvement in the CMAS/WEA program:

AT&T: Wireless Emergency Alerts Information

Cellcom: WEA Main Page

Cricket: CMAS Support

Sprint Nextel Corporation: Wireless Emergency Alerts Information

T-Mobile USA: Wireless Emergency Alerts Information

U.S. Cellular: Wireless Emergency Alerts | U.S. Cellular

Verizon Wireless: Wireless Emergency Alerts Information

For a sample Emergency Response Checklist, download our helpful and informative guide.

Tags: Emergency Preparedness, Media and Public Relations, National Preparedness, Notification Systems