Effective communication is a crucial aspect of post-incident response and recovery. Through their communications teams, responders can ensure that those affected and their communities are informed about any existing risks, that they have the knowledge to mitigate them, and that they are kept updated regarding access to whatever support services they require.
Communications is also central in promoting public confidence in the actions taken by responders and other agencies.
Wherever possible a clear, robust and proactive communications strategy should be agreed and understood by staff prior to any event.
Publicity material including media statements, social media posts and web pages should be drafted in advance, ready to be adjusted or activated during an emergency.
Similarly, mechanisms for coordinating a full communications response should be mapped and tested, including out of hours on call arrangements, the activation of Resilience Partnership public communications groups, the activation of public service broadcasts on radio and TV, and the dissemination of wider advertising campaigns.
The lead communications agency should be agreed in advance or at the earliest stage of a response, and senior officials and potential spokespeople should be trained and confident in participating in media interviews.
When discussing care facilities, any messages should help to explain what the services are, who they are for, why they exist, how they are run and how they can be accessed.
Such planning will minimise delays when an incident occurs, ensure that high levels of media interest can be handled and support a swift, coordinated and effective response.
Whilst it is convenient during the planning stage to use generic terms when naming the support centres during the response and recovery phase it will become necessary to use a name that clearly refers to the incident. This will ensure services
can be found easily when searching for them using, for example, the internet and social media. The name chosen should, where possible, also be inclusive of all potential users (e.g. survivors and families or the bereaved).
Response and Recovery
Following an incident, media and public interest will be intense and the expectations placed on responders will rightly be high.
As with all elements of a response, the first priority of communications should always be to protect life, by providing public safety information to those who have been affected or who may be in harm’s way. It will be crucial to provide clear information regarding availability of and access to HACs as soon as they are established.
From an early stage it will also be important to confirm the actions being taken by responders, and to explain clearly any limitations or perceived delays in the response. Active monitoring of media and social media will be necessary to effectively respond to concerns among those effected and to predict the course of the public narrative, both during the immediate response and throughout the recovery phase.
All media requests for information should be directed to the appropriate communications representatives, and all statements should be properly approved, avoiding subjective comment and focusing on the organisation’s specific area of expertise. All statements and information bulletins should be shared and co- ordinated among key partners - consistency, even on seemingly small details, is essential.
Operational teams should work closely with the relevant communications leads from the outset to ensure the provision of accurate information to communication offices, in order both to inform the developing strategy and to allow the swift rebuttal of inaccuracies in reporting. Where possible, senior officials should be provided for interview on key issues.
Longer term considerations regarding recovery from the incident should be discussed from the early stages of a communications response, and where possible the appropriate groundwork laid to ensure as swift as possible a return to normality.
Privacy and Support
Should HACs be established, it will also become crucial to manage the media effectively and protect the privacy of the individuals accommodated there, for instance by providing media pens out of view of the entrance and by briefing the media as to the limits of their access.
Regular media briefings, updating on key developments and figures, should be conducted - both to ensure that the press are kept informed and to provide them an opportunity to feedback on arrangements. All information provided should be co- ordinated by and confirmed to all communications teams, and key elements shared on social media.
Any media entry to a HAC, including during a VIP visit, should be carefully arranged to ensure some areas are kept private, and these limitations made clear both to media and residents.
Those members of the public who do wish to speak to the media should be supported wherever possible, for instance through arranging private rooms for interviews, by arranging for footage to be pooled, or for the interviewee to be anonymised.