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The effective delivery of crisis communications relies heavily on good planning. Communications planning in advance of an incident should be informed both by the Principles outlined above and by the specific local risks outlined in the relevant  Community Risk Registers.

Planning for a crisis falls into two main categories – preparing and warning the public of potential risks, and ensuring that the mechanisms, training and protocols are in place to ensure a rapid and effective activation of the PCG following a major incident.

Preparing the public

Efforts should be made by responders to raise awareness among the general public about what risks are likely to affect them and what steps they could take to mitigate the consequences, ahead of events happening.

Community Risk Registers are published to help communities better understand the risks they face. They offer an effective starting point for engaging with communities on their perceptions of risk, and for explaining the context of risk along with the self- help measures they can take. This is the responsibility of local responders and should be considered in detail in the Communications Plans for each RRP.

General advice and guidance for the public on preparing for all kinds of risk is available from the Scottish Government's emergency preparedness web portal at

Preparing the PCG

Adopt an RRP-wide communication planning process

In order to work in a joined-up manner, consideration should be given to a joint planning process.

At the core of the planning process there should be a simple five-step approach:

  1. Audience identification
  2. Objective setting
  3. Information/message development
  4. Choice of appropriate communication channel(s)
  5. Monitoring/evaluation/review

Most of this guidance refers to the role of Scottish responding agencies and the Scottish Government. However, it is also necessary to recognise that there may be an important communications role for UK Government Departments and Agencies, for instance the Department of Health in the event of a flu pandemic, or National Counter-Terrorist Policing in the event of a terrorist incident.  Other UK bodies, for instance the Met Office, also play a critical role.

These organisations may either work with the Scottish Government as part of a joint response, or have discrete responsibilities.

In these cases, the Scottish Government will provide information to the RRP/PCG structure to allow consistent decision-making.

Link with other RRP sub-groups

The involvement of the PCG chair in full RRP meetings, even when there is not an emergency, will strengthen inter-agency relationships and make for a smoother transition into an emergency situation.

It is recommended as a measure of good practice that PCG chairs become members of the full RRP meetings and that a system of effective support be in place so that others can perform the function should the PCG chair be absent.

For the PCG to fulfil all of its functions effectively, there needs to be strong links with, or representation on, other RRP sub-groups.

Prepare high-level messages for specific types of emergencies

In some cases it may be possible to identify simple key messages in advance of an event, to enable greater efficiency in the first hours of an emergency. Simple factual information that is easily identified beforehand can be brought together in a fact sheet or key messages brief, to be pulled off the shelf or updated as needed.

Having such a body of pre-prepared, pre-cleared statements ready to issue as soon as an incident occurs – allowing for minor amendments to reflect the specific circumstances – can enable responders to quickly demonstrate awareness of an event.

They are also a simple way of overcoming the challenges present during activation and the first hour of the comms response, such as confirming approval chains, establishing situational awareness, or activating communications cells.

This could include pre-prepared press releases or social media posts.

Such statements should be caveated appropriately (such as “we are aware of reports of an incident…”), and wherever possible informed by operational information.

Pre-prepared statements may also assist in the later stages of more predictable emergencies, for instance a disease outbreak.

However, a primary goal of the PCG following an incident should be to transition from pre-prepared statements to a position where strategic communications advice, tailored to the specific circumstances of the incident, can be quickly developed, approved and implemented.

Training and exercising

There is a legal requirement for responders to ensure they have plans in place to carry out local exercises, to ensure that their public communications arrangements are effective.

Though it is important to exercise the communication functions as part of the wider strategic decision-making and tactical management process, there is also merit in staging exercises which focus solely on practising and assessing the public communication arrangements.

We recommend that PCGs develop a training and exercise programme which tests both the role and function of communicators, and the strategic and tactical decision- makers who will have a role in ensuring effective and agile communication with the public during an emergency.

We recommend the development of a training programme that includes:

  • awareness  of  legal  requirements  and  the  Scottish  Government's  Preparing Scotland guidance
  • understanding of the role of strategic communications advisors
  • local procedures for joint working
  • lessons from emergencies and exercises
  • training for spokespeople

PCGs may also be involved in national exercises, which will include events which enable public communications to be tested.

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