Are you ready for the crisis that may be heading your way?

Implementing a crisis communications plan will prepare police leaders to navigate the treacherous tsunami of social media during the first 24-48 hours of a crisis


Reprinted with permission from Force Science News #366

Savvy administrators know they’re just one “bad” incident away from having cable satellite trucks camped outside their agency, feeding the voracious maw of the 24-hour news cycle.

For law enforcement leaders and their teams who follow the guidance of the new book – “Crisis Ready” – that ominous day may end up as more of an opportunity than a calamity.

Savvy administrators know they’re just one “bad” incident away from having cable satellite trucks camped outside their agency, feeding the voracious maw of the 24-hour news cycle. (Photo/AP)
Savvy administrators know they’re just one “bad” incident away from having cable satellite trucks camped outside their agency, feeding the voracious maw of the 24-hour news cycle. (Photo/AP)

Author Melissa Agnes is an independent consultant on risk, crisis preparedness and reputation protection who has gained international recognition for showing PDs, other government entities and major corporations how to build “invincible brands” that can withstand potentially devastating events.

Her message is that managing a crisis – like a controversial officer-involved shooting – is a vastly different ballgame in today’s viral digital world.

Crises now escalate so fast and there are so “many nuances in the different ways to respond,” Agnes writes, that you risk quickly “falling behind and losing control of the narrative” of the crisis incident.

The silver lining to that “scary” cloud, she says, is that your organization, no matter its size, now possesses the tools, technology, and ability “to be its own real-time media. “Leverage this well [and] you can position your organization as the credible source of information and updates throughout the management of the crisis.”

FOUNDATION BUILDING

In truth, being prepared to successfully survive a crisis starts well in advance of facing one. And while Agnes promises in her 276 pages to “provide you with everything you need to manage any type of crisis that may come your way” whether you’re a cop shop or a civilian business, she’s blunt: it takes “a lot of hard work.”

Following her chock-a-block how-to pointers, you need to:

  • Fundamentally audit your agency’s current crisis mind-set and readiness;
  • Solicit what may be painful feedback on its performance from your community;
  • Day after day creatively build trust and credibility in ways small and large;
  • Realistically identify and analyze what specific crises you are most vulnerable to;
  • Design, test, and keep refreshed a multi-faceted battle plan for each high-risk scenario that will kick in immediately when trouble strikes.

She cites as an impressive success story how Mountain View (California) PD, (home agency of Force Science instructor Chris Hsiung), handled the crisis of one of its officers being arrested for child pornography.

Because of its long-term, trust-building diligence and on-the-spot response to the incident, Agnes says “MVPD and its community grew closer, not apart” over the embarrassment, even in the face of negative public sentiment. (For more on MVPD’s crisis strategies, click here.)

Eight EXPECTATIONS

In a crisis, Agnes says, civilians expect eight things. They:

  • Expect to be notified;
  • Expect transparency;
  • Expect timely, consistent communication;
  • Expect you to listen and validate their feelings and emotions;
  • Expect two-way communication;
  • Expect to be communicated with by human beings, not lawyers and double-speak artists;
  • Expect answers to their most pertinent questions;
  • Expect the organization to hold itself accountable.

These expectations/demands “start at minute zero” in a crisis “and continue to escalate until met,” Agnes writes. “Emotions will be running high and time will be of the essence.” Being prepared to meet these expectations “is mandatory [and] not something you just wing and hope to get right.”

The right crisis program “prioritizes people,” Agnes argues, and without that mind-set, “not only will you be more issue- and crisis-prone, but you will end up losing trust, losing credibility, and losing relationships. And once lost, these things are not easily regained.”

COMMUNICATIONS BIBLE

At its heart, “Crisis Ready” is a bible of modern communications, with particularly trenchant insights into how to navigate the treacherous tsunami of social media during the first 24-48 hours of a crisis.

“What you say, how you say it, when you say it, and in what sequence you say it are all critical components that directly affect the ultimate success of your crisis management,” Agnes writes. “Your primary [communication] should be on digital real estate that you own and control,” such as your website and social media posts.

Among practical communications concerns she addresses are:

  • The immediate first response or “holding” statement, when you don’t yet have a lot of pertinent information but social media may already be exploding with rumor and false accusations;
  • The official response, when you have to consider legal implications and investigative discretion;
  • Supplemental messaging, when new information or answers to persistent questions surface;
  • Post-crisis debriefings that help you mitigate lingering risk and reestablish your agency’s functional status quo.

For an example of digital success, Agnes turns again to a law enforcement agency, this time the Boston PD and its response to the infamous Marathon terrorist bombing. Within the first five minutes of the attack, the department’s top command directed personnel to start using social media as a direct conduit to the public, Agnes writes.

Because of its skill in doing so, Boston PD was able to override the “noise” of millions of Twitter postings and position itself as the go-to source of info on the crisis. “Not even the [mass] media published information or updates throughout the [crisis] without first verifying them on Boston PD’s channels,” Agnes says.

DRESS REHEARSAL

After guiding you through creating a full strategic program, Agnes devotes a rich chapter to how to test your crisis-abatement “playbook” with a baptism of fire – not a tabletop exercise where you talk about what you’d do in a crisis, but a full-fledged, role-playing simulation where you actually deal with challenges and solutions in real time.

“You can’t validate your program until you have tested it,” Agnes says. The trial should be “realistic and complex, and the element of surprise is critical. Be ready to play a whole lot of devil’s advocate to test out ideas and see how well they may work.”

She recommends that this type of drill be conducted every 12 to 24 months to keep your crisis management strategies fresh and dynamic – not just a theoretical “plan” that gathers dust on a shelf.

Whether simulated or all too real, Agnes believes that “most negative incidents present positive opportunities if you choose to see them. Many people will be scrutinizing your every move in a crisis. It’s a great time to showcase your values, your caring, and your willingness to do the right thing, even when the right thing is sometimes the more difficult choice to make.”

Get your highlighter handy. “Crisis Ready” has paragraph after paragraph you’ll want to mark, study, and apply. “The more you think you don’t need a crisis-ready program,” Agnes asserts, “the more desperately you DO need one.”

“Crisis Ready” is available in hardcover and Kindle formats on Amazon.com.

For in-person speaking, consulting and training, reach Agnes at  Melissa@melissaagnes.com.

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