Government Crisis Management

It’s not about putting a “spin” on the story; it’s about reporting the truth – first.

Crisis management in a government, city, or organization requires a team of tactful professionals and a crisis management plan in place prior to an incident occurring. In no way should the tactics include putting a “spin” on the story, attempting to take a less-than-truthful angle will ultimately backfire.

Whether a “crisis” is defined as a scandal, natural disaster, drought or fuel energy, the city must be ready to respond [to citizens and the media] in a moment’s notice.

According to ITtoday.com, in order to successfully execute the crisis management plan, the following four steps should be taken immediately following the incident:

1. Take charge quickly

2. Determine the facts

3. Tell your story

4. Fix the problem

Take Charge Quickly
How easily can your city administrator access the website to update information?
At a moment’s notice, a city’s residents need to be notified of a critical event. Addressing the problem
promptly reduces the chance that citizens will receive incorrect information from outside sources.

In order to immediately address a problem, a city administrator needs to have the ability to post information on the city’s website immediately. If the website was built on a platform that does not allow users to log in and change information at their convenience, the administrator is left at the will of a company’s development team to make the changes – crises do not always happen Monday through Friday between 8am and 5pm, having a city website that is built in a content management system is imperative.

Determine the Facts
The golden rule of public relations is “Do not lie.” Of course, the goal of a PR practitioner is to maintain the positive image of a company/city/organization, but altering the truth will only come with repercussions as other sources find out the story in its entirety.

There are, however, several ways of reporting the story without focusing on the “gloom and doom” factor. If the crisis is a natural disaster, focus on how citizens can receive help and provide resources (shelter locations, where to get food, etc.) If the crisis is classified as a “scandal”, focus on what the city is doing to ensure that actions will not be repeated.

Tell Your Story
It’s OK to tell the story through the eyes of your organization – just be sure you’re telling the story in its entirety. Post the information on the city’s website, then to social networks and post a blog; ensure citizens will be able to view the story through a variety of outlets, which should all encourage them to visit your website for the full story. Doing so will lead them back to the one source where the information is controlled.

Fix the Problem
As a marketer or PR professional for the city it is not your job to un-do what’s been done, it is your job to reassure citizens that the city is taking the necessary steps to fix the problem. Transparency is key; reveal the actual steps that are being taken, doing so will help put minds at ease and answer the “who, what, when, where, how, and why’s” that will arise following any crisis.

The only control and PR professional has over a crisis is controlling how quickly the facts are reported. Be sure access to social networks and the city’s website is readily available so citizens can be informed immediately. Learn more about giving your city administrator the ability to access your website without the help of a development team.

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Wendi Pomerance Brick

This is great advice! I’m a trained crisis communicator and unfortunately in 20 years have seen my share of disasters and work in the EOC. One additional note for leaders – when you are communicating its OK to show that you are affected by this too. Don’t be a robot. This is one of the reasons Rudy Guiliani was so revered for his response to 9-11. He didn’t wear his suit jacket. He rolled up his sleeves. He looked like he wasn’t sleeping. These non-verbal clues showed that he felt the situation too. This takes communication to a whole new level..