How Do You Organize and Utilize Your Crisis Communications Team?

We highlighted crisis communications a couple of weeks ago when we featured crisis communications expert Dr. Joe Trahan and his “go ugly early” approach. Crisis communications will be a hot topic at next week’s NAGC Communications School.

I’m really interested to hear from others on how they distribute and redistribute tasks during a crisis. At Memphis Light, Gas and Water, we are fortunate to have a pretty large communications staff, so I’m able to spread our major tasks across several employees.

Our Director of Communications serves as the team leader and PIO, and attends the meetings at the Joint Information Center (JIC). My role as supervisor is to serve on the emergency response team and be a liaison between them and my staff. I attend meetings at our emergency response center, then relay bullet point updates to everyone on my staff that they can quickly use to create news releases, post to social media and website, and distribute to employees. I’m also the primary coordinator of the media interviews.

My internal communications team is made up of communications specialists, community relations coordinators, clerks, a webmaster, public records clerk, staff photographer, graphic designers, and other staff. Here are some of the tasks that are each primarily assigned to one individual during a crisis. Several employees will assist with these tasks and creating various types of communication, but I like to have one “point person” for each:

  • Media site visits
  • News releases and interviews
  • Web updates
  • Twitter (several employees serve as backup requires multiple admins)
  • Facebook (several employees serve as backup if volume requires multiple admins)
  • YouTube
  • Employee communications (e-mails, business TV, etc.)
  • Community presence (information booths, etc.)
  • Liaison for community leaders
  • Liaison for government officials
  • Spanish-language communications
  • Photography
  • Video
  • Research into individual customer accounts/issues (often inquiries via social media or e-mail)

It’s important to keep in mind that your communications team should also include key contacts from other organizations as well. As I noted in my post about collaboration last year, sharing info with a targeted, key group of external contacts can really help the public get the information they need. Our external team includes:

  • Local community leaders
  • Government officials
  • City and County PIOs
  • FEMA
  • Peer utilities

I’m interested in hearing from others on this. How have you created your crisis team and what are their roles? And what about those of you who ARE a one- or two-person communications team? How do you manage that?

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Samuel Lovett

I used to do web and social media for the RI emergency management agency during weather emergencies. Your approach of having one point person for every task makes a lot of sense if you have the manpower.

We made up for being short staffed by coordinating our workload between members of other agencies’ communications teams. In the event of an emergency, it was easy for all communications staffers to put everything else on hold.

One downfall, however, was that although we were all very skilled people, many of us did not have specific training in emergency management techniques.