The Six Stages of Crisis for Communication Planning – Stage Two: The Risk Assessment Phase

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This is the second of six essays that explore each phase of a crisis, identify specific areas of concern and provide manageable solutions. Download the first essay HERE

Download the Stage Two Brief
Watch the Presentation on YouTube.

The second stage in the lifecycle of a crisis is the risk assessment phase. This stage may be preceded by a warning stage or it might be triggered with the occurrence of a sudden and unexpected event that signals the onset of an emergency, crisis or disaster. It may be that the second stage of risk assessment communication is initiated at the same time as other communication processes and that this stage’s process may need to run concurrently with third stage (crisis incident response) or subsequent stage relevant communication processes.  In either case, it is during this part of the cycle that the crisis management team, often with the assistance of outside sources, has to assess the risks, potential consequences, and damages of the crisis before determining the best course of action to avoid or mitigate the possible disaster. This requires critical communication interaction, information exchange and participatory decision-making.  In most cases, this vitally important process occurs during some of the most difficult circumstances imaginable. Often key crisis management team members are “out of position” or even unavailable. Many crises are unleashed at odd times other than 10:00 a.m. on a fully staffed workday.

In the “golden moments” after an incident occurs and/or is reported, the crisis response team activates the organization’s emergency response plan notification of target audiences. Typically these individuals (or their backups or the backups for the backups) have to located, contacted, and engaged in deliberations, analysis, assessment and decision making – frequently while in highly mobile environments or from remote locations. In addition, your risk assessment team needs to be in “real time” interactive contact and effective information exchange with key external constituents often including law enforcement, insurance, vendors, governing bodies, regulators, utilities/infrastructure, transportation, health care providers and others. Clear communication and sustained information exchange is required with a select group of constituent target audiences in an all too often stressful and challenging period. My own research has demonstrated that differences in the communication modality utilized, the established process and procedures followed and the preparatory training of the key team members actually influences (changes) the decision making process and can significantly alter decision outcomes, team performance and crisis management. Neglect for improving these aspects of communication is done at increased peril of crisis management failures. This means that which communication tools you use, the communication processes you follow and the advance training for communication and decision making employed all can significantly affect the quality of crisis management process. It is essential to assess and prepare for these critical aspects of communication in your advance planning efforts.

Communication best practices dictate that in the moments after an incident occurs and/or is reported, the crisis response team activates the organization’s emergency response plan and begins to notify target audiences. However, we will consider these aspects in more detail when we explore the communication planning for stage three of a crisis.  It is during this second phase that our communication planning and performance is primarily focused on the internal decision makers and their external partners to engage in risk evaluation, threat assessment and impact analysis. Some of the most important decisions and the need for accurate and vital information as well as the effective team communication processes occurs in this second stage of a crisis.  Just getting the right people involved at the right time in order to analyze the threat and determine the best course of action to prevent or mitigate disaster is an all too often overlooked critical communication aspect for crisis communication planning.  Download and read the full text of this article HERE.

Watch a recording of the Firestorm Webinar featuring Dr. Chandler below:

Stage One: The Warning Phase

Stage Two: The Risk Assessment Phase


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