Micerc a guide for Developing Crisis Communication Plans Office of Public Health Preparedness

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Section Four

Crisis Communication Plans

Crisis Communication Plans

One of the most important ways in which you can prepare for a crisis or disaster is by having a crisis plan. Crisis plans pre-set as many decisions and activities as possible before an event so that you can respond more quickly and effectively to an actual crisis.

Crisis communication plans need not be very elaborate or detailed. Crisis communication planning should be in collaboration with your local Emergency Management Coordinator and other existing disciplines and utilize any historical documents available.

Crisis Communication Plan Outline: The following elements should be part of a crisis communication plan:

  1. Signed endorsement from the Director of Public Health

  2. Designated responsibilities for the public information teams, usually composed of the public information officer, the spokesperson, a subject matter expert, a person designated to coordinate with other groups and agencies and support staff.

  3. Procedures for information verification, clearance and approval for release.

  4. Agreements/procedures for information release authority.

  5. Regional and local contact lists for media and for other crisis management authorities. Contact checklists for immediate response.

  6. Procedures for coordinating with other public heath response partners (e.g., hospitals, local emergency management, etc).

  7. Designated spokespersons for emergency public health issues. Procedures and checklists for spokespersons.

  8. Information about public health response partners (e.g., health professionals, Red Cross, local FBI, veterinarian, department of agriculture representatives, etc).

  9. Agreements and procedures regarding Joint Information Centers

  10. Procedures for needed resources for a response (space, people, equipment).

  11. Specified communication channels (e.g., hotlines, blast FAX, phone trees, etc).

  12. Draft messages for expected kinds of events.

  13. Draft fact sheets

  14. Plans for evaluating, testing, and updating the crisis communication plan.

Adapting your plan:

Your plan may vary from this outline based on a variety of factors. For example, those communities located close to nuclear facilities, chemical plants, or with regular problems due to flooding may have plans that are geared more specifically to these kinds of risks. Some parts of Michigan regularly experience severe winter weather. In these cases, plans need to accommodate those kinds of risks and associated mitigation strategies. Some Michigan communities have had more frequent problems with West Nile virus and based on this history should prepare more for this crisis.

Michigan also is a very diverse state with a variety of cultural, ethnic, and religious groups that would need to be accommodated in a crisis communication plan. Crises often have cultural overtones. SARS, for example, due to the circumstances of its origin, was more closely associated with the Asian community. Because it originated in Washington

D.C. and was carried through the mail, the anthrax episode disproportionately affected the African American community. It is important that plans take into consideration these cultural issues.

It is recommended that as you develop a plan for your specific circumstances, that you begin by considering what risks you face due to location or population and that you consider the past crises that have affected your community. It is also very important that you engage the local community. In particular, crisis communication plans need to coordinate with the first responder community including agencies such as emergency management, law enforcement, fire, the medical community and the Red Cross. While they need not be part of the formal planning processes, it is also important that pre-existing relationships be developed with the media, schools, business, religious institutions and community service organizations. These extended community networks of support and response are often instrumental in mounting an effective crisis response.

It is important that you engage in the crisis planning process and that you adapt the plan to your specific needs and conditions. In many ways, the planning process is much more important than the plans themselves. It is also very important that crisis communication plans be updated regularly. In some ways, an outdated plan is worse than no plan.

Crisis Contact Lists

One of the key components of any crisis plan or effective preparation for crisis response is a list of emergency contacts. This list should be comprehensive, tailored to your specific needs, and updated regularly. Updating on at least an annual basis is recommended. There are many cases where a crisis response has been significantly slowed because telephone area codes have changed and these changes are not reflected in the contact list.

Several kinds of contact information should be included in your list. This includes information for contacting any local crisis communication teams or groups and first responder agencies, and state or regional first responder groups or agencies, such as the

Michigan State Emergency Management Division or the State Department of Public

Health. In addition, contact information for local health resources, hospitals, and clinics should be maintained.

Contact information for local media can also speed a crisis response. This includes radio, television, and print outlets.

Finally, information regarding other community groups and organizations is important.

This may include transportation facilities, schools, business and other important groups in your community.

Some of these groups are listed below. In addition, in the appendices of this document are number lists of Michigan groups and agencies that you may use to build your own contact lists. It is also important that you update your own contact lists on a regular basis, at least annually.

Suggested agencies and groups for maintaining contact lists:

  • Local Health Department

  • Officials, Directors, Subject Matter Experts, Crisis Communication Team

  • City/County Emergency Management Offices/Officials

  • Local Hospitals/Clinics

  • Emergency Directors/Communications and Public Relations Personnel

  • Local Law Enforcement: Local/State Police, Sheriff

  • Local American Red Cross Office

  • Media, Newspaper, Television and Radio

  • State Departments Involved in Emergencies

  • Other Groups and Agencies

  • Schools; District Offices, Intermediate School Districts, Crisis Teams, Safety Managers

  • Major Businesses or Employers

  • Factories, Malls, etc.

  • Transportation facilities, Airports, Ports, Safety or Security Officers

  • State Department of Community Health

  • State Emergency Management Director

  • State Police

  • National Agencies

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

  • Federal Bureau of Investigation

Information to maintain in contact lists:

In general, contact lists should be as complete as possible. More complete information is needed for first responder groups and crisis management agencies than for community groups. Information should also be maintained for office and non-office locations. For example, many people in Michigan maintain summer vacation homes. Contact information for these locations may be important. Crises rarely occur during normal business hours. In general, information for the “office” and for the “individual” should be maintained. For example, it would be appropriate to maintain general contact information for local hospitals as well as the name, home address and phone number for the hospital public relations staff. Addresses are important because often during a crisis people must drive to location and in some cases, the locations of facilities must be provided to the public.

  • Phones (Office, Home, Vacation Home, Cell)

  • E-mail addresses

  • FAX Numbers

  • Addresses

  • Web Sites

Pre-Event Communication Planning

A well-informed population is more likely to comply voluntarily with actions recommended to reduce the spread of disease. The public cannot learn about scary, unfamiliar, life-and-death threats or drastic public health remedies for the first time, when their children are in danger or when imposition of quarantine by health authorities appears imminent. The larger community needs to understand the nature and severity of biological or chemical weapons of mass destruction, outbreaks of infectious diseases and other health threats before an incident occurs.

Building a network of community partners is a very important part of pre-event communication planning. Representatives from key community organizations can help coordinate information exchange. These pre-event networking activities create channels through which information can be disseminated. By promoting inter-group exchanges you are building capacity to educate the public.

Some local emergency management planning groups and regional advisory committees are forming communication subcommittees who are taking the lead on developing relationships with key organizations that will deliver messages to specific audiences. They are inviting them to promote health messages and discussing the best ways to go about it. For example, communication between schools and your crisis planning initiative is very important. You may want to share information with families that teach them the importance of developing family safety plans. When approaching schools, a good place to start is with the superintendent. Ask superintendents to identify an emergency contact person for their school district. Invite all district emergency contact persons from your county to a crisis communication-planning meeting. With their help identify ways of providing emergency information to students, staff and families (e.g., public service announcements over intercom, school newsletter inserts, family safety planning guides distributed during school events, school based billboards, web sites, posters, newspapers. You may be invited to present at a staff development meeting to promote the importance of emergency planning and provide materials about the nature and severity of biological or chemical weapons of mass destruction and other health threats to school personnel.

Schools have become increasingly conscious of safety and security issues due largely to the recent wave of school shootings. Their primary concern is the safety and well being of students and staff. School officials are also concerned about disruption to the school operations. Generally, schools face a number of significant vulnerabilities including issues of food safety, transportation, weather, fire as well as infectious disease. Most schools have safety committees as well as school-based medical personnel including psychologists and nurses. These can be important partners to public health. To access the State of Michigan School District Database visit: http://www.michigan.gov/cepi Click on

Download Data, then School Code Master Database Files.
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