Since this blog is about crises, I can’t pretend to ignore the crisis that grips all of us in the wake of the arrest of the terrorist plot out of the UK. I just got off the plane from LA–fortunately for me a private plane in a long flight from LA to north of Seattle. My wife just got off a commercial flight so, and most of my family was flying this weekend on commercial flights. So we know the impact on air travel of this latest round of fright. I have no intention to get involved in the emotion-laden politics of the war on terror. Rather I want to make the point about crisis communication. In a crisis when we feel frightened and uncertain, information is our desperate need. It becomes our comfort and consolation. We recognize that more information may make us more frightened but still we have as desperate need of it as a man in the desert with water running low. We cannot live without it.
The MSM (mainstream media) labor 24/7 to give that to us. The government agencies most involved, FBI and DHS work to give us calm reassurances, even while we are told that our toothpaste is now considered a potential lethal weapon and must be confiscated. We want to know who is behind it, what kind of people these are. We want to know how the plot was discovered. We want to know if everyone involved has been caught. We want to know if Bin Laden and crew are behind this and how can they hold the world in their grip from isolated caves in Pakistan. We want to know with all the smart weapons and intelligence technologies we have, why can’t we stop these madmen and end this nightmare. We want to know, know, know, know. In knowing there is some measure of comfort.
The truth is that in this information age and era of instant news, the most important answers still elude us. And that frustrates us and can even make us angry. Why do we know so little even after glueing ourselves to our TV screens or browsers.
If I had the opportunity to speak to those who may have the tidbits of knowledge that we so desperately seek I would say, please give it to us. Give us a constant and continual stream. Give it to us direct. Don’t think that the MSM are the only vehicle to inform us. Attorney General Gonzalez is right to ask for patience as we seek information and to remind us of the limits of providing information that may negatively impact the investigation going on in the UK and around the world. But please, Secretary Chertoff, Director Mueller, Mr. Gonzalez and President Bush, understand that we solid, real, continual and direct information is the best and surest way of calming our fears and easing our uncertainties. Take a clue from the blog world–talk open, talk often and keep talking.
But the real point here is for crisis communicators. Please remember what it feels like right now to be a stakeholder. For you certainly are a stakeholder in this crisis. You have a deep and personal interest in the events going on and therefore you deeply believe you have a right to know. And that means you believe those who control the situation have an obligation to communicate. Not just simple press statements. Not just mediated messages. Not just calming assurances. But real stuff related to the real questions that you have. Remember when you are in the opposite chair–when you sit on the controls of a communication center. Remember what it feels like to be a stakeholder, and do your absolutely damnedest to get your superiors to understand that they too have a moral obligation to calm the fears and address the information thirst of the people whose lives they are impacting. For crisis communicators, that is the real learning from this event.
Plus, buy toothpaste stock. There are going to ge a lot of travelers who have to resupply once they get through the five hour security line and to their destinations.