Tag Archives: communication drills

Incorporating social media into communication drills and exercises

Drills and exercises are at the core of almost anyone’s crisis response preparations–as they should be. I’ve been involved recently in preparing communication drills and exercises (usually JIC or Joint Information Center drills). I’m finding a lot of PIOs and communicators need real help in this area.

I blogged about this yesterday at my new blog on www.emergencymgmt, so you might want to check that out. But here are a few more observations about this important topic.

1) Incident commanders, communication heads (PIOs in the public world) and drill planners typically want to stay away from social media in drills and exercises. Very good reason for this–it is a strange new world and the last thing you want to do is embarrass yourself in front of a bunch of other people who are looking to you as the expert. Why throw in what is seen as an unnecessary complication when you have enough stuff to deal with that will test you and the participants to the max?

2) Social media drives communication. That’s why it must be included because no drill today will be at all realistic if it doesn’t include a strong social media element. Many will be shocked by the statement that social media drives communication. That’s because they are still living in an old world where they think the media will be waiting on them for hours to tell them what is happening so they can tell the world. The reality is, the cellphone camera eyewitnesses, tweeters, bloggers and facebook pagerers (OK I’m making up words again) will be telling the world every little detail of what they see and know or speculate. And the media will be following them avidly and reporting what they are saying because after all, they are not social media nerds, they are eyewitnesses. Why wouldn’t the media report their observations? If you have any doubt, look at media coverage of the Flight 1549 (airliner in Hudson) accident.

3) Monitoring and rumor management are now a primary if not THE primary role of the JIC. Another controversial statement I will stand behind all day long. That’s because the JIC will NEVER beat all those citizen journalists with the news. Heck, the New York Times with news alerts can’t even come close, nor can any legit news channel. Can’t be done. Add the complication of setting up a JIC, getting it operational, gathering info, getting it approved and getting it distributed. Nope, the instant news will come via cellphones and tweets. BUT, a lot of that will be wrong, or incomplete, or inaccurate (Actually turns out to surprisingly accurate but I’ll save that for another blog). That means that the JIC needs to know continuously what is being said, not just in the media, but in the social media world in order to very quickly get on top of it and correct misinformation. Fast, efficient rumor management is the real name of the game, and it starts with effective monitoring.

4) Drill injects must include social media. Since social media will undoubtedly be very involved in any major crisis or event, it simply is not realistic to plan a communication exercise without it. Drill injects need to include how the JIC will deal with phony Twitter accounts (a very real problem–see blog here about MobilExxonCorp). It needs to deal with bloggers with agendas and willing to challenge credibility of the JIC. It needs to deal with the reality of instant info that is evolving much faster than approvals within Command but that are true and verifiable. It needs to deal with innocent but incorrect and potentially harmful information–the most common real problem. That means that those planning the JIC element of the exercise must be knowledgeable about these new realities and how they play out in real events.

5) The JIC should use social media for distribution. This gets tricky because it is a drill afterall. But you want to replicate as much as possible the process of distributing instant updates via Twitter, posting videos to YouTube, images to Flickr and updating a JIC facebook page. For PIER users this is pretty easy since PIER is now set up to treat all these channels as another point of distribution–the only thing you change is not complete the last step of making the actual RSS connection–but this is getting too technical. Give me a call if you want more details on how to effectively replicate social media use in a drill with PIER or without.

No crisis preparation can be complete without a good drill. But, no drill today is complete without the social media element. I suspect some drill planners, ICs and PIOs are going to be very unhappy with me for saying this. Just the truth.

When bosses don't get it

I was talking not long ago with a senior communication manager working for a very large corporation who is trying to get his boss to agree to acquire our communication management system. The purpose would be to have the ability to communicate instantly with a large group of employees, customers, management team members as well as the media if a major incident occurred–particularly involving a large complex with thousands of people at risk.

The manager didn’t really see the point. He was asked: if something happens here, how do you expect you will find out about it? He answered: Channel 2 news.

This is what we talk about when we say some people just don’t get it. Here’s why:

– how does he think Channel 2 and all the others will get that news to give to him? The communicators have to be able to communicate instantly with those news channels or else everything they get will come via police scanners, eyewitnesses and bloggers.

– After the fact, he will likely be one of the first in line to scream and yell: why wasn’t I informed about this directly? When it hits the fan, suddenly execs and communicators have exceptional demands from all kinds of people who have every right to think they should be on the top of the call list.

– Does he really want to trust the information about what is happening to his company and his employees to the hands of people whose overriding interest is in attracting an audience as big as they can so they can get max dollars for their ads? That’s what the media business is–no criticism intended, but if something happens at that facility, it simply becomes a way to grab a big audience–if it bleeds it leads.

As another senior communicator recently pointed out, communicators are in a tough spot. They have a devil of a time getting the resources and technology they need to get their job done. Then, when it hits the fan, they are asked why aren’t you more prepared? That’s why a lot of them lose their jobs after a big event.

I want to suggest a solution to all you communicators out there: 1) send your CEO and leadership group my book Now Is Too Late–it is my best attempt at addressing this problem of not getting it. 2) Beg, plead, cajole–do everything you can to get your bosses to run a realistic large-scale incident drill. Drilling reveals the gaps and problems better than anything except a real incident.