Assess how you convey information during a crisis

Before a disaster hits, ask yourself these questions about your ability to communicate:

• Do we have an institution-wide commitment to communicate effectively and openly during times of crisis? If your answer is no, then you may want to rethink your policies during these turbulent times when all audiences demand and expect immediate communication. If your answer is yes, then you need to ask:

• Do I have a separate crisis communication plan in place? Who is on the team? Your top communication professional should be part of the planning process, and every crisis should have a separate communication team to handle the information demands of internal and external audiences.

• Can my plan be implemented within 60 minutes or less? (Thirty minutes or less would be even better.) The sooner and more effectively we begin to communicate, the greater the opportunity to affect the reputation of the institution positively.

• Do I have an off-site alternative location for a crisis response? Does every member of the response team have at least an abbreviated copy of the plan and crucial notification and recall lists at home or in the car? Once a crisis occurs, everything moves quickly. The better your preparation, the more time you and your team will have to deal with the unique characteristics of this particular crisis.

• In time of crisis, are procedures in place to completely document every aspect of my organization’s response?

• Am I responding quickly, openly, informatively, and fairly to media, as well as internal and other key audiences? Openness does not mean that you have to tell everything. It does mean that you have to speak, and that what you say must be confirmed, accurate information. Today, "no comment" will be construed in the most negative way.

• Have we centralized the information flow?

• Have we created mechanisms and processes that will direct media and others to a central source of information where accurate information is being gathered and released? Are we using such tools as our web site, specialized hotlines, e-mail, and other targeted communication to reach specific audiences and for them to reach us?

Source: A Crisis Communication Primer for Hospital CEOs, Society for Healthcare Strategy and Market Development, American Hospital Association, Chicago.