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Q+A: Communicating in a crisis - leveraging social media when it counts

08 Jul 2019 1:18 PM | International Public Safety Association (Administrator)

By Lauri Stevens, LAwS Communications and IPSA September Symposium Presenter and IPSA Board Member Chris Butler

International Public Safety Association Board member Chris Butler spoke with Lauri Stevens from LAwS Communications about her upcoming presentation at the IPSA’s Natural and Man-Made Disaster Recovery Symposium this September 18 and 19 in Washington D.C.

Stevens will be leading a panel of experts in a discussion about communications strategies for public safety agencies following a major incident, whether planned or unplanned. Butler asked Stevens a series of questions about the critical communication issues and her responses are presented here as a preview of the exceptional presentation that will take place at the IPSA’s event this September.

Q: Lauri, so you have a lot of experience in critical communications strategies following major incidents. Why do you feel this is such a vital topic for organizations to understand?

First responders seem to train, strategize and plan for handling incidents constantly. However, it seems this doesn’t always include a communications strategy. If they do have a communications strategy, the social media component is not comprehensive in terms of response, engagement and management.

Ideally, organizations should include social media simulations in their events training and have templated messaging formulated. Additionally, they’ve created an operational team includes members of their own organization and members of other sister organizations with whom they need to coordinate communications (especially social media) during an event.

Q: When you think about some of the incidents you have been involved in, what are some of the key concepts of communication strategies that the panel address?

We all want to learn from others and learn from our own experiences. Not all our discussion will be about successes, but also the mistakes that were made.

Our goal for the panel will be for it to be interactive with the audience. I can always lead a discussion, but we want the audience participants to ask their own questions and be part of the discussion.

In addition to strategy, other key concepts will be messaging development and consistency, inter-organizational cooperation, importance of engagement even if you have nothing to say and monitoring for situational awareness.

Q: I'm sure you have witnessed the full range of communication strategies after major incidents - from great to extremely poor. In your experience what are some of the consistent communication errors that agencies make?

Time and time again the mistakes fall into the following buckets: Not using social media until something happens; having no plan; no policy and not engaging.

Q: What are your objectives for the panel discussion? In other words, what 'take aways' are you hoping the attendees leave with that will create positive changes in their own agencies when they go back?

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, organizations all need to take social media more seriously.

I can’t think of any other thing that can destroy you if handled poorly. On the flipside, if handled well, social media can save lives and property and make your organization look stellar.

And yet, hopefully the attendees will also see that even if they do all the above well, we have a long way to go to fully realize the depth of what can be achieved with expert use of social media and open source technologies.

Author Bios

Lauri Stevens is the principal consultant and founder of LAwS Communications. Lauri is also the creator and producer of the SMILE Conference® and the creator of the ConnectedCOPS™ blog and social media awards program; as well as the Global Police Tweet-a-thon. She is an interactive media professional with over 25 years of media experience, including 12 years in higher education as a Department Chair of Interactive Media and 14 years as a radio and television journalist prior to that.

Chris Butler is a member of the International Public Safety Association’s Board of Directors. He is a 34-year law enforcement veteran and recently retired as the Inspector of the Major Event and Emergency Management Section of the Calgary Police Service in Calgary, Alberta, Canada; an agency of over 2,200 sworn officers policing approximately 1.2 million people.

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