Preventing a Crisis: Ebola, Campus Riots, Pandemics – What Professionals Must Understand About Working with the Media
Regrettably, the Ebola crisis will continue to be a top of the page story for the next several months. The conflicting messages given by the medical profession and the media have made sure of this. The medical profession has created this crisis by providing experts who are not necessarily good communicators to communicate about the disease and the infected patients. Although doctors may be experts at medical issues, they are not necessarily good communicators with the media and the public at large.
Doctors are usually well experienced at diagnosing and treating disease. However, few are experienced in talking to the media and the public. As a result, while they don’t plan to create a crisis, they often do just that. This often occurs when there has not been adequate time taken to create key messages, trained on those messages and ensure that everyone is on message.
For example, the medical profession and the President often contradict each other.
Obama says: “You Can’t Get Ebola Sitting Next to Someone on a Bus”.
CDC announces: “Avoid Public Transportation”. (cnsnews.com)
In his video to residents of West African countries experiencing Ebola outbreaks, President Obama dispensed advice on how to avoid the disease, “You cannot get it (Ebola) through casual contact like sitting next to someone on a bus”.
At the same time, Dr. Thomas Frieden, director at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), is advising Americans who travel to the Ebola-stricken nations to “avoid public transportation”.
Listeners must ask themselves which is the correct message? As this story has evolved, it is too reminiscent of the old Abbott-Costello routine of “Who’s on first”?
To avoid the crisis mentality, media training and practice is required for doctors (and all professionals who are going to speak to the media) so that they know how to respond when called upon to answer questions at a media briefing. Every doctor or designated spokesperson should be trained to follow the same rules. Some doctors and now even the President have stepped outside the “agreed to” principles of conduct during this crisis, and they and their employers and their audiences have suffered the consequences.
Most of us are familiar with the acronym HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) and the rules that govern patient privacy. And we are familiar with the requirements to read and sign a form that clearly articulates what information can and can’t be released by your doctor. These Federal rules essentially keep a doctor or an employer of the health care facility from talking about a patient or an issue.
But when the issue is Ebola, E-coli or the Avian Flu, the media demands details, because of HIPAA, doctors often cannot provide these details. Doctors who are media trained and practiced can assist in preventing a crisis by sharing a carefully crafted answer with the media…an answer that explains the situation and the parameters around the answer.
The blog post at Gerard Braud Communications suggests that a media trained doctor can artfully reply, when asked about a patient’s condition during an outbreak of the Ebola virus, “Please understand that due to Federal law – the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act – HIPAA – I am not permitted to discuss specific health conditions about our patient, and neither should the media share such information. I can in general say that a patient with the Ebola virus can be safely quarantined because the virus is not transmitted by breathing in the infection. It can be transmitted only by contact with blood or other body fluids.”
Simply stated, reporters need a sound bite or a good quote. The key for crisis prevention managers is to write sound bite answers in advance for “tough questions” and then assist the doctor in learning how to masterfully deliver them. The “get on message and stay on message” concept is causing great difficulties with the current administration and its appointees.
We insist that our clients develop the “toughest of the tough” questions — those questions, which I call “keep us awake at night” — and that we write simple, easy to understand and communicate answers. The same principle is true when we assist clients with development of crisis plans. Prepare for the worst-case scenario and you will be able to handle anything.
Although doctors are highly trained in the medical field, they need advice, counsel and training before working with reporters. The same is true for any specialized profession be they engineers or bank presidents.
Professionals in any field will be well served to collaborate with their communicators and public relations teams well in advance of engaging in any media conference. In order to be successful in today’s world, professionals should obtain the information and practice their delivery before they perform in the media arena.
Dr. L. Darryl Armstrong is a crisis and emergency communications and management consultant. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1.888.340.2006. Dr. Armstrong is available for speaking engagements and conducts training workshops. Visit his website at www.ldarrylarmstrong.com where you can find even more free resources including the FREE white paper The 11 Steps in Crisis Communications.
Small Businesses, Their Owners, Families and Campus Security Must Prepare for the Worst Case Scenarios – Key Questions
Small Businesses, Their Owners, Families and Campus Security Must Prepare for the Worst Case Scenarios – Key Questions
By Dr. L. Darryl Armstrong APR CCMC CAMT
NOTE: The advice and tips presented here can apply to you and your family, as well as your business.
As a small business owner, we rarely think of ourselves as “targets” and yet frankly we are, especially if you are in a retail business and open 24/7, 365 days a year. You are targets for shoplifters, robbery, vandalism, parking lot theft and even active shooters. Any business that has walk in traffic can experience an active shooter, attempted armed robbery or an armed act of domestic violence. Today’s headlines are full of such incidents as:
Jacksboro Convenience Store Robbed; Cashier Shot
- Attempted Robbery Ends – Robber Taken Down by Store Owner
- Husband Shoots Wife at Local Gas Station – Takes Own Life
- Car Jacking Attempt Scares Community – First Ever in County
- Sliders Steal Purse From Car at Gas Station
- Man Killed in Wal-Mart Toy Department
Then, of course, we have horrendous incidents such as the terrible tragedy in the darkened theater in Aurora, Colorado, where a deranged individual kills 12 people and injures 58 others.
We are living in a dangerous world. Suffice it to say that as individuals and small business owners we must acknowledge this and prepare ourselves for any possible scenario.
To ensure that the victims and all other victims of active shooters, irate spouses and deranged individuals didn’t die in vain, I suggest that we can learn lessons from such tragedies and apply them in our businesses and families.
In this column, I want to share with you the self-defense and self-preservation tactics and sage advice provided by former Navy SEAL Brandon Webb, author of The Red Circle that you and I can use to protect our families, our employees and ourselves.
First, simply don’t make yourself an “Easy Target” anywhere you go. When at sporting events, concerts, church, the theater, a restaurant or the movies choose seats that always give you a tactical sight advantage. Choose seats that allow a good and easy vantage point to survey the room at all times and that are near an exit that you can see and get to quickly. This employs an understanding of the need to be hyper-vigilant at all times.
Webb summarizes it this way, “Always stack the odds in your favor.”
Much like Webb, I still back into a parking space and sit with my back to the wall when I am in public. A quick escape from any situation is critical. Always survey the room, the facility and your own business for the quickest way to get out and away from a situation. When in doubt, there is no dishonor in taking flight so that you might fight again another day.
Second, if you end up in an active shooter situation immediately take cover and not just concealment.
Webb explains, “Concealment hides, cover hides AND protects. It’s the difference between hiding behind a movie seat or a concrete wall. Don’t lie there with your eyes closed and get shot. Think and move. In these situations you have to take charge and get in the mindset of self-rescue. You cannot wait for first-responders – it takes too long. A good decision executed quickly is better than a great one never executed. Violence of action, as it is called in the Special Operations community, will often change the odds in your favor.”
Violence of action literally means the unrestricted use of speed, strength, surprise, and especially aggression to achieve total dominance against your enemy. For example, Webb notes that in close quarter combat drills he would draw a gun with someone over 20 feet away running at him.
“In most cases you can be on someone before they can draw and take a shot. I’m not advocating running straight at someone but if you have the tactical advantage say his weapon jams, he needs to re-load, he becomes distracted or the shooter isn’t paying attention then take the shooter down or get the hell out of there. Remember that a moving target is extremely hard to hit, even for the well-trained shooter. Deal with the situation with your eyes wide open,” Webb says.
I should point out here that many small business owners have policies about the employees not carrying weapons or having weapons on the business site. If you don’t have a written policy, now is the time to write and vet it. Work with your attorney or human resources personnel to ensure you are covering the bases you want in the policy and that there is no confusion or the ability to misinterpret the policy.
More than once in the past few years, employees have been dismissed for violation of the employer’s weapons on person/premise policies even though in some cases their actions have saved lives and taken out the bad guy.
As the owner of the business you must plan for these types of situations in advance and construct the policies that you choose. Your employees should be fully aware of your policy before they are employed so they can rationally choose whether they wish to work for you or not.
In the Aurora, Co. shooting, the shooter was severely weighted down with armor and his helmet would have also limited his vision. You can use all this to your advantage to escape or to attack.
Third, Webb advocates and I concur that for personal protection you should always carry a high-powered beam flashlight. He carries one daily and takes it everywhere, as do I.
“It’s become another extension of me and has diffused at least two potentially violent confrontations in a non-lethal way,” Webb says.
Webb explains that in the case of the Colorado shooting that he would have pulled his high lumens pocket flashlight and blinded the shooter. The high powered beam would have taken away the shooter’s vision for 3-4 seconds, which is an eternity and enough time to take flight or fight.
“There’s no shame in surviving and getting you and your loved ones out of harm – especially little ones. Be a hero to your kids and family for surviving, nobody can expect more of you than that. Like we say in Survival Escape Evasion Resistance (SERE) School, “Survive with Honor,” Webb notes.
For most of people, the best bet is to buy a good tactical flashlight, that is at least 200+ lumens (I prefer and recommend 500-Lumens), waterproof, LED, with a 3-volt lithium battery. Use and carry the light with you at all times. It’s the best non-lethal and practical option available. You can take it anywhere – including on an airplane – and if it’s a high lumen model it will blind people even in broad daylight.
“I can’t recommend this purchase enough,” Webb says.
Fourth, Webb recommends if you are serious about self-protection you seek expert training. There are numerous former military and law enforcement instructors that offer self-defense skills to individuals and small groups. It is important to carefully vet the instructors, ask for references and follow those references up with visits or calls to former students to ensure you are getting what you pay for. Also, interview instructors carefully to ensure you are getting the instruction you want and need.
Remember that opening nights of events and large crowds make for easy targets. Webb says that most domestic and foreign terrorists want the biggest bang for their buck.
“Terrorists want Yankee Stadium sold out and not Padre Stadium at 60% capacity. It sucks to live this way sometimes but ask the survivors from Colorado if it’s worth a minor lifestyle change. I say it is, and it’s the main reason I’m watching the Olympics on TV and not attending,” Webb says.
Finally, rehearse emergency scenarios and what you would do before there’s an emergency, the time to practice is not when the event is happening.
Let’s apply this now to your own businesses and families. Ask yourself these questions and ensure you have thought through and practiced your intended responses with your employees and family:
What is the most vulnerable aspect of your office/business/home arrangement? Entrances and exits? Lighting? Security systems?
- Are the exit doors accessible; properly locked from the inside with quick exit capability?
- Are your entrances and exits well lighted and marked?
- If you use video surveillance cameras are they operational and properly placed?
- If you have video monitoring for your front desk or counter are those monitors working and readily seen by the person staffing the counter?
- Do you have a “quick connect” one touch button to alert 911? Is it discreetly
- Do you have working telephone landlines and one dial access to 911?
- Is the cell coverage for your employees and family sufficient to call 911 from any place in the facility or home?
- Have you rehearsed and practiced fire, tornado and active shooter drills?
- Are your employees familiar with the Run, Hide, Fight video – responses to an active shooter scenario?
- Do your employees know what is expected of them in the event of a fire or tornado?
- Do your employees know what is expected of them in the event of an active shooter, armed or unarmed robbery, shoplifting, parking lot robbery or assault?
- Do you have a clear and understood weapon’s policy that you have provided your employees and secured their agreement to preferably in writing?
- Do you have a designated assembly point if you evacuate your home or business?
- When attending public events do you ensure that your family members and friends with you know where the exits are and do you have a designated assembly point if you evacuate for any reason?
The world is a dangerous place these days and whether you are planning for business or family emergencies you must be prepared. Application of the above information to your workplace and family will prepare you for such worst cases scenarios.
There are a number of resources that we highly recommend you take the time to read and watch. They include:
Escape the Wolf by Clint Emerson and Lynn Walters
- On Sheep, Wolves and Sheepdogs, Lt. Col. David Grossman (www.killology.com/sheep_dog.htm)
- Run, Hide, Fight video (www.ldarrylarmstrong.com)
In planning for active shooter table-top exercises an often overlooked area is that of business continuity. How and what do we do to ensure that the university gets back to the business as soon as possible. There are six major issues to consider and that law enforcement officials should collaborate with business continuity planning teams.
First, many administrators, faculty, staff and students fail to realize that when they are evacuated from a building they may not have access to that building for days, if not weeks depending on the nature of the situation. If shots were fired in the building or not, the building becomes a crime scene and appropriate protocols must be followed.
Second, if employees or students are advised they can do telework, what happens if their laptops that are required to access the virtual private network (VPN) remain in the facility and they don’t have access?
Third, even when there is a minimal loss of life, and let’s hope there is none, the psychological impacts on all parties can cause significant absenteeism. Human resources and employee assistance managers must take this into account. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is not uncommon and must be planned for in advance.
Fourth, in the case of functions such as Information Technology Centers, facility heating and cooling operations, etc. facilities and operations that cannot be interrupted does your devolution counterparts know when to assume their support role in an Active Shooter event?
Fifth, recovery time objectives are always problematic. Twelve hours may seem like long enough time to resume business “as usual”, but what happens if a lockdown last for 8-10 hours?
Finally, do your business continuity relocation plans conflict with emergency management/public safety plans and often the need to keep everyone on-site?
Law enforcement, emergency managers, public safety, public relations, human resources, supply chain providers, logistical support and others involved in planning active shooter table-top exercises and planning must have business continuity planners at the table.
L. Darryl Armstrong PhD – www.ldarrylarmstrong.com
Crisis management must be integrated with a holistic approach Read more: Four Rivers Business Journal – Crisis management must be integrated with a holistic approach
Prior to the 24-hour news channels, the advent of social media, and an ever-advancing world of mobile technology, the corporate spokesperson during a crisis could control the messages through carefully constructed news conferences.
This is no longer the case with the advent of “citizen journalists.” Organizations that have not yet recognized today’s new media place themselves in serious peril when a crisis occurs.
Today crisis communication is no longer just a corporate communicator’s function. No longer can the PR department write the crisis manual and just arrange for media training of a select few spokespeople. Today, crisis management is much more than just crisis communication during an emergency such as a flood, fire or nuclear mishap event.
A crisis, by definition, “is a revelation, allegation or set of circumstances which threatens the integrity, reputation, or survival of an individual or an organization.” Crises of any kind, be they event or non-event related, threaten the public’s sense of safety, security, values and appropriateness.
When a crisis occurs, actual, potential or perceptual damage to the organization’s brand and reputation will occur. Because the organization is often at a loss to end the damage immediately, the “after shocks” continue to do even more damage.
Therefore, a crisis management plan must account for what we generally think of as those natural or man-made events that require activation of an Emergency Operations Center and for those business crisis that are non-event related.
Statistics show that most business crises today are non-event related.
These are the “smoldering or simmering” situations that create crisis in organizations, with 49 percent of the crises originating from management and 33 percent from employees.
Of these crises, 61 percent were deemed “smoldering or simmering” while only 39 percent were sudden. This means that, in some cases, the organization was truly blindsided by the onset of the event, yet, in other cases, the organization had sufficient intelligence to be prepared and yet had not sufficiently planned to address it.
These crises range among 2012 crisis categories, expressed in percentages:
White collar crime — 16 percent
Mismanagement — 15
Work place violence — 11
Class action lawsuits — 11
Business disruption — 8
Labor dispute — 8
Casualty accidents — 8
Financial damage — 6
Consumer Activism — 4
Discrimination — 3
Other (not listed) — 3
Sexual harassment — 2
Environmental — 2
Whistleblowers — 2
Executive dismissal — 1
Prudent and strategically thinking organizations recognize the need to institutionalize, within all the key business functions, a holistic and standardized approach to handling both event and non-event related crises.
A coordinated holistic approach addresses crisis prediction, issues analysis, prevention and management as a formal part of the overall business planning strategy. Such an approach ensures solid contingency plans as part of business continuity planning.
A Change Management Plan is a key component of this strategy since such an approach requires a change from the traditional model of just event emergency planning. It requires corporate communicators and management at all levels of the business to carefully think through all the various event and non-event crises that the agency needs to be prepared to handle.
Therefore, to be effective and efficient, crisis management of non-events must be embedded into the corporation’s overall management system. Just as an organization has emergency responders within each business unit, they also must have non-event crisis managers as part of the matrix.
Holistic crisis planning, therefore, enhances the capability of the management within all business units, as well as communicators and management at the corporate level, to be better prepared. They will be ready to respond to new and even unimagined non-event risks and to manage the growing number and diversity of stakeholders, many of whom have conflicting agendas.
As organizations become more complex, non-event crisis planning becomes even more critical. Because as the organizations grow, they restructure, merge divisions and must deal with the business of corporate realignment.
This excellence in management approach can only be accomplished through integration of non-event planning as a value-add, standardized and critical component of any emergency planning activity.
When the threat management process addresses event and non-event issues and is integrated within the overall issues management process in the organization, the crisis prediction and prevention capability is noticeably enhanced. This is particularly the case for the “smoldering or simmering” crises referred to above.
Identifying and evaluating as many as possible threats and issues are always the first steps. Yet it is the management and communication of these threats and issues that is critical and most challenging for all organizations, especially when dealing with the non-event issues.
Obviously, not all crises are predictable or preventable. Yet, an effective threat and issues management process, embedded within the crisis management planning structure and coordinated at the corporate level, allows for the organization’s management to potentially foresee, plan scenarios, exercise them, be proactive and then decide to take, treat, transfer or eliminate the threat.
Forward-thinking and progressive organizations are appointing crisis event and non-event managers. These managers are charged with assessing, planning and implementing a standardized protocol and comprehensive crisis event and non-event response and communication system. This system embeds key business functions such as operations, human resources, legal, IT, health safety and environment, sales and marketing, communications, cyber and reputation security as part of the progressive crisis management teams.
Once processes have been developed covering all key business functions, the competency issues of crisis team members must be addressed. This is accomplished in the following three stages:
1. Utilize behavioral and personality style assessment such as use of the Myers-Briggs Personality Inventory.
2. Provide training in those areas in which team members will be engaged, i.e. media, social media, presentation skills, dealing with different personality styles, etc.
3. Conduct extensive tabletop or full-field exercising combined with systematically cataloguing and documenting lessons learned and best practices.
Skills, training and professional experience at all levels of the crisis response structure are critical. The response begins with the receptionist providing the telephone response to callers. It includes the leadership and strategic planning skills of the crisis management team and the ability to provide counseling and support to employees, the next of kin and the victims of a crisis. And, of course, communication with the mainstream media is critical, as well as the effective shaping of messages in social media while protecting the organization’s brand and reputation.
Research, and our team member’s 40 years of experience in behavioral psychology and management, validates that the best crisis management team members are chosen and trained according to behavioral suitability and not the function related to the position on the team.
Due to ongoing staff adjustments and job changes in corporations as well as downsizing and corporate reorganization, it is essential to have a comprehensive plan that trains and retrains crisis team members in a systematic and regular manner to account for this turn over.
Many corporations are choosing to establish curriculum based training certification programs to ensure the right people are in the right place properly trained to handle the situation when needed.
The days of a corporate communicator being able to handle a crisis by calling a reporter friend are over.
Crisis communications of event and non-event situations are complex and require standardization across all business units. Embedding the crisis managers into the corporation at all levels ensures that the best decisions are made by having an active ongoing risk and issues assessment protocol. This protocol utilizes tried and proven strategies and tactics that predict and, when possible, prevent crises while managing the issue and the public and stakeholders’ perceptions.
In today’s environment, many of our customers and clients, when their anger is not handled properly, can and do become “mad as hell!”
In the world we live in today, it is more important than ever to understand how to diffuse anger when dealing with a customer or client. The same techniques can be used when dealing with the anger of a family member or even a stranger you meet in the parking lot.
This article is not meant to scare you. It is intended, however, to raise your awareness about what it means to live in a world where anger can and often is expressed in terms of violence. These techniques will help you be prepared to deal with that anger.
First, we should all recognize that complaints are OK because, at the very least, the customer is letting us know what the problem is.
I would much rather know what the problem is because then I can work toward a solution. If I don’t know what the problem is, there is no way to make things right. We must remember, though, not to become defensive when the customer is telling us their issues with the product or service.
Statistics demonstrate that if a complaint is well handled, the customer will be more loyal than he or she was before they complained. And we may have learned something constructive for our business.
Second, try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes.
It becomes critically important to understand the other person’s point of view. We must accept the fact that he or she is entitled to their point of view, although it may be totally different from our own.
Third, let the person tell their story.
The best medicine for upset people is to let them vent. Use your listening skills and give the person a chance to express their feelings. Draw him or her out with questions, or noncommittal and empathetic remarks like “I see” or “I can see why you are upset” or “I can understand why you would feel this way.” This will help calm the customer while revealing some points of agreement or settlement that are important in leading to a solution.
Fourth, learn to listen.
It is not enough to sit passively while a person talks. You have to listen with the mind (as well as the ears), looking for the paths that lead to understanding and problem solving. Be careful not to give a reply before the person is ready. Until someone with a problem has completely vented his or her feelings, they will not be ready to listen to a solution!
Fifth, be empathetic not sympathetic.
Be sure to use empathetic language that illustrates you are trying to understand the caller’s point of view. Sympathy and empathy are both acts of feeling, but with sympathy you feel sorry for the person without truly understanding the what and why of their feelings. Empathy is a much more active process, and it takes work and imagination to get there. See the above.
Sixth, speak the person’s language.
It won’t help to use terms common to your profession or company when dealing with a person who is upset.
Find words he or she will understand when talking about your service. The goal is to communicate. Listen carefully to the person and take notes. If they say they “think” the product or service is defective, reflect back to them that you “understand their thinking”. However, if a person says “they don’t feel good about the service”, this person is emotive so use “feeling” language when responding to them.
Seventh, whatever you say, say it with respect.
Courtesy, respect and consideration are all shown by using a friendly tone of voice and a set of behaviors which show the person that you consider him or her a person worthy of respect. A controlled volume to your voice and a choice of words that will be meaningful to your listener can make all the difference. See above.
Finally, diligently work to make the person “feel” important.
You may hear the same complaint or problem frequently. Just imagine how many times counter agents at airports must hear the same compliant over and over. However, this person may have only told it once. So we must listen patiently. Learning the person’s name and using it in the conversation is helpful also.
We are often reminded as children of the “Golden Rule.” It certainly applies in business, yet perhaps more in the sense that author and longshoreman Eric Hoffer (1902-1983) was quoted as saying:
“The remarkable thing is that we really love our neighbor as ourselves: we do unto others as we do unto ourselves. We hate others when we hate ourselves. We are tolerant toward others when we tolerate ourselves. We forgive others when we forgive ourselves. We are prone to sacrifice others when we are ready to sacrifice ourselves.”
Keep in mind that how we react to what is happening can define whether the outcome is positive or negative. What you have learned about handling anger can influence your success in business and your safety in the world. When our behaviors demonstrate these interpersonal skills, we will succeed.