101 Tips for Communication in Emergencies

When disaster strikes, the more prepared organizations activate their disaster plans. Whether it's a fire, flood, chemical spill, hurricane, or database breach, we activate emergency management teams and search for solutions, while we figure out what to tell the public. All of this activity involves people working together under extreme pressure. The better those people are at communicating with each other under pressure, the better the outcome will be.

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you can witness the final hours of a brand that took ten years to build. Or you can see it re-emerge stronger than ever. From Tylenol to JetBlue — no brand is exempt. And the outcome depends not only on what you say to the public, but on how well you communicate internally — with each other.

This same topic is available in seminar or workshop format. Check out Team Communication in Enterprise Emergencies.Surviving the enterprise emergency requires teamwork at a level well beyond high performance. People who have never even met must form a group that functions and thinks as one. When they succeed, they do so because of their ability to build relationships with each other that transcend workplace politics and personal agendas. The bonds they form are often so strong that they last lifetimes.

Foremost among the risks these teams face, perhaps, is the question of how well the Emergency Management Teams will work together. After all:

  • They're working on something that they don't know much about (yet)
  • They've trained for this, but not as much as they would have liked
  • They're under extreme pressure
  • After the first day, they're very tired or close to burnout
  • Some have concerns about loved ones
  • Some might be missing or injured
  • Some are worried about the future prospects of the company or their communities
  • Some have rarely worked with each other before
  • … and on and on and on

101 Tips for Communication in EmergenciesHow do you train people to know how to do this? How do you create leaders who can make this happen? It seems an impossible task, and it is. But fortunately, you already have them — they already work in your organization. What keeps most organizations from succeeding in the enterprise emergency isn't a lack of training or a lack of leadership — it's that they're stuck in a business-as-usual frame of mind. To succeed in the enterprise emergency, all we have to do is stop pretending that the usual approaches can be bent just a little bit.

For example, when we do train our people in communication — and few organizations do that very well — we train for the routine environment. But the emergency environment is like no other. People of all professions must collaborate effectively — under extreme pressure — if they're going to find a path through the emergency. Yet, we do very little to prepare people to communicate in that environment.

101 Tips for Communication in Emergencies — effectively — shows teams how to talk to each other in the emergency environment. And an important factor in internal emergency communication involves learning to communicate across the technology divide. Techies must learn how to talk to and listen to non-techies, and vice versa.

In the modern organization, enterprise emergencies almost always entail complex technological issues. Some of us understand these issues, but most of us don't. And that creates a technology divide, which further complicates the already-complicated communication problem. This ebook discusses in depth the issues of internal communication across the technology divide:

  • How to successfully communicate within the emergency management team
  • What non-technical leaders need
  • How to ask for what you need from technical leaders
  • How to prepare teams for the emergency environment
  • How to deal with teams that run off the rails
  • How to listen and how to manage your own responses
  • How to manage and accept uncertainty in others
  • How to manage the risks of metaphors

101 Tips for Communication in Emergencies is filled with tips for sponsors, leaders and participants in emergency management teams. It helps readers create an environment in which teams can work together, under pressure from outside stakeholders, in severely challenging circumstances, while still maintaining healthy relationships with each other. That's the key to effective communication in emergencies.

It's an ebook, about 15% bigger than Who Moved My Cheese?. Read the table of contents.

Some sample tips

Here are some sample tips:

Connecting the dots conflicts with listening
In the emergency environment, we are under extreme pressure to "connect the dots." That is, we respond to the expectations of others by pushing for a clear statement of the pattern of the event as soon as possible. The result, often, is that we decide on a pattern — a framework for understanding the situation — prematurely. In effect, our need to connect the dots causes us to halt data collection too soon. It creates a tendency to slant our interpretation of what we're being told. It interferes with the ability to listen.
This tendency affects everyone differently. Those who have a preference for making models and discerning patterns are more vulnerable to this error than are those who typically prefer to see and process more data. Usually, the technologists are more vulnerable than are senior managers.
On the other hand, those who prefer gathering more data are vulnerable to a different (but complementary) error. They tend to postpone acceptance of working hypotheses until long after there is enough data to justify them.
Both error modes are manifestations of the inherent conflict between "connecting the dots" and gathering data.
Establish and enforce interface requirements
In the routine environment, we permit team members to speak freely with those outside the team. Occasionally, this "out of band" communication causes problems, but it also facilitates agility, and we tolerate it. In the emergency environment, out of band communication is almost always a threat to orderly management of the emergency. In the emergency environment, communication between a team and others outside the team must follow interface requirements.
This is particularly so in the case of a technical emergency team, because the spokesperson for the team might at times need to withhold information that isn't yet ready to be released. Others outside the team then sometimes attempt "end-arounds," in which they privately interrogate team members outside the awareness of the team lead or team spokesperson. Team members and all internal staff must be made aware, in advance, that interface protocols are to be followed at all times.
Appreciate the consequences of demanding definitive responses from technologists
When we demand that technologists supply scalar responses to queries that inherently require vector responses, we're requiring that they suppress information. That suppression, in itself, presents no difficulties to the emergency response team. But when the suppression of that information prevents the emergency response team from considering alternatives and issues that are its responsibility to consider, suppression of information by technologists does become a problem for the emergency response team. Indeed, it can become a problem also for the viability of the enterprise.
It is the role of the technologist in a technology-driven emergency to maintain a clear grasp of the full dimensionality of the emergency. It is the role of the emergency management team to decide what to do. Neither can fulfill its role when the technologists suppress information, either voluntarily or involuntarily.
In emergencies, leave no voids
When people worry, they make up what they don't know. When we say nothing about a topic people are worrying about, we leave a void to be filled by rumors. Make an active effort to determine what your stakeholder populations are worrying about, and make special efforts to determine which of their concerns they're actually talking about. Make these efforts part of your situational awareness program.
When you learn of a concern that's propagating within a given population — internal to the team or external — and you know that the concern is false or irrelevant, fashion and deliver a message to that population designed to assuage the concern. If there's any truth to the concern, address that directly. Letting it circulate unanswered will only give it space to grow to the point of unmanageability.

How to order

This ebook is in Acrobat (PDF) format. You'll need the Adobe Reader 6.0 or later to read it. You can load it onto your computer or mobile device. Or print it on any standard black-and-white or color printer. The price makes the decision easy: per copy. Quantity packs are available at the prices shown below. Call for site license pricing at the phone number below.

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This book has an ISBN of 978-1-938932-14-4.

Table of contents

Click the folder icons to reveal (or hide) individual chapter content summaries, or:

  • 1The Tip-Book format
  • 2Ebooks are a little different
  • 3Know the difference between a crisis and an emergency
  • 4Become familiar with evolving terminology
  • 5Understand the three dimensions of emergencies
  • 6Understand the nature of the emergency environment
  • 7Accept that the organizational posture will be more reactive than is typical
  • 8Most emergencies have technical components
  • 9The risk environment is novel
  • 10Uncertainty dominates
  • 11Some of what you "know" is wrong
  • 12Standard procedures probably have broken down
  • 13Standard policies might be obstacles
  • 14Plan for absences
  • 15Plan beyond COOP
  • 16Use logical role designations rather than personal names
  • 17People who rarely work together must work together well
  • 18The consequences of failure are severe
  • 19You probably get only one chance to get it right
  • 20Good enough is good enough
  • 21Understand the Satir Change Model
  • 22We tend to reject the foreign element
  • 23In Chaos, people tend to be stressed
  • 24Search for transforming ideas intentionally
  • 25Establish an intelligence function
  • 26Resolve preexisting feuds and duels
  • 27Deal with substance abusers in advance
  • 28Plan for the pharmaceutical needs of emergency management staff
  • 29Anticipate status inversions
  • 30Accept that people have different communication preferences
  • 31Conduct training in managing "betterism"
  • 32Understand the economic paradox of control procedures
  • 33Simulation-based training is essential
  • 34Use drills to screen team members
  • 35Deal with emotions — or else
  • 36It's difficult to do careful research
  • 37Experiments and tests are almost precluded
  • 38Internal customer expectations remain high
  • 39Responsibility, guilt, and shame
  • 40I told you so
  • 41Assets degrade
  • 42Sense of predictability wanes
  • 43Power inversions are uncomfortable
  • 44The reactive posture is in itself a stressor
  • 45External customer expectations remain high
  • 46Connecting the dots is even more difficult in emergencies
  • 47Know the difference between creative conflict and destructive conflict
  • 48Know why destructive conflict sometimes remains unresolved
  • 49Resolve conflicts face to face
  • 50Track the liabilities of destructive conflict
  • 51Conduct regular temperature readings
  • 52Person-to-person communication in emergencies is different
  • 53Know the communication pitfalls of stress
  • 54Avoid jumping to meaning
  • 55Avoid hat hanging
  • 56Listen
  • 57Avoid completing the other's thoughts
  • 58Avoid replaying dramatic putdowns
  • 59Avoid rushing
  • 60Avoid confusion
  • 61Avoid mind reading
  • 62Avoid living the catastrophic expectation
  • 63Avoid starting with "you"
  • 64Avoid blame dancing
  • 65Understand the Satir Interaction Model
  • 66Connecting the dots conflicts with listening
  • 67Ignorance isn't a personal failing
  • 68Establish a we-can't-do-this-now protocol
  • 69Create criticism-free conversations
  • 70Track metrics that measure communication problems
  • 71Know what makes a team a team
  • 72Team formation skills are organizational assets
  • 73Introduce team members and their backups
  • 74Avoid "shift changes"
  • 75Know why teams fail in emergencies
  • 76Assess preexisting conditions
  • 77Know who's ready to go — always
  • 78Establish a "ready line" for necessary infrastructure
  • 79Understand the risks of team reorganization
  • 80Know how to manage a team restart
  • 81Establish and enforce interface requirements
  • 82Harvest knowledge from after-action reviews of other teams
  • 83Understand how technologists deal with uncertainty
  • 84Understand how non-technologists deal with uncertainty
  • 85Appreciate the consequences of demanding definitive responses from technologists
  • 86Understand what information non-technical leaders need
  • 87Understand the conflicting needs of internal audiences
  • 88Anticipate rumors and myths
  • 89Eradicate myths in advance
  • 90Prepare modular information resources to meet media requirements
  • 91In emergencies, leave no voids
  • 92Always be right
  • 93Know what a metaphor is
  • 94Understand the power of metaphors
  • 95Understand the risks of metaphors
  • 96Some constituencies demand metaphors
  • 97Criteria for metaphor selection
  • 98Establish an after-action review process
  • 99Conduct after-action reviews after drills
  • 100Use outside facilitators to conduct after-action reviews
  • 101Celebrate

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