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Crisis Averted: Managing Communications in an Emergency. •. Gary Kimball. Emergency Response Communications. Whether it's an emergency, crisis or ...
Handout – 2017 ACA National Conference: Crisis Averted: Managing Communications in an Emergency

Emergency Response Communications Whether it’s an emergency, crisis or emerging threat brewing below the surface, how you handle communications can shape your camp’s reputation for years to come. Communicating among the media and parents with information about an emergency or emerging situation – before they contact you – will give you more control of what is said, and help put families at ease. Remember, they will likely learn the information on their own, so it’s always better to come forward first. Evaluate, Plan, Communicate, Evaluate When communicating: •

First, evaluate the situation: Release information only when the facts are absolutely accurate and the camp’s legal position is clear. The spokesperson must not speculate. When an emergency occurs, it is often difficult to sort out the facts and determine exactly what happened. That’s why it is essential that an emergency preparation plan include a clear chain of command for gathering and communicating information.

Plan your response: When you have gathered all your information, you must plan your response, taking into account all of your audiences – campers, staff, families, authorities and the media.

Communicate quickly and honestly: It is absolutely essential to quickly communicate the facts of an emergency. When a tragic event occurs, communication inevitably follows, which may include media reports, parent phone calls, camper calls to parents, staff discussions with campers, and more. A quick, accurate response will put the camp in control of these communications, help prevent miscommunications, build trust and make sure the camp’s side of a story is told.

Evaluate your response: Provisions should be made to monitor media broadcasts, family reaction and the actions by the authorities to make sure your response is appropriate and effective. Adjust your communications to meet new circumstances.

Establish One Spokesperson and Emergency Communications Center It is absolutely critical to identify one spokesperson in the event of an emergency and define his/her specific responsibilities. The spokesperson should be the camp director or, at least someone who: •

Clearly represents the camp and is in a position to make decisions.

Has a complete compendium of camp information at his/her disposal.

Isn’t burdened with too many other administrative and operational duties.

Crisis Averted: Managing Communications in an Emergency

Gary Kimball

Clearly define what the spokesperson can and cannot say. Everything that the spokesperson says must be completely accurate; there can be no speculation. The spokesperson needs access to the camp’s chain of command 24 hours a day, seven days a week. All leadership personnel need constant access to the spokesperson. Plan for a secondary spokesperson in the event that a camper or counselor must be taken to the hospital in an emergency situation; it is possible that media may arrive at the hospital as well as at the camp. Establish A Chain of Command Establish a clear chain of command in the event of an emergency. This chain of command will take into account a two-way flow of communication: •

When an emergency begins, all information is communicated quickly and accurately through the chain to the spokesperson.

That spokesperson then has the responsibility to direct all actions and communications to campers, staff, families, media and other interested publics.

This chain of command may vary depending on the type of emergency and whether it occurs on or off camp property.

This chain of command identifies the roles and responsibilities for not just staff, but also law enforcement, fire officials and other first responders.

Speaking with the Media Many emergencies will generate media coverage. You can’t prevent coverage, but you can lessen the negative impact by responding quickly and honestly. You may decide to prepare a written statement for the media, or conduct a media interview. Each has it’s advantages and disadvantages. With a prepared statement, you are in control of your statement and can’t be asked a surprise question or make a mistake. On the other hand, an interview tells the reporter you are open and have nothing to hide, and can give you more opportunity to tell your side of the story. This decision should be weighed carefully, taking into account your ability to answer questions under pressure. Remember these rules: •

When an emergency occurs, immediately station someone at the front gate to greet media, tell them politely they are not allowed on camp (private) property and that someone will get back to them promptly.

Respect deadlines. If you can’t speak to a reporter or provide a statement immediately, ask what the deadline is and make sure you respond within that timeframe.

Crisis Averted: Managing Communications in an Emergency

Gary Kimball


Do not be confrontational. Stay calm and in control at all times.

Don’t arouse media suspicions by saying “no comment” or refusing to return calls.

Communicate what you know and tell reporters what you don’t know.

Prepare “talking points” ahead of time, so you stay on track with a consistent message.

Do not speculate. The media will try to get you to draw conclusions. Don’t let them. Stick to your key points.

Do not reveal personal/medical information about campers or staff.

Keep interviews brief and end a conversation when you need to.

When working with television crews: •

If your camp is on private property and you’re in the middle of an emergency, you can ask them to leave. Remember to calmly explain why and be polite. Plan a time to call them later.

If you feel forced into an on-camera interview, ask if you can talk to the reporter off camera first. Use that time to explain the situation and try to set parameters for the interview.

Remember that television works in short sound bites, so prepare your key points in short statements that fit this format.

It can be helpful to develop a separate media response plan for your overall Emergency Response Plan. Communicating with Families When communicating with parents: •

Be the first to contact families about an emergency.

Stay calm and in control. Parents take their emotional cues from you.

If possible, emphasize the positives.

Be open, concerned and offer your assistance.

Further details about choosing if, when and how to communicate with parents are available in another document: “Considerations for Parent Communications,” which is available upon request. While we offer this guidance and believe it can help most camps through difficult situations, we recognize that every camp culture is different and appreciate the judgment of experienced camp directors. Most importantly, as you consider communications during difficult times, we ask that you consider the value of open, accurate and rapid communications in building and maintaining the trust and respect of your camp families. Crisis Averted: Managing Communications in an Emergency

Gary Kimball


Social Media Given the widespread use of social media throughout the world, it is imperative that camps consider social media, especially the platform on which your camp families are most active, when creating an emergency response plan. When planning, please consider these points: •

In your plan, ensure you designate someone to monitor your social media platforms during an emergency. These may include Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and others.

Keep comments on social media sites in perspective. It is normal for people to post negative or hyperbolic comments, but you must consider when and how to respond. Sometimes a response may just fuel a fire.

Know your rights and options in responding to negative comments on your camp Facebook site. You may delete comments, but not reviews. Facebook has specific rules on when people may be banned from a site.

Consider how you will use Facebook to post information to counter negative comments or false information, and to direct people to your website or other places where they can find accurate information.

If there are negative comments posted on someone else’s social media site, you may need to engage legal counsel to know when and how you can respond.

Social media sites change continually and so it is important to update plans.

In general, your camp should have a social media policy that governs how staff and campers may write about your camp when using social media sites. This policy will help control communications during an emergency, but also help you understand the use of these sites.

For More Information Gary Kimball Executive Director, Camp-ALERT Network AMSkier Insurance [email protected] 800-245-2666

Crisis Averted: Managing Communications in an Emergency

Gary Kimball