In use

Checking preparedness based on crisis communication plans

Although crises often erupt unexpectedly much can nevertheless be done in advance to prepare for communication in such cases. Central to crisis preparedness is having a comprehensive and up-to-date communication plan. Also auditing preparedness before anything untoward happens will shed light on how the organisation would manage in a real crisis. The city of Kuopio, Finland, tried out the crisis communication scorecard together with the local rescue services. The tool was found useful for carrying out a check on preparedness.

We, that is the participants, with the present author in the role of external evaluator, started the audit by going through the written communication plans made by the city. These consist of a common guideline for communication in emergencies along with more detailed communication plans by different service sectors. As one of these, the rescue service has its own instructions.

These plans describe the various responsibilities, tasks and resources for communication. In the case of the city, stakeholders are also defined more specifically and examples of emergency scenarios are given. Their general guide line also stresses what the city's inhabitants most importantly need to know in emergency situations.

The city's general guideline booklet defines the strategic goals for crisis communication, starting with communication that aims at the prevention of harm. Next, instructions and support for rescue activities and the provision of an adequate picture of the crisis event for both the city's employees and local residents are marked as objectives of emergency communication. The aim is to make public the city's side of the story while at the same time channelling people's thoughts, questions and concerns into the city organisation. Finally, communication is intended to mitigate the negative impacts of the crisis and secure vital operational preconditions for future actions.

Brainstorming in a team

The preparedness audit took place in March 2010 and consisted of individual self-assessments followed by reflection with the present author. In addition to the central administration's communication office the city's social, health, education and security service sectors also participated in the audit.

The rather small size of the individual teams in terms of manpower has since been corrected by amalgamating the teams, but at the time of the audit each unit was still working in its own separate office. Due to their small number, the various communication staff decided to conduct the preparedness audit together. The representative of the rescue service did his assessment separately. In the end all the participants met to talk over the results.

Checking the written instructions

The audit showed that the written instructions and how these define communication responsibilities were at a satisfactory level. For the rescue service, the division of labour was more complicated. Moreover, the implementation of cooperation between other organisations in the actor network was unclear. This is important as the establishment of cooperative relationships is the key to coordinated crisis communication management.

Annual planning and discussion in the response network

Communication plans and strategies for various risk and crisis scenarios existed within the individual organisations. Although these plans already deal with a variety of scenarios, expanding the examples was seen as crucial in the future.

Cooperation in preparedness planning within the response network is as important as preparing the individual organisation to deal with possible crises. Experience must be shared with others.

The preparedness audit can be filled in by individual organisations or a network of organisations - it is merely a matter of managing the user account. At least in this post-evaluation talk we found it very useful to compare the views of the city with those of the rescue service. Such cooperation at the local level is strongly recommended.

Written by Pauliina Palttala, researcher on project Developing a crisis communication scorecard