5 Ways to Handle Communication in a Crisis

By Craig Gruber.

Dr. Gruber is the director of Northeastern's Homeland Security program and lead faculty in the Criminal Justice Program. He is an expert in maritime domain awareness, intelligence analysis, and counter-terrorism. An officer in the U.S. Navy Reserves, Dr. Gruber has served at the Office of Naval Intelligence and Joint Intelligence Center Central Command.

Good crisis communication is important across many of the obvious industries—criminal justice, law enforcement, public courts, private security, and corrections organizations—but it's just as important to us all to know where to turn to in an emergency. 

Here are some of the key factors that go into successful communication under pressure.

1. Develop a pre-crisis plan

The old motto “be prepared” is critical. Prepare various communication plans that apply to different kinds of events or scenarios. Collect what information you can about the risks involved in various kinds of communication methods and factor that into your decisions about how and what will be communicated, should that sort of event happen. 

2. Go into response mode 

After you confirm that an incident has in fact occurred, you need to process the information completely before you communicate it internally or externally. Your response should be strategic, especially when you’re dealing with the media. You need to come across both verbally and nonverbally in a way that conveys knowledge, assurance, and a full understanding of the situation.

3. Reevaluate

Examining the communication process after the event lets you learn from mistakes so you can improve the next time. Think about whether you respond in a formal yet genuine way to people. Were you able to communicate an understanding of how severe a crisis it was? Were you seen as calm, informed, and in control of the situation? Did you effectively communicate the relevant information? Was your communication plan effective? 

4. Coordinate

Having a designated spokesperson isn’t always possible so make sure that if your lead spokesperson isn’t available you have a backup. Ensuring that your communication plan is well-timed, effective, and appropriate relies on a coordinated internal effort. During an emergency there may not be a lot of information available, so you need to make sure everyone is saying the same thing: that you’re all giving out information as the story unfolds. This way it’s not seen as though you’re covering up the facts. 

5. Don't be over eager

It’s difficult to understand how much—and how often—to give out information. And if it’s not conveyed appropriately, it can be dangerous. It’s about finding the sweet spot of what information people need in order to act or to satisfy their curiosity, without overwhelming them. People often make the mistake of over-communicating when they don’t have enough information, and this can lead to assumptions, misunderstandings, and in some cases, panic.  

Which of these methods do you feel is most effective in preventing crime? What other methods do you see in use?