As public relations professionals our job is more than just to think about the unthinkable, but to be prepared to handle it from an organizational standpoint. The key to crisis management is not reaction, but rather preparation. That is why Harding University conducts a yearly disaster drill to mimic a school crisis.
This year’s event was a multi-vehicle accident out of state. As an athlete who travels in buses and vans out of state myself, this drill was a little close to home, but very plausible. Since this is a situation a distance from the school’s campus, the on scene action would be out of our control as public relations professionals. However, our reaction, specifically its timeliness, is in our control.
Upon hearing the news of the disaster a one hour timer is started, in which the communications team has about 60 minutes to collect information and formulate a response to the public. In this time scripts will also need to be created for any school office that has a telephone reachable by the public.
This script, like the press release the public relations team will be creating, must address the situation and declare the action to be taken while also expressing concern and maintaining the identity of the organization.
It is essential during this time not to give out information that has not already been released by the police. This includes to parents. This is crucial when it comes to accidents that include fatalities. We never want to be the first one to release those names. Especially not over the phone. The families must all be personally informed by the police face to face.
Also important in a crisis is determining who needs to address the public. The greater the crisis the higher the person needs to be in the organization. It’s also important not to use important figures, such as the president of the university, when it is a small scale disaster because it could over-hype the situation.
Overall, Harding’s disaster drill made me realize the importance of being prepared for the worst. It also made me hug my best friends and my teammates a little tighter. What makes a crisis so scary is that even when you’re prepared, you never know if or when it’s going to happen.