Disaster Recovery: Confidence in Crisis (6 of 7)

April 3, 2006

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The Best Way to Communicate

Building occupants and tenants want to know how emergencies will affect their employment, office belongings, and paychecks; the public wants to know how (or if) your company will continue to provide its services or products; neighboring businesses want to know if your facility’s current situation will involve them: These are difficult subjects that will inevitably surface after your facility has undergone a disaster. And whether it was a fire, a flood, or an act of terrorism, your organization needs to be ready with the answers.

The best way to handle this significant task? Experts agree that you should start by choosing one person to serve as the authorized “spokesperson” for your organization; choose an alternate to fill in if the first person chosen is unavailable. (Often, it becomes the facilities/property manager’s job to fulfill this role.) Washington, D.C.-based BOMA Intl., in its Are Your Tenants Safe? BOMA’s Guide to Security and Emergency Planning, indicates that a clear chain of command in terms of communication (whether dealing with tenants/occupants, the public, or the media) will help promote your company’s position, stop conflicting information from being given, prevent distracting phone calls to others involved, and allow one person to establish a good relationship with the media.

If you’re chosen as the designated spokesperson, Chicago-based IREM suggests that you be prepared to answer the following questions:

1. What happened?
2. Where did it happen?
3. When did it happen?
4. Who was involved?
5. What caused the situation?
6. Is the situation under control?
7. When will the property be restored to normal operating conditions?
8. What assurances are there that this event won’t occur again?

Think about and write out responses for these questions in advance so that you’re prepared to reply in any situation. Numerous forms of communication exist in disaster circumstances (written releases, telephone hotlines, website updates, press conferences, etc.); decide which forum is most suitable for your organization based upon the severity of the situation and the audience that will receive the information. In cases where the information will be shared verbally, make sure that written news releases are available as well - they will help endorse the facts and prevent speculation. According to David Casavant, president, Lake Worth, FL-based Carlyle Consulting Group, and author of Emergency Preparedness for Facilities, issues such as work locations, return-to-work dates, compensation during restoration, job security, etc. should be addressed as soon as possible. The spokesperson should have easy access to company executives and human resources professionals to uncover the answers to these questions.

Initially, informational announcements should be limited to the basic details (the location, the type of incident, when the incident occurred, why it happened, etc.). Don’t be afraid to read from a prepared script to stay focused. When you don’t have any information to share, say so - don’t speculate or present unconfirmed reports.

And remember ... good PR doesn’t end when the crisis situation finally subsides. Keep everyone informed of the building’s progress as it advances, and don’t pass up the opportunity to let the public know when the building is running smoothly and operating as it was pre-disaster.

Leah B. Garris ([email protected]), Senior Associate Editor

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