Project to advance crisis and emergency communications practices

December 23, 2010 Leave a comment

The authors collaborate onboard Mobile One, Trillium Response Emergency Exercise, Thunder Bay Ontario

Patrice Cloutier, Ontario Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services and Barry Radford, Barry Radford & Associates Communications Planners, have completed a collaborative project with Partnerships Toward Safer Communities – Online (PTSC-Online).

We presented information and invited emergency management practitioners to comment on a document intended to advance crisis and emergency communications practices.

We invite you to visit the project at and emergency communications

The end results are two-fold:

  1. PTSC-Online members and readers will have a clear understanding of the absolute necessity for organizations to have a crisis communications plan and be prepared to deal with increased expectations for a prompt and effective response.
  2. The PTSC-Online community will have a better understanding of the knowledge, training, preparation and other facets of an effective crisis communications plan.

Here is an outline of the content we covered:

Project introduction: project to advance crisis and emergency communications practice

Current trends and challenges

  • Current trends in crisis communications planning and the provision and dissemination of emergency information
  • How social media is changing the expectations of audiences/public

Crisis Communications Planning

  • Basic overview of the main components of a crisis communications plan (plans/procedures, people, preparation, practice)
  • How to build one

Plans and Procedures

  • Hazards and risks identification and how they apply to audiences
  • Monitoring traditional and social media
  • Procedures and checklists
  • Logistics and equipment


  • Skill set and characteristics of effective communicators during a crisis
  • Media relations training
  • IMS, business continuity and other training
  • Social media as crisis communications tools


  • Key messages: their importance and how they relate to expectations from your audiences
  • Message mapping … a crisis communications technique
  • Key message delivery
  • Social media integration
  • Other crisis communications techniques
  • Public Information Officer toolkit


  • Communications and emergency information exercises
  • Broader exercises and communication team’s involvement

Best practices and case studies

  • In delivering emergency information
  • In crisis communications and reputation management
  • Crisis communications planning and NGOs/not-for profit
  • In communications related to BCP and COOP

Additional resources

  • Setting up and running an Emergency Information Centre or Joint Information Centre
  • The public alerting and emergency information continuum
  • Public alerting and technological developments
  • Others
Categories: Emergency Management

Ontario’s FireRangers -125 Years of Service

November 15, 2010 Leave a comment

Time out to pay my respects to Ontario’s FireRangers on the occasion of their 125th anniversary.

Here’s a singular example of a resource management tradition in Ontario, that illustrates the ‘hands on’ and ‘get the job

Dave Cowan, Ontario FireRanger directs operations from the air in British Columbia.

done’ attitude I’ve found so appealing in the Ministry of Natural Resources. I was fortunate enough to be working in this ministry at at time when you could be trained and be called upon to be a FireRanger while still maintaining another career path (in my case communications). Fighting forest fires, preparing communities for potential evacuation while under threat of fire, and working with some of the most dedicated and skilled FireRangers I have ever met, has given me the experiences of a lifetime.

Perhaps it’s because of this personal history, I focussed upon emergency communications. Effective communications during an emergency event is the ‘left arm’ of emergency response if  the firefighting operations are the ‘right arm’. The two functions must work as a team to make it all work. After all, it’s life, property and resources that are at stake!

We tend to understate our heritage as Ontarians however once you’ve watched our FireRangers in action particularly when they are taking on the smoke, heat and flames in another province such as British Columbia, or cutting out the debris in the aftermath of a tornado, you can’t help but want to mark the 125th anniversary as something significant in Ontario’s history.

An Ontario FireRanger fights wildfire with fire in BC

Ontario Premier Dalton McGinty has captured the essence of what the Ontario FireRangers role has meant in his message to all FireRangers.

Read more about: the 125th Anniversary of  Ontario FireRangersOntario FireRanger’s History, or How to become a FireRanger.

Categories: Emergency Management

Taking Risks in a Risky Business

November 12, 2010 Leave a comment

Someone made the decision to enter the world of social media, ensuring that their emergency response agency is not behind the eight ball when an incident occurs. They see that the real risk is in ‘not being there’ and you are faced with a stressed community full of rumours on Twitter.

Congratulations…you took the risk…you’re ahead of the game…you are part of the conversation!

Todays Comic

Taking a risk to enter the social media world, is an emerging theme these days. That means someone has jumped ahead of protocol and said this is too important a situation to await the arrival of a corporate social media policy.

Within the past month, I have heard directly from at least two agencies that made this decision. In British Columia, the government has come out with a pro-social media policy. They encourage employees to be engaged in the conversation. BC government just asks that their employees apply common sense when using these tools.

During the G8-G20 Summit in Ontario (June 2010) international governments were given access to security protected wikis and other web 2.0 tools in order to develop better policy papers. Prior this, governments only had face-to-face meetings and conference calls to use, to create materials.  This service was an initiative created and now maintained by Canada. Someone took the risk and decided to make these social media tools available. The services were available not only for the political forum; it was also used by the business and youth forums. The current G20 Summit in Korea continued using Canada’s services.

These are examples of the current situation. Now, social media policies are quick to follow. Perhaps, the policies will be that much better because they are written by ‘practitioners’ not just ‘theorists’ and ‘policy wonks’!

Categories: Emergency Management

The Message Map

November 5, 2010 3 comments

We’ve talked about why we need to keep our emergency key messages simple and limited (3 maximum), and that first and last messages delivered are likely to be the messages most remembered by people under stress.

Now, we can look at a method of delivering those messages. The MESSAGE MAP organizes those key messages into a simple format and allows for supporting messages to follow once the key messages have been presented.

The MESSAGE MAP can be used to outline a speech at a news conference, a news release, a preparation for a media interview or, any other fact sheet or handout as an emergency event unfolds.

Here’s what a message map looks like:

Message Map
Topic: What is this about? type of incident or emergency.
Audience: External or internal, media and public, stakeholder?
Concern: What question s from public/stakeholders are we addressing?
User: Who will use this message map? Spokesperson, public inquiry line staff?  Or will it be included in release/speech? 

Timing: is this messaging at the onset of the crisis? In the recovery phase?

Key Message 1 Key Message 2
Key Message 3
Supporting message/fact 1 Supporting message/ fact 1 Supporting message/act 1
Supporting message/fact 2 Supporting message/fact 2 Supporting message/fact 2
Supporting message/fact 3 Supporting message/fact 2 Supporting message/fact 2

Remember: Deliver the messages with (CCO) compassion, confidently and give people some optimism as to the outcome of the events unfolding.

For more details on MESSAGE MAPPING, I’ve provided a link to the US Environmental Protection Agency webpage on this subject and a video explaining how it works by Dr Vincent Covello, who developed this message deliver method.

Let’s get Visual!

October 28, 2010 Leave a comment

handle the media’?

Mitch Miller, MNR Information Officer, Aviation Forest Fire and Emergency Services

Mitch Miller, a fire information officer with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, Aviation, Forest Fire and Emergency Services, knows the answer. Being trained and experienced in forest fire fighting, Mitch armed with video and digital cameras  heads to the source of the action, to capture images of fire fighters ‘on the line’ in both Ontario and out-of-province events for the past few years. Knowing that the traditional emergency information responses of media interviews and writing forest fire bulletins, no longer cuts it; Mitch captures images of forest fire fighting as it is happening both on the fire line and from the air.  His video images have been used by national media and specialty channels such as the Weather Network in recent events.

What makes Mitch’s images so newsworthy?

Well, Mitch can go where most media can’t! He gets out on the fire line, and then posts the images on an internet service for news media to download. All this can happen before the next traditional news cycle is due. Note: You can visit Mitch’s BoxNet account to see some of his current video footage (select low-res version to view on screen  for internet use).

The issue now is that the traditional news cycle is superseded by the demands of the social media users.  The challenge is getting the visual images out as evidence of emergency response,  to support the work being done by the operations side of emergency management. These time sensitive images are essential so that rumours or speculation by bloggers and tweeters can quickly be set straight.

“These days, you can use the visuals to drive people to your message ” says Mitch.

Emergency operations deal with ‘reality’.

Emergency communications deals with the ‘perception of reality’…trying to ensure that the ‘perception’ reflects what is actually happening on the ground.

What is the payoff for having timely information out in the public domain?

  • For the public, it means that they can make better informed decisions about an emergency situation.
  • For the Incident Manager, it means that they can get on with dealing with the actual operations rather than having to deal with public concerns based upon rumour.

    Mitch Miller captures waterbomber preparations at Kamloops BC

An investment in training and equipping of emergency information officers beyond the traditional media interview skills, is well spent. Workshops in using the social media tools effectively and exercising those skills on a regular basis, is really the most effective use of these people’s skills.

Well, do you have an interest in becoming a qualified emergency information officer?

Categories: Emergency Management

Compassion, Competence and Optimism

October 27, 2010 Leave a comment

“When people are stressed and upset, they want to know that you care before they care what you know”- Will Rogers

How you deliver your messages will determine their effectiveness on an already stressed audience.
As we discussed in the previous posting – It’s not necessarily what you say, rather it’s how you say it that counts. 


Incident Commander talks with a community in crisis

Convey caring and empathy – Before you launch into your key messages, regardless of the interviewers first question, establish that you and your responding agency empathize with those folks who are taking the hit from the emergency event.

“The Ministry of Natural Resources understands the stress that the community is currently facing as this event unfolds.”

Demonstrate competence – When delivering you messages, ensure that you express conviction, commitment and competence in the tasks that you are bringing to aid the community. Remember you are being judged by both those most directly impacted by the event and, by those people who care about the them.

“… our emergency response staff  will do everything possible to assist the community. Our response plan is already activated …”

Offer hope and optimism – People need to see light at the end of the tunnel. Regardless of the initial and/or continuing impacts of the hazard unfolding, you audience needs your optimism on better day.

“We have faced similar events before and know that this will end. We can work with you to start the recovery and restoration …”

Being effective as an emergency information officer requires; skills training, exercising the skill and, being prepared to respond when called.  It does require your commitment, to ensure that you are prepared!

27/9/3 Model for Emergency Messaging

October 27, 2010 Leave a comment

When it comes time to create and deliver emergency messages, it is best to maximize the opportunity that news media offers an emergency information officer.  Remember, your audience…they are limited by the stress they are under, so make every word count!

27/9/3 model: a critical tool

Here’s some fundamental facts about how news media operate:

Barry Radford, Chairs Trillium Response News Conference, Thunder Bay

  • The average length of a sound bite in print media is 27 words. Your message should be short and clear. There is no room to make your sentences complicated,
  • The average duration of a sound bite in broadcast media is nine seconds. Make certain you deliver your key messages in as few words as possible or you will find much of your message on the editing room floor!
  • The average number of messages reported in both print and broadcast media is three. Just when you thought you had so much to say, you really only have three key messages to deliver.

These media limitations can work in your favor. It just happens that people in stressful situations can only comprehend about three key messages, so let the 27/9/3 model be your guide. Even the order in which these messages is delivered is important. People are apt to retain the first and third message in an emergency, so pick your order with care!

There’s only one more model that I need to share regarding emergency messaging…that will be the topic of our next blog posting. See you then!