CRISIS COMMUNICATIONS : DEALING WITH ANTHRAX AND BIO TERRORISM
October 2001-------The Israel News Agency consists of some of Israel's most respected and seasoned professionals in the area of public relations / crisis communications. Professionals who provide advice to both commercial and governmental entities in times of crisis.
As a public service to City, State and Federal authorities, please find the following advice for communicating with the public during a biological chemical threat.
1. Always keep in mind that the public has a right to know. The public must be respected for it's intelligence. If you do not communicate facts to the public immediately and accurately you and your government body will lose credibility and control.
2. When dealing with a crisis, in this case an terrorist attack using biological and or chemical weapons - your government entity must be able to respond immediately on a 24/7 basis. Your relationship with the media must be a warm, respectful and professional one.
3. You avoid panic
by illustrating that your government entity is in control. You avoid panic
by providing the public with tools which places them in control of the
situation as well. You avoid panic by providing ALL law enforcement and
disaster agencies with the facts!
4. You must confirm all facts of a terrorist attack before revealing them to the public. Gather the best scientific authorities to ascertain the facts and then present these authorities with the facts at a news conference. News conferences should be held daily - so that the media and the public see consistency in handling the crisis. The news conference should be rehearsed so that it appears organized.
5. All members addressing the news conference must speak clearly and slowly. You must look and act confidant at all times. You must project confidence and authority. If the public witnesses any other behavior they will over react. Recently the authorities in the States have been giving "mixed messages" to the public. "We are expecting an imminent terrorist attack" says the FBI while other authorities are saying continue life as normal. Rather provide the public with daily briefings, with "alerts" and let the public know what is normal and what is not. Feelings of anxiety are normal. It is okay to feel a bit anxious, one can tell the public, but at the same time inform that that all health and law enforcement authorities are at work to protect. Let the public know that as news arises they will be informed and told how to react.
6. If the threat of a bio chemical attack is real - provide the public with knowledge on how to protect themselves. In Israel, during the Gulf War, we consistently gave the public a feeling of control and confidence by providing them with gas masks, instructions on how to create a "sealed room" and an uninterrupted flow of information. As we have "emergency exits" in building, movie theaters and offices - we need to have "sealed rooms" in areas of real danger.
7. We are at war. And the public must realize this. That yes we are all at risk but the authorities are doing all they can to reduce that risk. Free speech is a luxury that a democracy can enjoy during peace time, the public must know that these conditions change when a country is at war - free speech can provide the enemy with information that can hurt the public and our ability to win the war.
8. Television and radio must be addressed and controlled during wartime conditions by the Federal, State and Local authorities. This is critical to maintain order, avoid panic and keep the public calm. Normal programming must continue as attacks are threatened and even taking place. Programming will only be interrupted for "special announcements and alerts". During an attack - the community must be informed as to what to do. "Instructional videos" must be played calmly over and over again, in different languages, so that all will know what is happening and how to react." You must give the public a sense of security and control over their fate - otherwise you will lose their confidence and attention.
IF YOU ARE A FEDERAL, STATE OR LOCAL AUTHORITY SEEKING PROFESSIONAL ADVICE REGARDING CRISIS COMMUNICATIONS DURING TERRORIST ATTACKS / WAR INCIDENTS - PLEASE CONTACT US AT: firstname.lastname@example.org