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What can the UK police teach us about crisis communication?

One thing that the tragedies in Manchester and London Bridge can teach us is the primary importance of providing information in the midst of a public safety crisis.

In the Manchester incident, the Greater Manchester Police twitter feed updated every 15-30 minutes as events unfolded, warning people to stay away, and offering help to those affected by the incident.

In London, the police have been hailed for their ‘run, hide, tell’ strategy which has been credited with saving many lives during the incident.

The London Police instructed people to run, and if they couldn’t then hide, and then call emergency services for help.

In both cases, the police had limited information during a crisis in which many lives were at risk, but they put it to as much use as they could to keep people safe.

They have been heaped with praise for their response to the incident, including bringing it to a swift end.

What can crisis communicators learn from these events?

In a crisis where there is any kind of threat to public safety, often the first response from an organisation is to keep quiet until there is more information available.

The thinking is that if a threat never materialises, then no harm no foul.

We saw this in 2006 when rat poison was placed in their self-serve salad bars by a disturbed patron at Sizzler’s Toowong and Myer Centre restaurants.

Faced with a suspicious substance that had the potential to put the public at risk, Sizzler’s management made the decision to send the pellets away for independent testing, rather than notifying health authorities or the community about the risk.

Once it was confirmed that the pellets were, in fact, rat poison, the subsequent declaration was met with community outrage at the delay in communication. Sizzler’s food safety reputation was dealt substantial damage, and legislation was even enacted to prevent a repeat of this sort of delay.

The lesson here is, if there’s any chance your organisation could be causing any physical harm to anyone, you have an obligation to let people know immediately so they can take an action to ensure their own safety.

Not only will this response safeguard the community, it will also work to safeguarding your reputation. Effective and swift communication can save lives and save brands.

What do I do?

Take a leaf out of the Metropolitan Police’s book and craft a simple and clear message to communicate to the public. Fast and understandable communication will protect people and protect your brand.

Develop a crisis management plan which includes chains of command and clear lines of communication, this will ensure your organisation presents a clear and coherent front in the face of a crisis.

It’s also important to keep the community up to date with information as you discover it – designate a spokesperson and ensure that they are aware of developments as they occur.

Finally, remember that the safety of your staff and of the public is your number one priority – any short term reputational dividend that is delivered by a lax crisis response will be decimated if lives are lost as a result of your health or safety crisis.