By Gerard Braud
Rule number one during a crisis communications drill is to never have anyone accidentally think a real crisis is happening, when it is not. Hence, in all written communications and on every phone conversation and radio conversation, you must generously use the phrase, “This is a Drill.”
For phone calls, the first words out of your mouth when the other party says, “Hello,” should be, “This is a Drill.” When the other party hears these words from you, they should reply, “This is a Drill.”
These basic rules need to be covered by your drill facilitator before and during the drill.
Likewise, when your phone call is concluded, your last words should be, “This is a Drill.” At that time the other party should reply, “This is a Drill.”
The reason this is important is because you never want someone to overhear details that sound like a crisis and think there really is a crisis, which might trigger panic, rumors, or other unintended consequences.
If two-way radios are a part of your drill, the same protocol should also be followed.
If e-mails are used during the drill, the phrase, “This is a Drill,” should be used in the subject line. It should then open and close the message within the e-mail. If Word Documents, PDFs or printed documents are used during the drill, each one should have a bold message at the beginning and end of the text that says, “This is a Drill.” Also, create a 50% watermark on an angle within these documents that says, “This is a Drill.”
In addition to avoiding unintended consequences internally, this phrase is important so that agencies such as police, the fire department, or the media don’t somehow hear a radio transmission and respond.
As a courtesy, you may wish to call your local police and fire dispatcher to inform them that a drill is underway. Generally, I do not tell the media a drill is happening because I don’t want the media to attempt to create a news story about my drill, because I don’t want to enlighten the media about some ugly events that might actually be a possibility.
Sometimes when a drill involves a school or airport, and it is conducted in conjunction with police and fire departments, the agencies turn it into a news event designed to be a media event that shows their preparedness. I’m not a fan of this, because when things go wrong in a drill, I don’t want the organization’s unpreparedness to become part of a news story.
Remember, the goal of a drill is to create an opportunity for organizations to practice how to do things right, with that ability to allow people to screw up in private so they don’t screw up in public during an actual event.
“This is a Drill.” This is not a publicity event.
In our next article we will discuss some of the goals and objectives of your drill, so you will have a clear idea of how to measure success.