What Does a Crisis Communications Drill Need to Test?

press-conference-1166343_1920By Gerard Braud

Prepare for your crisis on a clear sunny day. Your darkest day is the worst day to deal with a crisis.

So, how do you do that? With a Crisis Communications Drill.

A Crisis Communications Drill can simulate realistic emotions and pressures in a controlled environment, where you can mess up in private, rather than messing up during a real crisis.

Your goal in every Crisis Communications Drill should be to test multiple aspects of the organization. These are the seven most important things I test in the drills for my clients:

1) Is there a properly written Crisis Communications Plan that is so thorough that it can be read during the drill, word-for-word, in real time? Does it ultimately result in flawless performance by the Crisis Communications Team?

2) Did that Crisis Communications Plan allow the organization to begin issuing news releases, postings to the web, texts, and e-mails to employees within one hour or less of the onset of the crisis?

3) Did executives within the organization slow down the communications process by excessively word-smithing news releases?

4) Did the Crisis Communications Plan have pre-written news releases that were pre-approved on a clear sunny day by the executive team, so they could be released quickly without re-writes?

5) Are their multiple spokespeople who are qualified to stand before my mock media and survive their questioning?

6) Did misguided egotists step out of their assigned roles and try to take over other people’s jobs? Did they withhold information that kept others from properly doing their jobs, thereby compromising the organization in its crisis response?

7) Did the drill create enough realistic drama and anxiety, to add a level of fear into all participating teams? Did it help them realize drills and media training must be treated like an athlete treats their sport? Did it help them understand that regular practice on a clear sunny day makes you your best on your worst day?

If your drill covers all of these bases, you are on your way towards effective crisis communications. You are not done, however, because crisis drills must be practiced multiple times throughout the year.


Crisis communications and media training expert Gerard Braud, CSP, Fellow IEC is based in New Orleans. Organizations on five continents have relied on him to write their crisis communications plans and to train their spokespeople. He is the author of “Don’t Talk to the Media Until…”

More crisis communications articles:

3 Lessons the Melania Trump Coat Can Teach All Public Relations People

The Biggest Lie in Crisis Communications

4 Steps Every Company Needs to Take in Order to Avoid the Default Spokesperson



Lesson 4: Test Your Crisis Communication Speed

By Gerard Braud

Braud Crisis Drill_5723*How quickly can you get approval for and issue a statement to the media, your employees and other key stakeholders during a crisis? Your crisis communication plan should clearly spell out what is acceptable and what is not acceptable.

It greatly disturbs me to see that some companies and government agencies think five hours from the onset of a crisis is an acceptable time frame to respond within. It disturbs me even more to know that some organizations think tomorrow or the day after is soon enough. Just this week, while speaking to a group of public relations professionals in Washington, D.C. several of the attendees said it often takes their organizations one to two days to approve a news release.

Wow! It is 2013 and we live in a world where social media gives details about a crisis the second it happens. Speed is important.

In every crisis communication plan I write, it states that the first communications should happen in one hour or less. Admittedly, this is about 59 minutes too long, but is likely a realistic amount of time in a corporate setting where statements must be written by the public relations team and approved by executives before being released.

My key to speed is the use of a First Critical Statement. It is a pre-written, fill-in-the-blank document that allows an organization to release a few basic facts until more is known. The goal is to control the flow of accurate information rather than allowing rumors to spread on social media and speculation to run rampant among the media.

(Download a free copy with this link. Enter this coupon code to get it as a free gift: CRISISCOMPLAN )

If your crisis communications plan has this template in it, you should be using it in your crisis communications drill.

Katrina Media_0318Your crisis communications drill, while allowing you to test your crisis communications plan, allows you to test your public relations department and their ability to gather facts quickly. The team must fill out the First Critical Statement, get it approved by executives, then release it to the world. It also allows you to test your executives, who must be taught that time is critical and that major rewrites can slow the communications process.

Yesterday’s article referred to feeding little bits of information to the media, just as you would serve a buffet. Following that analogy, the First Critical Statement is the salad.

As the crisis communications drill continues to unfold, your crisis communications plan should dictate that by the start of the second hour of your crisis, a more detailed statement should be released to the media, your employees, and other key audiences.

Katrina Media_0327The plans I write for my clients may have over 100 of these pre-written statements in the addendum of the plan. These are also fill-in-the-blank and multiple choice documents written on a clear sunny day that can be quickly modified and released to the key audiences. They can also be pre-approved by executives on a clear sunny day. Such pre-approval eliminates approval delays on the day of your crisis.

Your crisis communications drill allows you to again test the speed at which the documents are modified and the speed at which they are approved.

Speed is critical when you need to communicate in a crisis. Your crisis communications drill helps you to perfect that.


Lesson 3: Test Your Crisis Communications Plan

By Gerard Braud

IMG_2621There are many articles throughout this blog about what makes for a good crisis communications plan. I believe so many documents that proport to be crisis communications plans fall far short of what is needed to effectively communicate when “it” hits the fan.

A great way to find out if your crisis communications plan is up to par is to test it with a crisis communications drill.

During a crisis, anxiety is high, tensions run high, and pressures can be enormous. During times like this, it is easy for important things to fall through the cracks. However, if you write them all down on a clear sunny day and organize them in sequential order, then you have the foundation for a good crisis communications plan. Furthermore, if you can easily read them during your crisis and follow the pre-ordained steps, you are able to achieve effective communication.

I don’t know of anyone else who tells you to read your crisis communications plan during the crisis.  That may be because most crisis communications plans only list the rule of standard operating procedures.  Most plans fail to be organized chronologically with clear directions that you can read and follow during your crisis. My prescription is to have a plan written with clear directions and follow it every step of the way throughout your crisis communications drill.

This important step accomplishes several goals. First, you get in the habit of carrying your communication plan with you. Secondly, you learn to trust your plan and trust that in your worst times it will guide you toward a brighter conclusion. Thirdly, if there is a flaw in your plan, your crisis communications drill will expose that flaw, allowing you to make important rewrites.

youtubeKeep in mind also that the tools of communication change constantly. This means your crisis communications plan needs to be a living document. What worked during last year’s drill may need to be revised this year because the tools of communication have changed. Just look at how in recent years, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube went from being non-existent to being available but irrelevant, to being a vital consideration and important communications tool in a crisis.

A crisis communications drill is designed to let you screw up in private on a clear, sunny day, so you don’t screw up in public on your darkest day. The same is true for your plan. Discover any flaws on a sunny day and fix them before your darkest day comes.