How to Write a Crisis Communication Plan Part 5: Your Crisis Drill

By Gerard Braud, CSP, Fellow IEC 

Our crisis communication goal since the beginning of the year has been to focus on consistency and continuity, rather than short-term New Year’s resolutions. Today we look at effective ways to test your Crisis Communication Plan by holding a Crisis Communication Drill.

Many organizations have crisis drills or exercises, but they are heavily focused on emergency response, incident command, and natural disasters. While these are all good scenarios, many organizations fall short in their crisis drill because they:

  1. Fail to write news releases
  2. Fail to go through the news release approval process
  3. Fail to conduct news conferences
  4. Fail to test spokespeople
  5. Fail to test their crisis communications plan

Your Crisis Communications Drill is the 5th element of the Five Steps to Effective Crisis Communications system that we have been discussing since the beginning of the year.

A Crisis Communications Drill should test all teams for their ability to respond to the event.

How to Pick Your Crisis Drill Scenario

The scenario for the drill can come from any of the items you identified in Step 1 – Your Vulnerability Assessment. Your drill scenario does not need to be an emergency type issue. Remember, not every crisis is an emergency. Feel free to creatively select a smoldering crisis issue.

When Does the Drill Begin?

Generally you want to tell your team which day to block out for the drill. Some organizations pick a specific time, such as 9 – noon, followed by lunch, followed by up to two hours for the post-drill evaluation meeting. However, keep in mind that on the day of your real crisis, not everyone is at work, so a drill doesn’t have to have a full staff. Also, if you start a drill at rush hour when people are driving to work or taking the kids to school, you can effectively add stress and realism to your crisis drill.

Test the Crisis Communications Plan

The goal of your drill should be to:

  1. Test your crisis communications plan you wrote in Step 2
  2. Test the pre-written news releases that you wrote in Step 3
  3. Test the approval process of using those news releases
  4. Test the spokespeople that you media trained in Step 4
  5. Test your various teams to ensure they can all work together well

Realistic News Conferences

When it comes time for news conferences, make them realistic. The spokesperson should use the Pre-Written News Release as their script. Questions should be realistic and tough, without getting silly.

Post-Drill Evaluation

When the drill is over, evaluate all of the aspects of the drill and make improvements to your Crisis Communications Plan.

Ultimately, a Crisis Communications Drill lets you mess up in private so you don’t mess up in public.

Schedule a drill at least once a year, although many organizations do it once a quarter.

As we’ve mentioned all year, be consistent in doing this every year so that there is continuity and continuous improvement in your organization.

If you need to schedule a free strategy call or if you need ask about any of the Five Steps to Effective Crisis Communications, please use this link to schedule a free 15 minute strategy call with me.

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:

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Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash

How to Do a Crisis Simulation Exercise?

By Gerard Braud, CSP, Fellow IEC 

A crisis communications drill is the best way to test your crisis communications plan, your crisis communications news releases, your designated crisis spokespeople, and your crisis management team.

Click here to watch the Braudcast YouTube Video

You’ve been challenged this week to renew your focus in September on crisis communications. The challenge specifically dares you to complete all 5 steps to effective crisis communications before the end of 2019.

(Get more details when you download our free video course on the 5 Steps to Effective Crisis Communications)

After you have completed steps 1-4 of effective crisis communications, it is now time for you to test all of the elements and all of the people.

As you prepare your team for your drill, state clearly that:

Your goal is to mess up in private so that you never mess up in public.

-Gerard Braud

It is okay for you to let everyone know the day and date of the drill. However, you don’t want to announce the time of the drill if it can be avoided. An element of surprise is always useful.

In picking a start time, remember that most crises strike at the most inconvenient time. So give some thought to sending out a notification that the drill has begun about the time that your staff members are getting the kids off to school. That is a really bad time for a crisis and a really realistic time to begin a crisis drill.

While your drill can focus on an emergency situation such as a fire or explosion, keep in mind that a crisis communications drill can also focus on a cyber breech, a weather event, or accusations of executive misbehavior.

The drill scenario should be written like a murder mystery, complete with misdirection designed to trick your team members into possible false assumptions. Likewise, pepper your crisis drill injects with a variety of fake social media posts, fake videos, and fake eyewitness accounts. This will force your crisis management team and your crisis communications team to sort out the facts from fiction.

Test your crisis plan and your crisis management team for speed:

  • How long did it take to initially notify everyone of the possible crisis?
  • How long did it take for team members to gather once the drill notification was sent out?
  • How long did it take before the first news release was prepared, approved and released?
  • Was a pre-written news release used and did it undergo an excessive amount of scrutiny?
  • How quickly was a spokesperson able to appear before the mock media to conduct a news conference?
  • How well did the spokesperson perform?

Generally, when it comes to news releases and news conferences, your drill should contain at least two.

When and where possible, create decision-making conflicts so that members of your crisis team have to address moral, ethical, and procedural issues that could easily arise in the real world.

Take notes throughout your drill. Note key accomplishments. Note bottlenecks. Note conflict. Note times.

Those notes will become an important part of your post-drill evaluation.

On average, your drill should take three to four hours. Your post-drill evaluation usually takes one hour to 90 minutes.

Your drill becomes your roadmap for your future tasks:

  • Did your plan have flaws? If yes, correct the flaws.
  • Did members of your team get in each other’s way? Coach them to stay in their lane and let others do what they do best.
  • Did edits to pre-written news releases take too long?  Ask your leadership team to pre-approve the language in the pre-written news releases.
  • Did spokespeople fail or simply fail to be good enough? Quickly schedule a follow-up media training class.
  • Did people second-guess the directions outlined in the crisis communications plan? Schedule a full reading and edit of the crisis communications plan.

Finally, if your drill leaves room for improvement, then schedule another drill soon and practice until you get perfect.

Failing in a drill is acceptable. Failing in a real crisis is a real problem.

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:

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The Biggest Lie in Crisis Communications

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

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:

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The Biggest Lie in Crisis Communications

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



Lesson 11: Test Your Security Team During Your Crisis Communications Drill

By Gerard Braud

CrisisDrillGerardBraudWhile working with crisis communications clients, I provide a “first critical statement” template.  This template is intended to be read to the media, emailed to employees, and posted to the web in the first hour of a crisis when little is known about the emerging crisis. Some companies that operate facilities that have no spokespeople on site, but that have a security guard at the front gate. I’ve suggested that the template is simple enough that a security guard could go through low-level media training and be taught to deliver the message if media showed up at the front gate.

Amazingly and predictably, executives, in a semi-confidential and ultra condescending way, will say, “Have you met those people? They can’t be trusted with that!”

My response is, “Well, you gave ’em a gun.”

While some security companies employ highly trained security professionals, others employ people with skills equal to a day laborer. Some are taught to simply check badges and passes at a guard gate. Many have little education, poor verbal skills, and they come to work with a power attitude they developed when a badge was bestowed upon them.

Regardless of their skill level, three things are true:

1) If a crisis happens, chances are they will encounter the media and may be the first person the media approaches with cameras and questions.

2) If there is a chance for a real life media encounter, then they need to be an active part of your crisis communications drill.

3) They can be media trained to deliver the first critical statement. I’ve done it successfully many times.

As you plan your crisis communications drill scenario, let your mock media team know that testing the security team is an important part of the drill. Your mock media team should be reasonably assertive without being aggressive with the security personnel.

crisisdrillgerardbraud2The goal is to record on video tape what the guards do and say. Guards generally all do the same thing. Some instinctively say, “No comment.” Others verbally and forcefully tell the mock media that they cannot be on the site or that they will be arrested, even when the mock media are standing safely and legally on the public right of way. Many security guards feel a need to put their hands on the camera lens to block the view of the camera. Some try to physically push and escort mock reporters away.

It is somewhat comical from my standpoint because they do all the things they’ve ever seen other guards do in any bad television situation.

Security guards often are the proverbial worst first impression. What they say can and will be used against them in the court of public opinion.

Such behavior sends a message to the public that the company has done something wrong and that they have something to hide.

Remember, if a drill is your opportunity to mess up in private, so behaviors can be addressed and corrected, challenging the security team in your drill is important.

Furthermore, a low-level media training class needs to be created to teach these guards how they appear to the public when they act inappropriately with the media. They must be taught to politely instruct the media where to park. Next guards must be taught how to ask the media for credentials and a business card so the appropriate media contact in the company can be called. The guards also need to be taught a verbal script. This may be, “How can I help you?” “If you’ll provide me with your media credentials and a business card I’ll be glad to call someone who can speak with you.”

Entergy drill Gerard Braud 1When the guards are asked casual questions by either real or mock reporters, they need to respond, “My responsibilities are confined to maintaining security at this entrance, but I’m sure someone from the company will be able to answer all of your questions shortly, so if you will, please bare with me while I tend to may assigned duties, you should be hearing from someone soon.”

It wouldn’t hurt to have a printed statement at the entrance for the guard to hand out.

You only get one chance to make a good first impression. Make sure your security guards make a good first impression and that they are included in every crisis communications drill.


Lesson 10: Mock Media in Your Face at Your Crisis Communication Drill: Six Great Tips

By Gerard Braud

DSC_0159A real crisis is a pressure cooker and your crisis communications drill should replicate that. The pressure causes the media to be intense and often abrupt. The media may appear hostile. You will see similarities between media and sharks that sense blood in the water. Your crisis communications drill must duplicate that.

Here are six ways to do that.

1) Television cameras are intimidating, so make sure your mock media team has real television cameras to record each mock news conference. When your spokesperson or team of spokespeople enter the room for their mock news conference, have at least one camera person in their face with the camera as they enter. Get realistically and uncomfortably close. Make it real

2) Still photographers are also a part of real crises, so have a few of them in the room making noise with their shutters, setting off distracting flashes with each photo. Have them move about the room capturing the spokespeople from various angles.

3) During a real crisis, chances are your cell phone and desk phone would be ringing constantly as reporters try to get the inside scoop before their competition gets it. Therefore in a crisis communication drill, set up a phone bank of at least five people, with at least five fake personalities and fake names for each.

Personality #1 – A member of the local media

Personality #2 – A member of the national media

Personality #3 – A local mayor, councilperson or county official

Personality #4 – A state regulatory agency or state legislator

Personality #5 – A citizen with a host of fears and concerns

IMG_2621I give each personality a script containing likely questions they would ask and we schedule realistic calls at realistic intervals in a realistic sequence.

The challenge here is to force your communicators to stay on task to issue news releases in one hour or less of the onset of the crisis, while letting most calls roll to voice mail or passing their phone off to an assistant who can log the calls without answering any questions.

4) Media are not polite to one another during a real crisis, so they should not be polite to one another in your crisis communications drill. During your mock news conferences, let your mock reporters ask realistic questions simultaneously. Let them try to out shout one another. Force your spokesperson to take control of the news conference and the reporters by calling on specific reporters and recognizing questions at their discretion. This type of practice is invaluable.

5) Do your homework before the drill to know what previous crises are like skeletons in the closet of the organization being drilled. Nothing makes a spokesperson look like a deer in the headlights like asking a question based on serious facts. Just this week in a drill I did this to a spokesperson, when I quoted the company’s past news releases and past news articles about recent layoffs, losses in stock value, and the $511 Million spent for repairs at their facility featured in the drill. The kicker is a nugget I found in a news article about the company replacing a part which actually failed during the scenario of the drill. Having Google at your finger tips on an iPad or iPhone is amazing. Real reporters would do it to you, so in your crisis communications drill, your mock reporters must duplicate this behavior.

6) Fake live shots are now faster and easier than ever, because of iPads and iPhones (or the smart phone of your choice.) In a real crisis, a serious news conference might be carried live on television, followed by a live report from the reporter covering the story. To duplicate this, after every mock news conference I use the video feature on my iPad to record me doing a fake live report. I then hand the iPad to the crisis communication media monitoring team and let them see within seconds what I would have said if I were real media and this were a real event.

Braud Crisis Plans_6113Many executives admit that managing the crisis is the easy part, but managing the media is the tough part of a crisis. The truth is, most organizations spend more time, more money, and dedicate more people to emergency response then they do to crisis communications. Hence, if you dedicate more time, money and people to practicing and preparing for your crisis communications, you will have less difficulty with the media.

Each organization should conduct media training at least once a year for all spokespeople and again prior to every news conference. Spokespeople should include public relations professionals, subject mater experts, and top executives.

The great flaw is that most organizations treat media training as though it is a bucket list item that can be checked off and forgotten about. The key is maintaining and improving training based on modern communications.

Lesson 9: How to Keep Your Crisis Communications Drill Realistic?

By Gerard Braud

Entergy Drill Gerard braudWhat a nice complement I received today after a crisis communications drill with a nuclear power plant and four government agencies. The Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness thanked our mock media team for the intense questioning and realism of our news mock conferences.

“I participated in a crisis drill last week and the news conferences were kind of a joke,” he said. “They had a bunch of students asking questions and it just got silly. Today felt like the real thing.”

Wow #CrazyFlattered #KeepingItReal

The last thing you want in your crisis communication drill is for people to be silly and treat it as though it is a game. My drills are so serious that I’ve successfully made spokespeople emotionally break down and cry at the podium and on two occasions. People involved have been fired because the drill exposed their complete incompetence in their jobs.

The purpose of a crisis communications drill is to test your skills and abilities so that if necessary, they can be modified after the drill in order to improve performance during a real crisis.

DSC_0011Here are five tips to keep it real:

1) Build your crisis scenario around something that is highly likely, especially if people within your organization are in denial about how likely the scenario is to happen. Such a scenario will immediately send a feeling of dread over many drill participants. It is helpful if the facilitator can immediately and repeatedly bring the roll players to the point at which they mutter, “Oh sh*t.” This emotional trigger is just one of many emotional triggers that you want to employ. In a real crisis, emotions of dread, fear, panic and anxiety are all brought to the surface. It is the job of your facilitator to bring those emotions to the forefront of a drill.

2) Make the drill scenario big enough that a real crisis of this nature would bring out the media, which in the case of the drill, forces you to have several mock news conferences to test your spokespeople. The folks who role play as mock media need to be smart and mature, and capable of asking realistic questions that realistically challenge your spokespeople.

3) Judge your crisis communications team on how well they followed their crisis communications plans. The plans I write are usually about 50 pages long and are designed to be read and executed in sequential order so that nothing is forgotten in the way of communications. Too many flawed plans are just six to ten pages long, they only state standard operating procedures and for the most part, they are useless during your crisis. The 50 page plan I customize for my clients can get you flawlessly through the first two hours of your crisis, with directions for subsequent communications beyond two hours if needed.

4) Social media is a part of the real world and it needs to be a part of your drill. The facilitator and/or mock media role players should inject rumors, photos, videos and posts that might appear on social media if the event were real.

5) Realistically bother the heck out of as many people as possible with phone calls. In a real crisis the media and worried members of the community would be calling employees wanting information. I like to have a phone bank with at least five people who each play five personalities. I provide them with a list of phone numbers of people they should be calling periodically during the drill.

The bottom line is your crisis communications drill is designed to be your preparation for a real event. Make your drill every bit as realistic as an actual crisis event.



Lesson 6: Who Should Participate in Your Crisis Communications Drill?

By Gerard Braud

Trainwreck CEOVarious teams within your organization can organize crisis drills. If no one else within your company, government agency or non-profit is organizing an annual crisis drill, then individuals within the communications department can take the lead to organize a drill.

Ideally, to get a well rounded drill you want to test your public relations team and their ability to craft and disseminate effective communications in a timely manner. Additionally, Emergency Managers and Incident Commanders may be called upon to participate in any type of drill designed to test emergency response to a rapidly evolving crisis such as a workplace shooting or fire. If the crisis drill scenario involves the disruption of production or disruption to the supply chain or any upset at a facility, the risk management team should also be part of the planning and execution of the crisis drill.

Together, these three teams must work to each perform their assigned task in a prescribed amount of time.  They must work to support one another with shared information and shared decision-making, all under the supervision of the Crisis Management Team.

A drill is designed to replicate an actual event. Held on a clear sunny day, a crisis drill prepares you and your organization for your darkest day. If you discover on a sunny day that members of the various teams are not functioning well together, you have time to correct the bad behavior or bad decision making before a real crisis happens.

9thWard-KatrinaVersary-Media_0406There are exceptions to this rule. Sometimes it is possible to test just the crisis communications team and the leadership team during a drill that simulates a smoldering crisis, rather than a sudden crisis. For example, instead of simulating a workplace shooting, build a scenario centered around a smoldering issue like executive behavior or discrimination. Such a drill will test the ethical decision making of your leaders. It will test their commitment to communicate pro-actively about such an event, and it will test the communications team for their ability to word-smith a perfect communiqué for what is often the most difficult of all crises.

Keep in mind that a smoldering crisis does not trigger the incident command plan or the risk management plan. This also proves once again that a crisis communications plan is always an important tool and document to have because it must guide your communications activity with other teams and also independent of other teams and their plans.


Lesson 5: Equal Parts of Your Crisis Drill: Add Crisis Communication

By Gerard Braud 

DSC_0002Too many crisis drills are lopsided. They are often organized by Emergency Managers who primarily want to measure the decision making and response time of those who must address the physical aspects of a crisis. Often missing from these drills is the realistic aspects of “pesky” reporters “getting in everybody’s way” and wanting interviews.

In a real crisis, there will be many things happening at once and therefore any drill you conduct should have equal parts of all of the real aspects.

If the drill is to simulate a fire and explosion, equal parts should be planned and executed by the Incident Command Team, the Risk Management Team, and the Crisis Communications Team.

Because the media will be involved in covering many crises that you could experience, mock media need to be a part of your crisis drill. During the drill, the facilitator should plan the scenario in such a way that there are at least two opportunities for news conferences to test the skills of spokespeople. Those mock news conferences can be done either indoors or outdoors — it doesn’t matter. The main thing is that they are realistic.

If the drill centers on a fire or explosion scenario, chances are in a real situation, media would be at your door step in 30-60 minutes.  This means your crisis drill should be organized in such a way that a spokesperson must deliver the first message within one hour or less of the onset of the crisis. My first critical statement template is a perfect format for delivering a few basic facts in the early hour of a crisis. Download a free copy here by using the coupon code CRISISCOMPLAN.

During the drill, a second news conference should be held prior to the start of the second hour of the event.

Braud extraTo make the drill even more realistic, create a pool of mock reporters who sit at a phone bank and make phone calls to various individuals within your organization during the course of the drill. Don’t over do it, but make it realistic, just as real reporters would do.

When I facilitate a crisis drill, I add two additional layers of realism. The first is to use my iPad to record fake live shots at appropriate intervals during the drill. I then hand off my iPad to players in the drill so they can view what the media would actually be saying during the crisis. My second layer of realism is to inject fake social media posts to simulate what the public would be saying on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

Drills should be designed to replicate realistic behaviors and responses by all of the same people who would be involved in a response to the actual event. Please don’t leave communications out of the mix. Please add an equal mix of all aspects of the crisis to make your drill more realistic with the intent of making all of your role-players well rounded and professional.

Lesson 2: “This is a Drill”

By Gerard Braud

Media_Relations_CamerasRule 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.

Braud Crisis Plans_6113Sometimes 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.