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 8: Which Team is in Charge During Your Crisis Drill?

By Gerard Braud

Gerard Braud * 15I worked in drills in which I facilitate everything on behalf of the crisis communications team, while also developing the scenario for the drill. I’ve also worked in drills in which the emergency manager selects the drill scenario and acts as lead facilitator. Simultaneously, I facilitate only the cascading events dealing with internal and external communications, as well as managing the mock media.

The fact is, I don’t care which team is in charge, as long as every team gets to experience the realistic anxiety and decision making necessary for everyone to learn.

A crisis communications drill is an opportunity for all teams to execute their respective plans to test their readyness, while also making sure that each team can coexist with the others, both in a drill and in a real crisis.

The bottom line is just make sure someone sets the course to have at least one drill a year. Remember, a drill allows you to mess up in private so you never mess up during a real crisis.

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 1: Why Have a Crisis Communications Drill?

By Gerard Braud 

Entergy Drill Gerard braudWould you rather screw up in public or screw up in private? That’s really what a crisis communications drill is all about. On a clear sunny day you have the ability to practice for how you will respond and behave on your darkest day.

A crisis communications drill is designed to allow you to test your crisis communications plan and your crisis communications team.  It tests how you co-exist and interact with your incident command plan, your risk management plan, and crisis management team.

In this series of articles, you will learn some of the sneaky things I like to do when I facilitate a crisis communications drill for my clients. Hopefully you will be inspired to be as sneaky in the drills you conduct.

The concept of messing up in private is foreign to many organizations. Often the people who lead companies think they can magically wing it on the day of the crisis.  They think their public relations and communication team will magically make a crisis go away with a few news releases written in the heat of the moment.

Denial among leaders and an unwillingness to invest time and money to prepare for a crisis is frustrating to many in public relations. It is frustrating to me on a daily basis as I observe the same mistakes made in a crises and news events.

Yet, many PR people have discovered, as I have, that one crisis communications drill each year can produce amazing results.

A hard hitting, anxiety filled, realistic drill puts the fear of God into executives. They get a healthy dose of reality. If the reality check shows their weakness, they are more willing to help you budget time and money for important crisis communications tools and training. They may provide funding for a properly written crisis communication plan, budget for annual media training, and for an annual crisis communications drill.

Let’s face it – the annual holiday party will cost much more than all three of these.

Tomorrow, we’ll examine the most important words you can say during a drill.