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Crisis Communications Lessons from the Sikh Temple Shooting

Posted on: October 12th, 2012 by: trefoil

What started as a bright Sunday morning in August quickly turned tragic.  A gunman opened fire at a Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wis., killing six worshippers before finally succumbing to police fire himself.  Meanwhile, as Froedtert Hospital staff went into crisis mode to treat the wounded, the global media spotlight set its sights on Milwaukee…..

Crisis is integral to the emergency room, but another department also had to be at the ready – the public relations team. Due to intense global interest, the PR team immediately faced nonstop media pressure, while also balancing the concerns of the victims, their families and hospital staff.

At a recent PRSA-WI luncheon, four members of Froedtert’s PR team shared their experience, as well as lessons you can apply in any business’s crisis communications planning.

Expect the Unexpected

Though by nature, the hospital is prepared for crisis; the temple shooting brought numerous unforeseen challenges, including communication barriers with Indian family members and media, coordination with key officials including Gov. Scott Walker, and miscommunication among law enforcement, emergency response and other parties.

Even if your company isn’t in the ER business, it’s still vulnerable to a crisis – misconduct by employees, sudden resignation of the CEO, product recalls, accidents, etc. Every company should have a good crisis plan in place to lead the way toward a better day.

As highlighted at the PRSA meeting, here are six basic steps to solid crisis communications planning.
1.  Identify potential crises for your business and industry.
2.  Analyze your organization’s state of readiness.

3.  Identify a crisis team – include employees from all areas, not just communications.

4.  Designate appropriate team roles, responsibilities and processes.

5.  Schedule media training for key employees.

6.  Practice.

Other takeaways from the meeting:

  • Use all available resources and make it a team effort – You can’t handle it all on your own.
  • Make sure contact info is current, including emergency phone chains.
  • Consider a news conference to reduce the constant demands on individuals.
  • Keep internal leaders up to date.
  • Media training is absolutely critical.
While the true test of readiness won’t be measured until crisis actually strikes, it’s never too early to get started on a plan to head off unnecessary chaos when the time does come. 

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