Discovery implemented crisis plan when dealing with gunman

SILVER SPRINGS, MD: On September 1, a lone gunman named James Jay Lee entered the headquarters of media company Discovery Communications, and Discovery was able to put into action its crisis communications plan.

SILVER SPRINGS, MD: On September 1, a lone gunman named James Jay Lee entered the headquarters of media company Discovery Communications, claiming he had explosives and holding three employees in the lobby.

News of the situation hit the mainstream media and the Internet, with Twitter serving as a go-to resource for people following the situation. Discovery was able to put into action its crisis communications plan, which included social media and helped determine who was in charge, what constituencies to communicate with, and how to do so, explained Gayle Weiswasser, VP of social media communications at Discovery Communications.

"All our direction was coming straight from internal communications," she added. "Every move was made in lock-step with the official decisions being made about communications."

There were 1,900 Discovery employees in the building, as well as 100 children in the building's day care facility. The company focused on those people first, using e-mail to communicate with employees what was happening and when it was time to evacuate the building. They were then able to use traditional media relations and social media to communicate with its other constituencies: the press, fans and viewers, and others who were following the situation.

Once evacuated, the communications team continued to work with its divisions like social media, as well as law enforcement, to execute an effective a safe communications plan. They were stationed at nearby businesses and restaurants, and then later worked from home.

"The company was, first and foremost, focused on getting our employees and children to safety; communicating quickly and effectively to employees about where they should go, when the building would re-open; issuing a public statement once we had all the facts in place from law enforcement; and working with the press," said Catherine Frymark, SVP of communications for Discovery.

On social media, the company decided to stay silent until the situation was resolved, Weiswasser said.

"It was a very unpredictable and volatile situation happening, with an obviously irrational individual," she said. "We didn't know what access he might have to the Internet. We just did not want to have any content going out of the company that could have any kind of an impact on his behavior."

While the story spread via Twitter, individual Discovery employees used their personal accounts to inform friends and family that they were safe, and Discovery teams at other offices were also tweeting and communicating what they knew, generally links to news coverage.

The situation ended with the shooting death of Lee around 5pm, but Discovery waited until law enforcement was sure there were no other dangers to the building. At 6pm, they held a press conference with David Leavy, EVP of global communications and corporate affairs for Discovery.

Later that night, around 10pm, Discovery posted a blog with its official statement, "thanking the law enforcement community and all the people who had acted on our behalf to get the situation resolved," Weiswasser said.

Then, the company "started to energize our official platform network," Weiswasser added, including Twitter, Facebook, accounts for various Discovery networks and shows, and any other sites where people had written things and asked questions.

Within two days, more than 62,000 people viewed the original Discovery blog post, compared to 23,000 page views for the blog for the three months leading up to September 1, Weiswasser said. On the original blog post, more than 14,000 people "liked" the official statement through Facebook, and there were "thousands of re-tweets and @ replies on Twitter, linking to the post," she added.

The company was astounded by the support and outreach from the community, Weiswasser said, as fans and Discovery talent all reached out to give support. Over the next 12 hours after the original blog post, the company posted two blogs: a response from one of the employees who was stuck in the building, and a photo of Discovery employees back in the building on September 2, once again saying thanks.

"The point of that day wasn't to editorialize in any way or get into any of the details," Weiswasser said, noting Discovery kept the identities of the three individuals a secret until they were ready to come forward. "It was to just say everyone is safe and let everyone know how unbelievably grateful we were."

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