Should comms professionals be talking about terrorism?

The recent announcement that a further 3,000 armed police would be deployed on the streets of Britain to prepare for a "not if, but when" terror attack, should also be a call to action for crisis management experts to prepare clients for their worst possible case scenario.

Should comms professionals be talking about terrorism? asks Raine Marcus
Should comms professionals be talking about terrorism? asks Raine Marcus
As a former journalist who covered near-daily terror attacks overseas for many years, I witnessed first-hand the effect of such attacks on companies and the public. 

Today’s jihadi terrorists, such as IS, IS-inspired "lone wolves,"  Al Qa’ida or its fundamentalist offshoots are only too aware of the importance of the media and of creating fear-fuelled headlines. 

Jihadi terrorists’ sole aim is to kill and maim as many as possible, while disrupting normal life and creating widespread terror.   

Technologically sophisticated videos of stomach-churning punishments meted out to hostages have created their desired effect among the media and public. 

Suicide bombers often film themselves before an attack, sending the footage to a television network in a chilling testimony to their barbaric deed.

No industry is immune from a terror attack, whether pharmaceutical, oil and gas, food or tourist firms, public or private sector. 

The basic rules of any crisis scenario also apply to terrorism: deploying a "dark" website, the ubiquitous manual, forming a core crisis response team, an emergency hotline, preparing key messages, implementing stakeholder outreach, and so on. 

But when lives are lost and people are injured, the human element is paramount, with messages of compassion and commiseration vital. 

As communications professionals, we may not be privy to advice our clients receive from police, but we will need to work in cooperation.

Corporate security teams, many with a police or army background but often with limited media-handling skills, will also have measures in place. It pays to befriend and work with them on simulation exercises and during an actual crisis. 

There may be more stakeholders than in a regular crisis: police will play a primary role in speaking to the press; rescue services and hospitals may be involved, and politicians will voice their ten cents’ worth. 

The most senior company spokesperson – preferably the CEO – should be constantly available, while the identities of the dead and injured kept confidential before families are notified. 

Today’s risk is not just limited to a bomb in a suitcase; other scenarios may include a hostage situation, kidnapping of senior executives, random knifings or shootings, suicide bombers and more. 

Overseas company employees and sites may be targets too, presenting their own challenges of dealing with foreign media and authorities.

As a company’s best (or worst ambassadors), employees should be briefed separately with timely, accurate information, and advised on referring the media to the crisis team. 
After the initial panic stage has passed, the media and the public may search for who to blame for the disaster, with clients under intense scrutiny.

Was it an insider job? Were employees vetted? Was security too lax? How did the company prepare?

Spokespersons need to respond coolly and calmly to an onslaught of tough questions, while appearing confident, compassionate and clear.

Police chiefs recently announced that although thousands of attacks have been thwarted this past year, it is impossible to prevent them all.

As communications professionals, we also need to adapt to this new and terrifying world order.

Raine Marcus is a former senior correspondent for The Jerusalem Post and founder of Radar PR

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