Four months after the Manchester bombing, we're still absorbing the comms lessons

For many people the world changed on 22 May this year. The horrific terror attack at the Manchester Arena led to the loss of 22 people who never went home and many hundreds were injured.

Four months on, we're still absorbing the comms lessons from the Manchester bombing, says Amanda Coleman
Four months on, we're still absorbing the comms lessons from the Manchester bombing, says Amanda Coleman

As a communication professional, we train and plan to deal with a crisis and to be ready when needed.

After almost 20 years in police communication I have seen many things and faced many challenges, but nothing prepared me for the tough test that I and the whole team were going to face.

We are a relatively small team and are around 35 per cent smaller than we were 10 years ago when our focus was mainly on media relations and spending our substantial advertising budget. Social media had not yet taken hold.

What we faced that night and in the following days stretched us almost to breaking point and, four months on, the challenge is in many ways greater than in the hours immediately after the attack.

Our planning to deal with a crisis is almost totally focused on those initially hours and days. We spend very little time on the recovery communication and the return to normality.

The aftermath of the incident is still being dealt with and there is a backlog of work that didn’t get done and we are trying to return to normal business.

All this with the same number of people on the team, and these people had worked long hours over many days and desperately needed some time off.

Four months on there is still an ongoing investigation, we are still working to support families and victims, and we continue to work with partner agencies across Manchester on the recovery and managing the impact on the city.

The events that night and particularly those victims and their families are never out of our thoughts.

I still get emotional when I talk about the amazing work that the team did. Every one of them stepped up to make sure we got the job done. They cancelled holidays, they changed arrangements, they worked nights, they travelled across the country, and they did whatever they needed to do.

Some are fairly new to the world of police communication, but for all of us it was a test.

I thought I was indestructible. I now realise I am not and I feel the pressure in the same way the team did.

Amanda Coleman, head of corporate comms at Greater Manchester Police

In the weeks that have followed we have already rewritten our emergency communication plan to take account of the learning.

There are also three key elements for crisis communications that I feel are essential after dealing with the past four months:

• Put people at the centre: The victims, their families, the injured and all those affected had to be at the heart of all our communication activity. We plan for incidents and crises but often the individual issues, the human stories and the effect on people are lost in the events and the response. We have to learn and put them at the heart of our response.

• Understand the mood and tone: it doesn’t matter what you want to say, it matters how it sits against the underlying mood of society. Facts are fine, but if you haven’t taken account of what is being said and the wider environment, you could be storing up problems.

• Remember the team: never forget the importance of looking after the communication team. They will be tired, they will get emotional and we need to ensure we provide help and support at the right time, whether that is in the initial days following the incident or months down the line. We need to be in peak condition if we are going to be at our most effective

I thought I was indestructible. I now realise I am not and I feel the pressure in the same way the team did.

What got us through is teamwork and it still helps us on a daily basis. The work of communication teams goes on behind the scenes and that is where it should be.

But the support and recognition from our colleagues across the PR and communication world did, and continues to, lift our spirits.

Our experiences have been a huge test, but we know that we can go home to our families and 22 people were never able to return home from that concert.

We continue to do all we can to help the families, the injured, the organisation and the city to recover.

Amanda Coleman is head of corporate comms at Greater Manchester Police

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