Government calls on public sector to help build crisis comms toolkit

The Government is calling on other public sector bodies to contribute to a best practice platform for crisis management, according to Cabinet Office head of civil contingency comms Carol McCall.

Speaking in the opening keynote at last week's (13 June) PRWeek Crisis Communications conference, McCall said the Government was looking at emergency comms.

"We've had in the past 24 months the most amazing range of situations — Salisbury [poisonings], Manchester Arena, Grenfell, the collapse of Monarch — we're very much at a point where we can say we've dealt with a range of things."

This has brought into sharp focus the Cabinet Office's comms remit, which includes working alongside other government departments, ensuring they get information and support to do their jobs.

"It's almost impossible to imagine a situation that involves just one government department in a crisis," McCall said.

Consequently, McCall and her department have been looking at how to make their comms planning more inclusive, "as effective as it's possible to be when it comes to dealing with crises and emergencies".

"A lot of that comes down to response," she said. "We've been looking not only in Government but with our immediate partners, such as emergency services and local government, at how best to deliver.

"It's not complete, but about 90 per cent there."

She outlined the Primer best practice platform, which can be used "across all aspects of what you do at the time of a crisis or emergency".

McCall hopes to have Primer online as a downloadable document in the "coming months", with supporting online information. "It's available to other organisations to input to this so they can all learn best practice," she said.

Standing for plan, rehearse, implement, maintain, evaluate and recover, here is an outline of the platform:

Plan

"It's absolutely essential to have a comms plan in place. Not just our comms plan, it's important to look at all aspects of having a plan in place. Know where your plan is and keep it up to date."

Rehearse

"You've got your plan but you need to maintain the momentum. Validate it — train staff to deal with the plan and, most importantly, test it. Effective testing of a comms plan is one of the hardest things to do. But until a plan has been tested, it's impossible to know if it will work."

Implement

"When a crisis hits, the speed and accuracy of the comms response can make a huge difference."

Maintain

"Once you've got you plan in place and told your team about it, make sure you're bringing in the rest of your organisation. Spokespeople should be briefed and comfortable with their roles, you must manage your social media, as well as establish and maintain your battle rhythm."

Evaluate

"You couldn't do anything in comms without looking at how to evaluate what you do. It has to be a reiterative process. Being able to assess the impact your comms are having is a vital part of managing your response. It can help you understand the media and stakeholder landscape."

Recover

"Often the 'Cinderella' in crisis management. By this stage you will have been into the communications process for the long term and that's where the comms team are going to play a significant role. Recovery is often overlooked as a final step in crisis comms."


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