Editorial: Corp comms has terror role to play

As the Government finally announces plans to cope with detailed preparation for potential terrorist attacks - prompting predictably alarmist headlines - defence experts have also delivered a chilling warning to corporate communicators about their responsibilities.

At a conference in central London, Defence Review publisher Gwyn Winfield told delegates that the nature of risk has changed radically post 9/11 and that businesses need rapidly to revise their crisis management plans.

According to Winfield, many companies do not understand the nature of the risks now being posed by the possibility of a chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear assault and that an inappropriate response could escalate the scale of the incident.

Talking to PRWeek, Bruce George MP, chair of the Commons defence select committee, has also warned that the private sector is not doing enough to prepare for coping with potential terrorist activity.

Detailed plans have been put in place by utilities and City institutions but leading multi-national corporations and global brands can't unfortunately ignore the fact that in this new age of uncertainty, they might be considered as much a viable target as landmark sites in the City and Westminster.

Like most crisis communication planning, the scenario painted sounds alarmist and horrific. And certainly no one is suggesting that companies blow next year's marketing budget on leaky decontamination suits and gas masks.

But it does pose a very difficult challenge for internal communications and crisis management teams. On the one hand, an organisation will be judged by how well it has protected its staff in the awful event of a terrorist incident. On the other hand, organisations also need to guard against creating unnecessary panic, damaging staff morale and productivity.

While tensions may be heightened due to the potential for an imminent strike on Iraq, the threat of terrorism is likely to be with us for years to come and organisations need to find a way to live with it.

If a company believes that it could be at risk, what it cannot do is bury its head in the sand. Employers need to take a professional approach to educating staff about appropriate responses to any threat.

An honest, factual approach at this stage could actually create a greater sense of confidence in the company among employees, may well save lives in the event of an attack and will certainly help to ensure a corporation's reputation as a responsible employer.

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