How to prepare crisis and terrorism comms

Do your crisis comms plans include how to prepare for and manage threats from terrorists? How strong is the security culture in your organisation?

If you’ve not considered these topics before, this article will help you. It contains news of a freshly released piece of research and a toolkit. You’ll find guidance including how to develop security-minded communications.

I encourage you to check out what has been produced and invest time as a Comms team to talk through your approach, so you know what you’d do. Planning when you are not under pressure is critical to give you the best chance of communicating well.

Let’s take a look at what’s been published today…

What is the research?
The Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) has partnered with the Government’s Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure (CPNI) to deliver best practice guidance for communications professionals on the preparation and management of threats from hostile actors.

The 38 page guide is hot off the press and features a communications toolkit designed to help PR professionals mitigate the harmful effects of terrorist incidents on brands, businesses and communities.

I welcome its publication and thank the parties involved for the opportunity for Comms pros to access tangible, relevant and current advice. Hopefully you will never need to fully refer to the information in here, but it’s worth reading, analysing where you are at now and taking steps to lay a solid foundation.

You can get hold of the guidance here.

The guidance encourages professionals to be wary of the diverse threats facing organisations; from left and right wing terrorism to cyber crime and hacktivism.

How was it created?
The document is informed by CPNI research based on interviews with 30 communications heads and security professionals from 24 organisations that have experienced a terrorist-related incident.

The research found that the success of communication is often determined by the strength of security culture within the organisation.

As a result, the guidance encourages PR professionals to align closely with the security function as part of crisis preparations. Does that resonate with you? What’s your security culture like?

Making a plan

The guidance was produced by Sarah Pinch Chart.PR, FCIPR, Dan Gerrella Chart.PR, MCIPR and Claire Spencer FCIPR.

A crisis communication plan should be a core component of any organisation’s risk preparations. The guidance states: “Your crisis communication plan should be developed following a detailed risk analysis looking at potential issues and possible solutions.

Typically, these issues relate to an organisation’s people, assets, property and operations, and the plan is there to guide action and communications.

“For incidents involving hostile actors on the ground, further preparation is required. As with other crises, these happen without warning. However, as they often involve public safety, there is further pressure to get things right; understanding how police processes and protocols work is key to planning.

It is important that the plan is adapted over time. This should reflect changes in the organisation, new potential risks, updated guidance, and insights gained from test incidents and crises elsewhere.”

While the course of action will vary for different crises, the principles of the plan will be the same.

Sarah Pinch (pictured) told me: “When any crisis affects an organisation, its communications team has a key role to play – but when it’s from a hostile actor, the role of internal communicators become ever more vital.

“In the guidance we talk about the need to have a backup plan; support from other communicators or members of your organisation who can offer you support; whether answering calls, issuing messages, or taking the really important role of checking in on staff. Communications team will take the full brunt of a 24/7 response, and they need looking after.

“In advance, I would recommend that all internal communications team ensure they are fully connected to the rest of the communications function, as joint planning and practicing is vital. Do not think this will never happen to me, it might and you must be prepared.”

Further reading on the All Things IC blog:

Part of the guidance includes this flowchart, which is helpful to plot what you can do today to start developing crisis plans.

Clear and calm response
Emma Leech, Found.Chart.PR FCIPR, CIPR President says: “The fear and horror we feel when people and places we work for or represent are targeted by terrorists has to be separated from the way we manage communication in a time of unique crisis. It demands a clear and calm response that demonstrates empathy and understanding for those affected by these tragic incidents.

“It is imperative that we consider the operational and emotional needs of the organisation and its stakeholders, and allow sufficient time for planning and recovery. I’d like to thank the CPNI for working closely with the CIPR on the guide and hope that the lessons we’ve highlighted provide support and assurance to PR professionals across the UK.”

Security-Minded Communications

Having read through the guidance, I think one of the most useful parts for IC pros is the Security-Minded Communications section.

Security-Minded Communications is an approach developed by the Government’s Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure (CPNI). It is designed to equip organisations that manage sites, venues and events with the ability to use communications as part of their protective security measures. They are designed to help disrupt the hostile actor and therefore reduce the likelihood of criminal activity from taking place.

An example of this, which will be familiar to my UK based readers, are these posters:

The guidance states: “It is an approach that many organisations have taken to help deter hostile actors from targeting them. One such is a leading events organiser, whose Security Manager says of Security-Minded Communications: “It is the most cost-effective security measure we have implemented.”

However, the guidance warns for the approach to be successful the communications team has to work closely with the security team to implement. Furthermore, security minded communications is only as good as the security provision that underpins it.

I’m curious to know what you think. Have you produced guidance internally to help you determine your crisis management approach in a terrorism situation?

As ever, I welcome your thoughts. You can comment below or find me on Twitter @AllthingsIC.

Thank you for stopping by,


Post author: Rachel Miller.

First published on the All Things IC blog 19 June 2019.

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