Lesson 11: Test Your Security Team During Your Crisis Communications Drill

By Gerard Braud

CrisisDrillGerardBraudWhile working with crisis communications clients, I provide a “first critical statement” template.  This template is intended to be read to the media, emailed to employees, and posted to the web in the first hour of a crisis when little is known about the emerging crisis. Some companies that operate facilities that have no spokespeople on site, but that have a security guard at the front gate. I’ve suggested that the template is simple enough that a security guard could go through low-level media training and be taught to deliver the message if media showed up at the front gate.

Amazingly and predictably, executives, in a semi-confidential and ultra condescending way, will say, “Have you met those people? They can’t be trusted with that!”

My response is, “Well, you gave ‘em a gun.”

While some security companies employ highly trained security professionals, others employ people with skills equal to a day laborer. Some are taught to simply check badges and passes at a guard gate. Many have little education, poor verbal skills, and they come to work with a power attitude they developed when a badge was bestowed upon them.

Regardless of their skill level, three things are true:

1) If a crisis happens, chances are they will encounter the media and may be the first person the media approaches with cameras and questions.

2) If there is a chance for a real life media encounter, then they need to be an active part of your crisis communications drill.

3) They can be media trained to deliver the first critical statement. I’ve done it successfully many times.

As you plan your crisis communications drill scenario, let your mock media team know that testing the security team is an important part of the drill. Your mock media team should be reasonably assertive without being aggressive with the security personnel.

crisisdrillgerardbraud2The goal is to record on video tape what the guards do and say. Guards generally all do the same thing. Some instinctively say, “No comment.” Others verbally and forcefully tell the mock media that they cannot be on the site or that they will be arrested, even when the mock media are standing safely and legally on the public right of way. Many security guards feel a need to put their hands on the camera lens to block the view of the camera. Some try to physically push and escort mock reporters away.

It is somewhat comical from my standpoint because they do all the things they’ve ever seen other guards do in any bad television situation.

Security guards often are the proverbial worst first impression. What they say can and will be used against them in the court of public opinion.

Such behavior sends a message to the public that the company has done something wrong and that they have something to hide.

Remember, if a drill is your opportunity to mess up in private, so behaviors can be addressed and corrected, challenging the security team in your drill is important.

Furthermore, a low-level media training class needs to be created to teach these guards how they appear to the public when they act inappropriately with the media. They must be taught to politely instruct the media where to park. Next guards must be taught how to ask the media for credentials and a business card so the appropriate media contact in the company can be called. The guards also need to be taught a verbal script. This may be, “How can I help you?” “If you’ll provide me with your media credentials and a business card I’ll be glad to call someone who can speak with you.”

Entergy drill Gerard Braud 1When the guards are asked casual questions by either real or mock reporters, they need to respond, “My responsibilities are confined to maintaining security at this entrance, but I’m sure someone from the company will be able to answer all of your questions shortly, so if you will, please bare with me while I tend to may assigned duties, you should be hearing from someone soon.”

It wouldn’t hurt to have a printed statement at the entrance for the guard to hand out.

You only get one chance to make a good first impression. Make sure your security guards make a good first impression and that they are included in every crisis communications drill.


Lesson 10: Mock Media in Your Face at Your Crisis Communication Drill: Six Great Tips

By Gerard Braud

DSC_0159A real crisis is a pressure cooker and your crisis communications drill should replicate that. The pressure causes the media to be intense and often abrupt. The media may appear hostile. You will see similarities between media and sharks that sense blood in the water. Your crisis communications drill must duplicate that.

Here are six ways to do that.

1) Television cameras are intimidating, so make sure your mock media team has real television cameras to record each mock news conference. When your spokesperson or team of spokespeople enter the room for their mock news conference, have at least one camera person in their face with the camera as they enter. Get realistically and uncomfortably close. Make it real

2) Still photographers are also a part of real crises, so have a few of them in the room making noise with their shutters, setting off distracting flashes with each photo. Have them move about the room capturing the spokespeople from various angles.

3) During a real crisis, chances are your cell phone and desk phone would be ringing constantly as reporters try to get the inside scoop before their competition gets it. Therefore in a crisis communication drill, set up a phone bank of at least five people, with at least five fake personalities and fake names for each.

Personality #1 – A member of the local media

Personality #2 – A member of the national media

Personality #3 – A local mayor, councilperson or county official

Personality #4 – A state regulatory agency or state legislator

Personality #5 – A citizen with a host of fears and concerns

IMG_2621I give each personality a script containing likely questions they would ask and we schedule realistic calls at realistic intervals in a realistic sequence.

The challenge here is to force your communicators to stay on task to issue news releases in one hour or less of the onset of the crisis, while letting most calls roll to voice mail or passing their phone off to an assistant who can log the calls without answering any questions.

4) Media are not polite to one another during a real crisis, so they should not be polite to one another in your crisis communications drill. During your mock news conferences, let your mock reporters ask realistic questions simultaneously. Let them try to out shout one another. Force your spokesperson to take control of the news conference and the reporters by calling on specific reporters and recognizing questions at their discretion. This type of practice is invaluable.

5) Do your homework before the drill to know what previous crises are like skeletons in the closet of the organization being drilled. Nothing makes a spokesperson look like a deer in the headlights like asking a question based on serious facts. Just this week in a drill I did this to a spokesperson, when I quoted the company’s past news releases and past news articles about recent layoffs, losses in stock value, and the $511 Million spent for repairs at their facility featured in the drill. The kicker is a nugget I found in a news article about the company replacing a part which actually failed during the scenario of the drill. Having Google at your finger tips on an iPad or iPhone is amazing. Real reporters would do it to you, so in your crisis communications drill, your mock reporters must duplicate this behavior.

6) Fake live shots are now faster and easier than ever, because of iPads and iPhones (or the smart phone of your choice.) In a real crisis, a serious news conference might be carried live on television, followed by a live report from the reporter covering the story. To duplicate this, after every mock news conference I use the video feature on my iPad to record me doing a fake live report. I then hand the iPad to the crisis communication media monitoring team and let them see within seconds what I would have said if I were real media and this were a real event.

Braud Crisis Plans_6113Many executives admit that managing the crisis is the easy part, but managing the media is the tough part of a crisis. The truth is, most organizations spend more time, more money, and dedicate more people to emergency response then they do to crisis communications. Hence, if you dedicate more time, money and people to practicing and preparing for your crisis communications, you will have less difficulty with the media.

Each organization should conduct media training at least once a year for all spokespeople and again prior to every news conference. Spokespeople should include public relations professionals, subject mater experts, and top executives.

The great flaw is that most organizations treat media training as though it is a bucket list item that can be checked off and forgotten about. The key is maintaining and improving training based on modern communications.

Lesson 9: How to Keep Your Crisis Communications Drill Realistic?

By Gerard Braud

Entergy Drill Gerard braudWhat a nice complement I received today after a crisis communications drill with a nuclear power plant and four government agencies. The Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness thanked our mock media team for the intense questioning and realism of our news mock conferences.

“I participated in a crisis drill last week and the news conferences were kind of a joke,” he said. “They had a bunch of students asking questions and it just got silly. Today felt like the real thing.”

Wow #CrazyFlattered #KeepingItReal

The last thing you want in your crisis communication drill is for people to be silly and treat it as though it is a game. My drills are so serious that I’ve successfully made spokespeople emotionally break down and cry at the podium and on two occasions. People involved have been fired because the drill exposed their complete incompetence in their jobs.

The purpose of a crisis communications drill is to test your skills and abilities so that if necessary, they can be modified after the drill in order to improve performance during a real crisis.

DSC_0011Here are five tips to keep it real:

1) Build your crisis scenario around something that is highly likely, especially if people within your organization are in denial about how likely the scenario is to happen. Such a scenario will immediately send a feeling of dread over many drill participants. It is helpful if the facilitator can immediately and repeatedly bring the roll players to the point at which they mutter, “Oh sh*t.” This emotional trigger is just one of many emotional triggers that you want to employ. In a real crisis, emotions of dread, fear, panic and anxiety are all brought to the surface. It is the job of your facilitator to bring those emotions to the forefront of a drill.

2) Make the drill scenario big enough that a real crisis of this nature would bring out the media, which in the case of the drill, forces you to have several mock news conferences to test your spokespeople. The folks who role play as mock media need to be smart and mature, and capable of asking realistic questions that realistically challenge your spokespeople.

3) Judge your crisis communications team on how well they followed their crisis communications plans. The plans I write are usually about 50 pages long and are designed to be read and executed in sequential order so that nothing is forgotten in the way of communications. Too many flawed plans are just six to ten pages long, they only state standard operating procedures and for the most part, they are useless during your crisis. The 50 page plan I customize for my clients can get you flawlessly through the first two hours of your crisis, with directions for subsequent communications beyond two hours if needed.

4) Social media is a part of the real world and it needs to be a part of your drill. The facilitator and/or mock media role players should inject rumors, photos, videos and posts that might appear on social media if the event were real.

5) Realistically bother the heck out of as many people as possible with phone calls. In a real crisis the media and worried members of the community would be calling employees wanting information. I like to have a phone bank with at least five people who each play five personalities. I provide them with a list of phone numbers of people they should be calling periodically during the drill.

The bottom line is your crisis communications drill is designed to be your preparation for a real event. Make your drill every bit as realistic as an actual crisis event.



Lesson 8: Which Team is in Charge During Your Crisis Drill?

By Gerard Braud

Gerard Braud * 15I worked in drills in which I facilitate everything on behalf of the crisis communications team, while also developing the scenario for the drill. I’ve also worked in drills in which the emergency manager selects the drill scenario and acts as lead facilitator. Simultaneously, I facilitate only the cascading events dealing with internal and external communications, as well as managing the mock media.

The fact is, I don’t care which team is in charge, as long as every team gets to experience the realistic anxiety and decision making necessary for everyone to learn.

A crisis communications drill is an opportunity for all teams to execute their respective plans to test their readyness, while also making sure that each team can coexist with the others, both in a drill and in a real crisis.

The bottom line is just make sure someone sets the course to have at least one drill a year. Remember, a drill allows you to mess up in private so you never mess up during a real crisis.

Lesson 7: Who Should Know Details Before Your Crisis Communications Drill?

By Gerard Braud

Braud Crisis Plans_6113No one knows the hour or the day when a real crisis will strike, nor do they know how or when various events will cascade during the crisis. Your crisis communications drill needs to simulate as much of this as possible.

In a crisis communications drill, chances are you need to let everyone involved know at least the date of the drill. The date is the only piece of information that I ever share with people involved in the crisis drills I facilitate.

I may take the easy path and run a drill for three hours from 9 a.m. until noon, or I may let the crisis begin to unfold as people are in the middle of their commute to work. Sometimes I launch the drill as parents are juggling the morning rituals of getting their kids up and off to school.

Since real crisis events seldom happen at a convenient time, your crisis communications drill should duplicate and simulate real life challenges.

In addition to keeping the starting time a secret, I never share details about the drill scenario with anyone other than other drill facilitators.

Secrecy is important because you don’t want anyone taking extra precautions in the days or weeks before the drill. The drill is designed to measure everyone’s preparedness and response at a specific moment in time. In other words, if a crisis happened now, how prepared would everyone be?

After the drill you should be prepared to modify your crisis communications plan. 

Lesson 6: Who Should Participate in Your Crisis Communications Drill?

By Gerard Braud

Trainwreck CEOVarious teams within your organization can organize crisis drills. If no one else within your company, government agency or non-profit is organizing an annual crisis drill, then individuals within the communications department can take the lead to organize a drill.

Ideally, to get a well rounded drill you want to test your public relations team and their ability to craft and disseminate effective communications in a timely manner. Additionally, Emergency Managers and Incident Commanders may be called upon to participate in any type of drill designed to test emergency response to a rapidly evolving crisis such as a workplace shooting or fire. If the crisis drill scenario involves the disruption of production or disruption to the supply chain or any upset at a facility, the risk management team should also be part of the planning and execution of the crisis drill.

Together, these three teams must work to each perform their assigned task in a prescribed amount of time.  They must work to support one another with shared information and shared decision-making, all under the supervision of the Crisis Management Team.

A drill is designed to replicate an actual event. Held on a clear sunny day, a crisis drill prepares you and your organization for your darkest day. If you discover on a sunny day that members of the various teams are not functioning well together, you have time to correct the bad behavior or bad decision making before a real crisis happens.

9thWard-KatrinaVersary-Media_0406There are exceptions to this rule. Sometimes it is possible to test just the crisis communications team and the leadership team during a drill that simulates a smoldering crisis, rather than a sudden crisis. For example, instead of simulating a workplace shooting, build a scenario centered around a smoldering issue like executive behavior or discrimination. Such a drill will test the ethical decision making of your leaders. It will test their commitment to communicate pro-actively about such an event, and it will test the communications team for their ability to word-smith a perfect communiqué for what is often the most difficult of all crises.

Keep in mind that a smoldering crisis does not trigger the incident command plan or the risk management plan. This also proves once again that a crisis communications plan is always an important tool and document to have because it must guide your communications activity with other teams and also independent of other teams and their plans.


Lesson 5: Equal Parts of Your Crisis Drill: Add Crisis Communication

By Gerard Braud 

DSC_0002Too many crisis drills are lopsided. They are often organized by Emergency Managers who primarily want to measure the decision making and response time of those who must address the physical aspects of a crisis. Often missing from these drills is the realistic aspects of “pesky” reporters “getting in everybody’s way” and wanting interviews.

In a real crisis, there will be many things happening at once and therefore any drill you conduct should have equal parts of all of the real aspects.

If the drill is to simulate a fire and explosion, equal parts should be planned and executed by the Incident Command Team, the Risk Management Team, and the Crisis Communications Team.

Because the media will be involved in covering many crises that you could experience, mock media need to be a part of your crisis drill. During the drill, the facilitator should plan the scenario in such a way that there are at least two opportunities for news conferences to test the skills of spokespeople. Those mock news conferences can be done either indoors or outdoors — it doesn’t matter. The main thing is that they are realistic.

If the drill centers on a fire or explosion scenario, chances are in a real situation, media would be at your door step in 30-60 minutes.  This means your crisis drill should be organized in such a way that a spokesperson must deliver the first message within one hour or less of the onset of the crisis. My first critical statement template is a perfect format for delivering a few basic facts in the early hour of a crisis. Download a free copy here by using the coupon code CRISISCOMPLAN.

During the drill, a second news conference should be held prior to the start of the second hour of the event.

Braud extraTo make the drill even more realistic, create a pool of mock reporters who sit at a phone bank and make phone calls to various individuals within your organization during the course of the drill. Don’t over do it, but make it realistic, just as real reporters would do.

When I facilitate a crisis drill, I add two additional layers of realism. The first is to use my iPad to record fake live shots at appropriate intervals during the drill. I then hand off my iPad to players in the drill so they can view what the media would actually be saying during the crisis. My second layer of realism is to inject fake social media posts to simulate what the public would be saying on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

Drills should be designed to replicate realistic behaviors and responses by all of the same people who would be involved in a response to the actual event. Please don’t leave communications out of the mix. Please add an equal mix of all aspects of the crisis to make your drill more realistic with the intent of making all of your role-players well rounded and professional.

Lesson 4: Test Your Crisis Communication Speed

By Gerard Braud

Braud Crisis Drill_5723*How quickly can you get approval for and issue a statement to the media, your employees and other key stakeholders during a crisis? Your crisis communication plan should clearly spell out what is acceptable and what is not acceptable.

It greatly disturbs me to see that some companies and government agencies think five hours from the onset of a crisis is an acceptable time frame to respond within. It disturbs me even more to know that some organizations think tomorrow or the day after is soon enough. Just this week, while speaking to a group of public relations professionals in Washington, D.C. several of the attendees said it often takes their organizations one to two days to approve a news release.

Wow! It is 2013 and we live in a world where social media gives details about a crisis the second it happens. Speed is important.

In every crisis communication plan I write, it states that the first communications should happen in one hour or less. Admittedly, this is about 59 minutes too long, but is likely a realistic amount of time in a corporate setting where statements must be written by the public relations team and approved by executives before being released.

My key to speed is the use of a First Critical Statement. It is a pre-written, fill-in-the-blank document that allows an organization to release a few basic facts until more is known. The goal is to control the flow of accurate information rather than allowing rumors to spread on social media and speculation to run rampant among the media.

(Download a free copy with this link. Enter this coupon code to get it as a free gift: CRISISCOMPLAN )

If your crisis communications plan has this template in it, you should be using it in your crisis communications drill.

Katrina Media_0318Your crisis communications drill, while allowing you to test your crisis communications plan, allows you to test your public relations department and their ability to gather facts quickly. The team must fill out the First Critical Statement, get it approved by executives, then release it to the world. It also allows you to test your executives, who must be taught that time is critical and that major rewrites can slow the communications process.

Yesterday’s article referred to feeding little bits of information to the media, just as you would serve a buffet. Following that analogy, the First Critical Statement is the salad.

As the crisis communications drill continues to unfold, your crisis communications plan should dictate that by the start of the second hour of your crisis, a more detailed statement should be released to the media, your employees, and other key audiences.

Katrina Media_0327The plans I write for my clients may have over 100 of these pre-written statements in the addendum of the plan. These are also fill-in-the-blank and multiple choice documents written on a clear sunny day that can be quickly modified and released to the key audiences. They can also be pre-approved by executives on a clear sunny day. Such pre-approval eliminates approval delays on the day of your crisis.

Your crisis communications drill allows you to again test the speed at which the documents are modified and the speed at which they are approved.

Speed is critical when you need to communicate in a crisis. Your crisis communications drill helps you to perfect that.


Lesson 3: Test Your Crisis Communications Plan

By Gerard Braud

IMG_2621There are many articles throughout this blog about what makes for a good crisis communications plan. I believe so many documents that proport to be crisis communications plans fall far short of what is needed to effectively communicate when “it” hits the fan.

A great way to find out if your crisis communications plan is up to par is to test it with a crisis communications drill.

During a crisis, anxiety is high, tensions run high, and pressures can be enormous. During times like this, it is easy for important things to fall through the cracks. However, if you write them all down on a clear sunny day and organize them in sequential order, then you have the foundation for a good crisis communications plan. Furthermore, if you can easily read them during your crisis and follow the pre-ordained steps, you are able to achieve effective communication.

I don’t know of anyone else who tells you to read your crisis communications plan during the crisis.  That may be because most crisis communications plans only list the rule of standard operating procedures.  Most plans fail to be organized chronologically with clear directions that you can read and follow during your crisis. My prescription is to have a plan written with clear directions and follow it every step of the way throughout your crisis communications drill.

This important step accomplishes several goals. First, you get in the habit of carrying your communication plan with you. Secondly, you learn to trust your plan and trust that in your worst times it will guide you toward a brighter conclusion. Thirdly, if there is a flaw in your plan, your crisis communications drill will expose that flaw, allowing you to make important rewrites.

youtubeKeep in mind also that the tools of communication change constantly. This means your crisis communications plan needs to be a living document. What worked during last year’s drill may need to be revised this year because the tools of communication have changed. Just look at how in recent years, FacebookTwitter and YouTube went from being non-existent to being available but irrelevant, to being a vital consideration and important communications tool in a crisis.

A crisis communications drill is designed to let you screw up in private on a clear, sunny day, so you don’t screw up in public on your darkest day. The same is true for your plan. Discover any flaws on a sunny day and fix them before your darkest day comes.


Lesson 2: “This is a Drill”

By Gerard Braud

Media_Relations_CamerasRule number one during a crisis communications drill is to never have anyone accidentally think a real crisis is happening, when it is not. Hence, in all written communications and on every phone conversation and radio conversation, you must generously use the phrase, “This is a Drill.”

For phone calls, the first words out of your mouth when the other party says, “Hello,” should be, “This is a Drill.” When the other party hears these words from you, they should reply, “This is a Drill.”

These basic rules need to be covered by your drill facilitator before and during the drill.

Likewise, when your phone call is concluded, your last words should be, “This is a Drill.” At that time the other party should reply, “This is a Drill.”

The reason this is important is because you never want someone to overhear details that sound like a crisis and think there really is a crisis, which might trigger panic, rumors, or other unintended consequences.

If two-way radios are a part of your drill, the same protocol should also be followed.

If e-mails are used during the drill, the phrase, “This is a Drill,” should be used in the subject line. It should then open and close the message within the e-mail. If Word Documents, PDFs or printed documents are used during the drill, each one should have a bold message at the beginning and end of the text that says, “This is a Drill.” Also, create a 50% watermark on an angle within these documents that says, “This is a Drill.”

In addition to avoiding unintended consequences internally, this phrase is important so that agencies such as police, the fire department, or the media don’t somehow hear a radio transmission and respond.

As a courtesy, you may wish to call your local police and fire dispatcher to inform them that a drill is underway. Generally, I do not tell the media a drill is happening because I don’t want the media to attempt to create a news story about my drill, because I don’t want to enlighten the media about some ugly events that might actually be a possibility.

Braud Crisis Plans_6113Sometimes when a drill involves a school or airport, and it is conducted in conjunction with police and fire departments, the agencies turn it into a news event designed to be a media event that shows their preparedness. I’m not a fan of this, because when things go wrong in a drill, I don’t want the organization’s unpreparedness to become part of a news story.

Remember, the goal of a drill is to create an opportunity for organizations to practice how to do things right, with that ability to allow people to screw up in private so they don’t screw up in public during an actual event.

“This is a Drill.” This is not a publicity event.

In our next article we will discuss some of the goals and objectives of your drill, so you will have a clear idea of how to measure success.