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101 Tips for Communication in Emergencies

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101 Tips for Communication in Emergencies

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In a single day, you can witness the final hours of a brand that took ten years to build. Or you can see it re-emerge stronger than ever. From Tylenol to JetBlue — no brand is exempt. And the outcome depends not only on what you say to the public, but on how well you communicate internally — with each other. This book is a must-read for technical emergency management teams.


When an emergency develops, and we activate our Emergency Management Teams, even organizations that have planned for this specific kind of incident face risks that are difficult to quantify. Foremost among these, perhaps, is the question of how well the Emergency Management Teams will work together. After all:

  • They're working on something that they don't know much about (yet)
  • They've trained for this, but not as much as they would have liked
  • They're under extreme pressure
  • After the first day, they're very tired or close to burnout
  • Some have concerns about loved ones
  • Some might be missing or injured
  • Some are worried about the future prospects of the company or their communities
  • Some have rarely worked with each other before
  • … and on and on and on

The people who staff emergency management teams face extraordinary challenges from outside the team. If they face the additional challenge of problematic communication with each other, their chances of bringing about a successful outcome decline markedly.

101 Tips for Communication in Emergencies is filled with tips for sponsors, leaders and participants in emergency management teams. It helps readers create an environment in which teams can work together, under pressure from outside stakeholders, in severely challenging circumstances, while still maintaining healthy relationships with each other. That's the key to effective communication in emergencies.

It's an ebook, but it's about 15% larger than Who Moved My Cheese?

What's on the rest of this page:

Sample content

Here are some sample tips:

Connecting the dots conflicts with listening
In the emergency environment, we are under extreme pressure to "connect the dots." That is, we respond to the expectations of others by pushing for a clear statement of the pattern of the event as soon as possible. The result, often, is that we decide on a pattern — a framework for understanding the situation — prematurely. In effect, our need to connect the dots causes us to halt data collection too soon. It creates a tendency to slant our interpretation of what we're being told. It interferes with the ability to listen.
This tendency affects everyone differently. Those who have a preference for making models and discerning patterns are more vulnerable to this error than are those who typically prefer to see and process more data. Usually, the technologists are more vulnerable than are senior managers.
On the other hand, those who prefer gathering more data are vulnerable to a different (but complementary) error. They tend to postpone acceptance of working hypotheses until long after there is enough data to justify them.
Both error modes are manifestations of the inherent conflict between "connecting the dots" and gathering data.
Establish and enforce interface requirements
In the routine environment, we permit team members to speak freely with those outside the team. Occasionally, this "out of band" communication causes problems, but it also facilitates agility, and we tolerate it. In the emergency environment, out of band communication is almost always a threat to orderly management of the emergency. In the emergency environment, communication between a team and others outside the team must follow interface requirements.
This is particularly so in the case of a technical emergency team, because the spokesperson for the team might at times need to withhold information that isn't yet ready to be released. Others outside the team then sometimes attempt "end-arounds," in which they privately interrogate team members outside the awareness of the team lead or team spokesperson. Team members and all internal staff must be made aware, in advance, that interface protocols are to be followed at all times.
Appreciate the consequences of demanding definitive responses from technologists
When we demand that technologists supply scalar responses to queries that inherently require vector responses, we're requiring that they suppress information. That suppression, in itself, presents no difficulties to the emergency response team. But when the suppression of that information prevents the emergency response team from considering alternatives and issues that are its responsibility to consider, suppression of information by technologists does become a problem for the emergency response team. Indeed, it can become a problem also for the viability of the enterprise.
It is the role of the technologist in a technology-driven emergency to maintain a clear grasp of the full dimensionality of the emergency. It is the role of the emergency management team to decide what to do. Neither can fulfill its role when the technologists suppress information, either voluntarily or involuntarily.
In emergencies, leave no voids
When people worry, they make up what they don't know. When we say nothing about a topic people are worrying about, we leave a void to be filled by rumors. Make an active effort to determine what your stakeholder populations are worrying about, and make special efforts to determine which of their concerns they're actually talking about. Make these efforts part of your situational awareness program.
When you learn of a concern that's propagating within a given population — internal to the team or external — and you know that the concern is false or irrelevant, fashion and deliver a message to that population designed to assuage the concern. If there's any truth to the concern, address that directly. Letting it circulate unanswered will only give it space to grow to the point of unmanageability.
Table of contents

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Using This Book

  • The Tip-Book format
  • Ebooks are a little different

Understand the Emergency Environment

  • Know the difference between a crisis and an emergency
  • Become familiar with evolving terminology
  • Understand the three dimensions of emergencies
  • Understand the nature of the emergency environment
  • Accept that the organizational posture will be more reactive than is typical
  • Most emergencies have technical components
  • The risk environment is novel
  • Uncertainty dominates
  • Some of what you "know" is wrong
  • Standard procedures probably have broken down
  • Standard policies might be obstacles
  • Plan for absences
  • Plan beyond COOP
  • Use logical role designations rather than personal names
  • People who rarely work together must work together well
  • The consequences of failure are severe
  • You probably get only one chance to get it right
  • Good enough is good enough

Understand Emergency Environment Psychology

  • Understand the Satir Change Model
  • We tend to reject the foreign element
  • In Chaos, people tend to be stressed
  • Search for transforming ideas intentionally
  • Establish an intelligence function
  • Resolve preexisting feuds and duels
  • Deal with substance abusers in advance
  • Plan for the pharmaceutical needs of emergency management staff
  • Anticipate status inversions
  • Accept that people have different communication preferences
  • Conduct training in managing "betterism"
  • Understand the economic paradox of control procedures
  • Simulation-based training is essential
  • Use drills to screen team members
  • Deal with emotions — or else

Understand Emergency Stressors for Technologists

  • It's difficult to do careful research
  • Experiments and tests are almost precluded
  • Internal customer expectations remain high
  • Responsibility, guilt, and shame
  • I told you so

Understand Emergency Stressors for Non-Technologists

  • Assets degrade
  • Sense of predictability wanes
  • Power inversions are uncomfortable
  • The reactive posture is in itself a stressor
  • External customer expectations remain high
  • Connecting the dots is even more difficult in emergencies

Manage the Cost of Destructive Conflict

  • Know the difference between creative conflict and destructive conflict
  • Know why destructive conflict sometimes remains unresolved
  • Resolve conflicts face to face
  • Track the liabilities of destructive conflict
  • Conduct regular temperature readings

Understand Person-to-Person Communication in Emergencies

  • Person-to-person communication in emergencies is different
  • Know the communication pitfalls of stress
  • Avoid jumping to meaning
  • Avoid hat hanging
  • Listen
  • Avoid completing the other's thoughts
  • Avoid replaying dramatic putdowns
  • Avoid rushing
  • Avoid confusion
  • Avoid mind reading
  • Avoid living the catastrophic expectation
  • Avoid starting with "you"
  • Avoid blame dancing
  • Understand the Satir Interaction Model
  • Connecting the dots conflicts with listening
  • Ignorance isn't a personal failing
  • Establish a we-can't-do-this-now protocol
  • Create criticism-free conversations
  • Track metrics that measure communication problems

Prepare Your Teams

  • Know what makes a team a team
  • Team formation skills are organizational assets
  • Introduce team members and their backups
  • Avoid "shift changes"
  • Know why teams fail in emergencies
  • Assess preexisting conditions
  • Know who's ready to go — always
  • Establish a "ready line" for necessary infrastructure
  • Understand the risks of team reorganization
  • Know how to manage a team restart
  • Establish and enforce interface requirements
  • Harvest knowledge from after-action reviews of other teams

Manage the Stress of Uncertainty

  • Understand how technologists deal with uncertainty
  • Understand how non-technologists deal with uncertainty
  • Appreciate the consequences of demanding definitive responses from technologists
  • Understand what information non-technical leaders need
  • Understand the conflicting needs of internal audiences

Manage Myths and Rumors

  • Anticipate rumors and myths
  • Eradicate myths in advance
  • Prepare modular information resources to meet media requirements
  • In emergencies, leave no voids
  • Always be right

Manage the Risks of Metaphors

  • Know what a metaphor is
  • Understand the power of metaphors
  • Understand the risks of metaphors
  • Some constituencies demand metaphors
  • Criteria for metaphor selection

Know What to Do After the Incident

  • Establish an after-action review process
  • Conduct after-action reviews after drills
  • Use outside facilitators to conduct after-action reviews
  • Celebrate
Details and additional information

This item is also available in 10-copy packs (USD 16.70 per copy), in 50-copy packs (USD 13.30 per copy), in 100-copy packs (USD 11.29 per copy) and in 500-copy packs (USD 9.32 per copy).

Communication in Emergencies is in Acrobat format, which gives you several advantages. You can print it, and read it like any book. Or in electronic form, you can use the search capability of Adobe Reader to find passages of special interest to you. If you load it onto your laptop, tablet, or other mobile device, you can read it anywhere — and it's weightless, too. 31 pages.

More info

File size:656 KBytes
Print length:31 pages
Simultaneous Device Usage:Unlimited devices, but single user
Publication date:April 23, 2007
Sold by:Chaco Canyon Consulting

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Last modified: 02 Sep 2016 04:14 Eastern Time


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