In Crisis Communications Speed Is Important, But Accuracy Even More So

crisis management

Many of us in the security field feel the pressure to be first and be fast with the information that can help our organizations. This pressure was especially intense during the last few weeks and months as coronavirus wreaked havoc worldwide. But what we instinctively know in calmer times, that speed must not come at the expense of accuracy, can become lost when a crisis hits. And it’s precisely in a crisis that accuracy should become a priority.

The big challenge, of course, is getting accurate information. We live in an age where we are constantly bombarded by data from countless sources, and a good deal of it is bad. It can be hard to discern what the truth is in a particular moment, especially when there is incomplete or contradictory information coming even from sources deemed trusted. Take for example the symptoms of this disease. Early on, there were a lot of unknowns, and a lot of symptoms we heard about sounded similar to flu or seasonal allergies. What do you communicate to the employees? How do you avoid worrying someone needlessly if their symptoms are not due to the coronavirus? And more importantly, what do you communicate to help people protect themselves?

For our organization the answer was two-fold. First, we increased the frequency of communication with our frontline employees and communicated what we knew at the time, placing an emphasis on prevention. Even while the information on symptoms was vague, the information on how diseases typically spread was available and accurate, and we could communicate to the employees how to protect themselves through proper distancing, washing of hands, not touching their faces, etc. The point is that when one is faced with a fluid situation and a lot of unknowns, one should focus on those things one can control, and prevention was one of them. We also emphasized that we are not in this just for ourselves, but to protect our clients and the public, and this helped with the compliance with the distancing and extra hygiene protocols.

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Second, we made a hard rule that if someone was sick for any reason, they needed to stay at home, and we communicated this to the employees and supervisors frequently. We also developed a protocol on how and how frequently the supervisors should check with sick employees (daily), how to communicate back to the headquarters, how to help employees get tested if they wanted to, and provided guidance on how to remain compliant with HIPAA and other privacy laws regarding discussing medical matters with employees. We are very blessed that we’ve had a very low infection rate among our employees. We attribute this success to open and frequent communications, being able to communicate to every officer on the ground, and fighting misinformation with what’s verifiable and what focuses on prevention.

Some inaccurate information that I’ve come across appears not to be so much maliciously placed, as created out of a misplaced desire to strike an optimistic tone. For example, I’ve seen organizations tell their people that this will be over in a couple of weeks. The trouble is, when that doesn’t happen, the employees are demoralized, there’s confusion, uncertainty and some trust is lost. If you tell your people the truth, including that you don’t know something, or that the crisis will last longer than what anyone would like, you can motivate them to fight. People can understand risks, danger and difficulties ahead, and I strongly believe that if you give them accurate information they will act responsibly.

The pressure to respond quickly, of course, never ceases. Some of it we place on ourselves, and some of it comes from those higher up. Here I am often reminded of what one drill instructor repeatedly stressed during marksmanship training: “Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast.” The same goes for communications in the time of crisis. Slowing down to collect and verify information makes for a smoother response with fewer errors, which in turn leads to a shorter response time. Setting the high bar with your communications will pay dividends many times over, and in these times when the health of our employees, customers and the public is at stake, we should set that bar higher than ever before.

About the Author

Dane Dodd
Dane Dodd

Dane Dodd is senior vice president of operations at Prosegur Security USA. He has over 25 years of experience working with private security companies, law enforcement, military, and other organizations on improving security and resilience. Prior to his career in the private sector, Dodd served in the US Marines for 10 years as an infantry officer. He is a graduate of the University of Florida.

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