Preparing for emergencies is something which all communications professionals working for public sector organisations spend some of their time on. It may seem a bit odd in that we are making plans for something that we all hope will never happen. Nonetheless, we all recognise that this is something which has to be done.
In the UK the Government requires all local authorities to have in place an up to date emergency plan to cover major incidents ranging from flu pandemics to terrorist attacks. For most local authorities this means having a Business Continuity Plan which will allow them to continue to provide essential services in a crisis.
It is vitally important that communications are a key part of these plans. In any emergency situation the public have a right to expect accurate and timely information. If you don’t tell people what’s happening there is a real danger that rumour and speculation will take over.
The public also have a right to expect leadership, although they are often disappointed in this area. The handling of the recent flooding crisis in the South of England was less than impressive, particularly in the response from response from central Government. Environment Secretary Owen Patterson’s live Sky News interview showed him to be clearly struggling to understand the situation while Communities Secretary Eric Pickles and Chris Smith (Chair of the Environment Agency) both seemed more interested in blaming other people for the chaos rather than taking responsibility themselves.
If there is a lesson to be learned from the floods fiasco it must surely be that the public agencies need to gain the confidence of the public by explaining fully what they are doing and demonstrating clearly that they are on top of the situation.