Effectively communicating in a crisis does not happen by accident.
Preparation is crucial to making the best of even the worst situations, and leaders play an especially important role in ensuring information is shared clearly, consistently and, most importantly, accurately when the unthinkable happens in their communities.
Those were among the messages from community leaders at “Communicating in a
Crisis: Lessons Learned,” a panel discussion hosted by Carl Collective, in partnership with the League of Wisconsin Municipalities, on August 19.
More than 50 people attended the event, held at the Brookfield Conference Center, as Waukesha Mayor Shawn Reilly, Brookfield Mayor Steven Ponto, former Oak Creek Mayor (and current AM 620 radio host) Steve Scaffidi, and retired South Milwaukee Chief Joseph Knitter shared insights about how they rose to the occasion on their
communities’ worst days.
In Waukesha last November, it was a felon fleeing from police, killing six and injuring dozens at the Christmas Parade. In Oak Creek in 2012, it was a white supremacist gunman who opened fire at a Sikh Temple, killing seven. In Brookfield, it was two mass shootings, at a church service in 2005 and spa in 2012.
In each case, these communities emerged stronger – with strong communications playing a key role in making that happen.
“You have to rise to the occasion,” Reilly said.
And it starts with planning.
The public may not remember a lot of the details of a crisis situation, Knitter said, “but they will remember you responded.”
“Knowing your role, having the conversation prior to the event is going to answer a lot of questions, and knowing what everyone’s goal is,” he said.
That is especially important for local leaders, who play a critical role in crisis situations – from showing public support for first responders, to reassuring the community in the immediate aftermath of the event, to creating an atmosphere where the community feels empowered to step up and lead in the healing process.
Sometimes, it’s just listening to and comforting victims’ families.
“You are not everything. You are not the smartest person in the room either, but you are in that position because people have faith in you,” he said. “So use the faith in the right way, and that is the biggest thing a city leader can do.”
Let Us Help
Carl Collective can help train you and your team about how to communicate in crisis situations. Learn more here, and in this white paper: “Before, During and After: How to Prepare for Crisis Communications in Your Community.”