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Effective Crisis Communications is no accident

Like many, I was glued to the network newscasts as the events unfolded last Friday about the U.S. Navy F/A-18D crash into a Virginia Beach apartment complex. It was an amazing story on so many levels, not the least of which was the fact that no one died in the accident.

There was also a wonderful sidebar story that was impressive to see; the expert coordination between the Virginia Beach and Navy public affairs teams. Both entities were on the scene immediately, with spokespersons from both audiences speaking as one voice and staying on message. There were clear understanding of roles and boundaries. There was also virtually no speculation as to the root causes of the accident and - even more important - no finger pointing toward one another.

I grant you, certain circumstances outside of the controls of all spokespersons contributed to this, including the miraculous lack of fatalities and the fact that many of the city's full-time residents are U.S. Department of Defense employees. However, that wouldn't have been enough to account for the seamless coordination and dissemination of information to the public. There was obviously a long-standing understanding of each agency's public affairs' capabilities as well as routine training to respond to situations like these. While I'm certain no one involved ever wanted to execute this disaster recovery plan, they were very well prepared to respond.

Here's a lesson for the rest of us communications specialists. Responding well to a crisis is no accident. It must be well planned for and rehearsed to ensure that information is passed to the public in a clear and concise manner that also contains the underlying corporate message. The time to prepare for such rare occurrences is never when an incident occurs.

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