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December 8, 2010
'Breaking In' During Crises

An article from Communication Currents, an online journal of the National Communication Association that you should know about, has a scholarly title, "Disasters as Social Interaction". It's actually about getting the attention of decision makers as a crisis builds. In this case it was Hurricane Katrina. But it could be any corporate situation in which anxiety is taking hold.


Disaster interactions need to be both disciplined and fluid. Incoming information can't be brushed aside, as was the case when a Louisiana parish official on a Katrina conference call asked to "break in real quick" as reports were being made, but was told that was "against protocol."


The meeting structure as a disaster unfolds "should serve as a tool rather than trap for participants," note the authors, Mariaelena Bartesaghi, of the University of South Florida, and Theresa Castor, of the University of Wisconsin-Parkside. "Meeting structure is useful in helping participants to speak in an equitable manner, but too rigid adherence to a structure that may not be appropriate to the immediate needs of a group can hinder decision-making and information exchange."


That ought to be self-evident. But it apparently wasn't in the Katrina setting. Reason enough to advance planning for crisis situations – the creation of a crisis communication plan – very seriously. Anticipate the pressures that could exist and demonstrate during drills that it's okay to break in when urgency requires it.  




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Doug Bedell has a background in journalism and PR and is the owner of Resource Relations LLC in Central PA, focusing on organizational and crisis communication. He’s the community manager of SimplyFair.net, a social network on fairness. On the Web, Doug’s at www.ResourceRelations.com. On Twitter, he’s @DougBeetle.
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