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November 11, 2010
Got a Crisis 'Dark Site' Ready?
 
You may be far ahead of us on this, but as part of your crisis communication planning, do you have a "dark site" ready to go?

Bryan Jordin, of Jackson Spalding PR, notes how fortunate the Georgia Institute of Technology was to have a crisis website -- a "dark site" only in the sense that it wasn't yet active -- ready to go when its campus "samurai sword" attack occurred last February. There's nothing sinister about a "dark site" -- this isn't "Star Wars," only prudent emergency planning. 

It makes a lot of crisis communication sense to have an emergency website at-the-ready should an incident occur, almost like having a siren to get everyone's attention and promote an efficient response. Jordin's post is only an introductory one, but a check with Google shows pages of information on dark sites. 

One of those, on illumiblog, lists typical components of a dark site -- generic information and a press room area, for instance. It's important for a crisis site to be a minimal, "no frills" one -- crisis-related information only -- to help insure that the traffic surge it could draw wouldn't crash the site. A crisis readiness site should also be ready to be turned on by the crisis administrator, not the IT folks. It needs to be ready to go at any hour, any day the crisis manager takes charge. 

We're not up on building dark sites, but consider adding one to your crisis communication plan if you're an organization that would impact a lot of people should a safety crisis arise.

Be mindful, though, that Shel Holtz makes an important distinction between a "dark site" and a "dark blog" --  a blog at-the-ready should a crisis occur. A blog with no prior existence or community, Holtz notes, is a contradiction in terms and not a good idea. It's a gimmick that could add heft to an emergency site you don't need.

During a crisis, you're not looking for a conversation, but a means of getting crucially needed information out efficiently. Presumably, you crisis plan already includes a telephone bank or some other means of feedback from the public.

Blogging's not a crisis tool. However, an existing corporate blog can definitely be used to repair relationships, just not on the cusp of a crisis. 

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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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