By Robert Masters
Victorian business and government were delivered a wake-up call this month in crisis management and community engagement with the release of the Hazelwood Mine Fire Inquiry report and recommendations.
The Inquiry, headed by former Supreme Court Judge Bernard Teague AO, who also headed the Black Saturday Bushfires Royal Commission, has effectively told all companies and government that international best practice is the operating standard required for communication and community engagement plans.
Although some communicators, with coal-face experience in crisis communication, may question some of the relevance and details of the evidence given at the Inquiry, companies and governments now have a ‘must do’ action on their plate.
If you fail to bring your current crisis management and communication plans up to international best practice, you leave yourself exposed to reputation damage and litigation to name just a couple of major risks that you may never have envisaged or imagined. The fact is that those two risks alone can destroy your business.
At the end of the day, crisis communication is about ‘perception management’. If your plans and actions on the day don’t embrace this as the over-riding principle, your community licence to operate comes into question.
The media, the community, legal profession, politicians and interest groups will ensure that everything you do will be under the microscope. It is no longer acceptable to say that ‘your first priority is managing the incident’. Community interest, knowledge, consultation and engagement now all share equal status in the incident management pyramid.
The Inquiry’s recommendations highlight this in a stark manner. They draw attention to lack of co-ordination among the agencies, confusing messages, contradictory messages, communities struggling to find answers, communities seeking reassurances, inadequate consultation, lack of international best practice, lack of ‘trusted networks’, lack of internal emergency management plans… the list goes on.
Compliance with community expectation is always difficult, even for the largest companies with significant resources at their disposal. Sadly, the risks are the same for SMEs should something go-wrong. Consequently it could be argued that industry associations should also be looking at developing at least standard crisis management and communication plans for their members to be able to activate should the need arise.
ICG has decades of experience in planning, development and implementation of crisis management plans, training exercises and in handling incidents. We can assist business and government to develop international best practice crisis communication plans and community engagement models.