Tasks with Directions
Graduate students in this class will conduct an analysis about the Boston Marathon Bombing., based on the principles of effective emergency management and public relations. The analysis will comprise the following:
The entire analysis should be between 1,000 and 1,500 words and should be written and sourced in proper American Psychological Association (APA) Style, including a complete reference list.
Research: In addition to the material from the Brataas text attached below, students must find at least one other academic (peer-reviewed) source, as well as one additional popular press source (a textbook or media article).
Synopsis: From your source material, provide a narrative description of the important signposts of the incident, from an emergency management planning perspective—prevention and detection; planning and preparedness; communication; recovery and learning. Though you weren’t present for this event, help us see it through an emergency manager’s eyes.
Analysis: From your perspective as an emergency manager, what was handled well, and what could have been handled better? Offer suggestions for how the impact of such an incident could be mitigated in the future, and what lessons have been learned that can be broadly applied in emergency management.
Crisis Communication is an in- depth examination of recent trag-
edies and natural disasters that have occurred around the globe.
The book covers three types of incidents: natural catastrophes,
accidents and terror attacks. It focuses on the communication
aspect of each incident and provides accounts from people han-
dling the event. Each chapter offers a detailed description of the
event and supplementary facts and illustrations from a variety of
With a focus on critical communication elements and lessons
learned, Brataas offers valuable advice – based on personal experi-
ence with natural disasters, accidents and terror attacks – on some
of the most effective ways to prepare for and deal with a crisis.
Topics range from interview situations and social media to victim
support and active shooter events.
This book will be invaluable to those working in public rela-
tions and communications, as well as to those working with
human resources and general management.
Kjell Brataas has been on the front lines of crisis communication
during some of Norway’s most devastating crises. He held cen-
tral positions after the tsunami in 2004 and following the terrorist
attacks in Oslo and on Utoya on July 22, 2011. Brataas has practi-
cal experience from private companies and government ministries.
He has presented at crisis communication conferences around the
world, including London, Toronto, Istanbul and Denver, and he
has lectured on crisis communication at the university level.
Case Studies and Lessons Learned from
First published 2018
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© 2018 Taylor & Francis
The right of Kjell Brataas to be identified as author of this work has been asserted by him
in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilised
in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or
hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any information
storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publishers.
Trademark notice: Product or corporate names may be trademarks or registered trademarks,
and are used only for identification and explanation without intent to infringe.
Library of Congress Cataloging- in- Publication Data
Names: Brataas, Kjell, author.
Title: Crisis communication : case studies and lessons learned
from international disasters / Kjell Brataas.
Description: 1 Edition. | New York : Routledge, 2018. |
Includes bibliographical references and index.
Identifiers: LCCN 2017037478 (print) | LCCN 2017057230 (ebook) |
ISBN 9781315368245 (Master) | ISBN 9781498751353 (WebPDF) |
ISBN 9781315351285 (ePub) | ISBN 9781315332246 (Mobipocket/Kindle) |
ISBN 9781498751346 (hardback : alk. paper) | ISBN 9781315368245 (ebk)
Subjects: LCSH: Crisis management. | Emergency management. |
Communication in management. Classification: LCC HD49 (ebook) |
LCC HD49.B73 2018 (print) | DDC 658.4/77–dc23
LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2017037478
ISBN: 978- 1- 498- 75134- 6 (hbk)
ISBN: 978- 1- 315- 36824- 5 (ebk)
Typeset in Sabon
by Out of House Publishing
List of Figures ix
About the Author xiii
Chapter 1: Disasters in the Transportation Sector 1
Asiana Airlines: The Speed of Social Media 1
Germanwings: No Survivors, Many Questions 5
Lac- Mégantic: Crisis Communication
Chapter 2: Natural Disasters 13
Flood in Queensland 13
Tassie Fire: One Person Could Help 16
Calgary Flood: Crisis Communication at Its Best 21
The Tsunami: A Wave of Challenges 29
Chapter 3: Terror 44
Boston Marathon Bombings 44
In Amenas Attack on Gas Facility 52
Terror in the Capital of Norway and on the
Island of Utoya 57
From Nightclub to Nightmare in Orlando 70
Chapter 4: Introduction and Models for Crisis
Models for Crisis Communication Collaboration 78
Chapter 5: Working with the Media 81
Accepting and Answering Media Calls 82
The Press Release 83
Press Conferences 84
Preparing for an Interview 86
When the Red Light Flashes – the Interview Situation 87
Other Crisis Communication Products 89
Chapter 6: Social Media in Crisis Communication 91
A Brief History 91
Establishing a Presence 94
Policing through Social Media 95
Rules of Engagement 96
Social Media Monitoring for Facts, Rumors and
Fake News 97
Social Media Messages 100
Live Reporting through Pictures and Video 102
Disaster Response through Facebook 103
Digital Volunteers and the Concept of VOST 103
It’s Hard to Lie … 107
Chapter 7: Internal Communication – Don’t Forget
Your Employees 111
Chapter 8: Top- Level Communication and Management
The CEO on Social Media 115
The CEO as a Spokesperson 116
The Difficult Task of Apologizing 117
Staff Care 118
Choosing Your Words 118
Chapter 9: High- Flying Crisis Communication
(the Special Case of Airlines) 120
Challenges to Consider 121
The Role of NTSB 122
Laws and Regulations 123
What to Say 125
Social Media in Aviation 126
Resilience in Aviation 128
Chapter 10: Family Support and Victim Assistance 130
Victims First 133
Internal Preparations 134
Victim Accounting 135
Victims Abroad 136
Telephone Hotline 137
Family Assistance Centers (FACs) 139
Support Groups – a Collective Voice for Victims 145
Memorials and Rituals 149
Site Visits 151
Identification and Remains 153
Death Notifications 154
Chapter 11: Preparing for the Worst 160
The Disaster Communication Cycle 160
The Crisis Communication Plan 165
Saving Lives through Bleeding Control 167
Training and Exercises 167
Active Shooter Scenarios 172
Business Continuity 177
Chapter 12: Psychological Reactions 180
Natural Reactions 180
The Psychology of Evacuations 182
Next- of- Kin Priorities 183
‘Aren’t They Over It Yet?’ 184
Chapter 13: Additional Information and Further Reading 188
Figure 1.1 Asiana Airlines experienced several crisis
communication challenges after flight
OZ214 crashlanded in San Francisco. 2
Figure 1.2 Carsten Spohr, the CEO of Lufthansa,
appeared in a video on YouTube shortly
after the Germanwings crash in the
French Alps. 7
Figure 1.3 At a speed of 65 miles an hour, a train with
72 tank cars derailed in the center of town of
Lac- Mégantic. Sixty- three derailed tank cars
were damaged, and a fire broke out almost
Figure 2.1 ‘My name is Mel …’ The Facebook page
‘Tassie Fires – We Can Help’ featured a
personal introduction from its creator Melanie
Figure 2.2 Since the fire, Dr Melanie Irons has become
a sought- after presenter and has given
talks internationally, including in Toronto,
Washington DC, Frankfurt, London, Belfast,
Edinburgh, Johannesburg, Wellington, Riga,
and Oslo. She finished her PhD in 2015. 20
Figure 2.3 According to the City of Calgary’s web page,
‘Flooding can occur at any time with little to
no warning.’ That was the case in 2013. 22
Figure 2.4 Calgary’s Emergency Operations Center has
dedicated facilities for journalists. 23
Figure 2.5 The Calgary Police did an excellent job of
communicating through Twitter. 25
Figure 2.6 The mayor of Calgary used every opportunity
to praise his staff, who worked hard on
handling the flood. 26
Figure 2.7 The beach of the Katathani Hotel was
chosen as the site for the Norwegian memorial
service to commemorate victims of the
tsunami in Asia. 38
Figure 2.8 When Norwegian next- of- kin of tsunami
victims visited Khao Lak in May 2005,
Hilde Sirnes (left) from the Norwegian
Church Abroad and Kjell Brataas from the
Ministry of Health offered support and
practical advice. 39
Figure 2.9 A heart filled with red roses was used to
symbolize the casualties of the tsunami on the
beach in Thailand. 41
Figure 3.1 Twitter was used for a variety of purposes,
including showing a personal side of the
Boston Police Department. 46
Figure 3.2 Social media were the preferred news channel
for many people following the manhunt after
the Boston Marathon bombings. 49
Figure 3.3 Statoil and the Office of the Prime Minister
worked jointly on the In Amenas crisis.
Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg (left) and
Statoil’s CEO Helge Lund both spoke at a
staff meeting. 56
Figure 3.4 Jens Stoltenberg, Merete Guin and Arvid
Samland worked in makeshift offices at
the Residence of the Prime Minister on the
evening of July 22, 2011. 59
Figure 3.5 A dramatic message on Twitter: ‘Someone is
shooting at Utoya.’ 62
Figure 3.6 ‘A sea of roses’ in downtown Oslo. 67
Figure 3.7 From a temporary media camp, reporters
could watch across the lake as visitors arrived
at Utoya. 69
Figure 3.8 At the time, the Pulse shooting was the
deadliest terrorist attack in the U.S. since
September 11, 2001. 74
Figure 4.1 ‘The 4C Model’ Circles of Crisis
Communication Collaboration describes
how the CEO, the communications team
(COMM) and human resources (HR) need to
collaborate in times of crisis. 79
Figure 4.2 The ‘Communication Product Loop’ can
be expanded or changed based on type of
organization, crisis and so on. 80
Figure 5.1 Media interest can escalate quickly, as was
the case after the terror attack in Oslo in the
summer of 2011. 82
Figure 6.1 Governor Christie and other leaders used
Twitter to reinforce important messages. 92
Figure 6.2 Facebook has developed several tools for
use in a crisis, including ‘Safety Check’ and
‘Community Help.’ 104
Figure 6.3 VOST teams are ‘trusted agents’ who can
provide valuable situational awareness
through surveillance of social media. 105
Figure 7.1 All- employee meetings can be an effective
way of disseminating information during
a crisis. 112
Figure 8.1 With 370,000 followers on Twitter as of July
2017, the mayor of Calgary, Naheed Nenshi,
has the potential of reaching a vast audience.
He actively amplified messages from
@cityofcalgary and @CalgaryPolice during
the flood in the summer of 2013. 116
Figure 9.1 With social media connected to wi- fi on
board commercial flights, passengers can
broadcast live from emergency situations –
or take a selfie. 127
Figure 9.2 Southwest Airlines has established its own
‘listening center.’ 128
Figure 9.3 Ken Jenkins handled eight fatal events for
American Airlines. 129
Figure 10.1 Heidi Snow’s organization ACCESS has
250 ‘grief mentors,’ who provide personal
support to victims after airline accidents
and other events involving sudden loss. 148
Figure 10.2 A memorial can be a sophisticated piece
of art or a simple plaque, like this one on a
tree in Khao Lak, Thailand. 150
Figure 10.3 After the tsunami, Norwegian next- of- kin
made makeshift memorials at the hotels
where their loved ones had died. 152
Figure 11.1 ‘The disaster communication cycle’ explains
how planning and training elevate the
knowledge and readiness of an organization,
so that it constantly evolves and improves. 161
Figure 11.2 Even if ‘cash is king,’ when donations are
needed after a disaster, many people will
send clothes, teddy bears and so on. All
these items need to be sorted and organized,
as was the case in Texas after Hurricane
Harvey. The picture shows the Aransas
County Donation Center in Rockport in
September 2017. 164
About the Author
For most of his career, Kjell Brataas has been employed by dif-
ferent ministries within the Norwegian government. He soon dis-
played an interest in crisis communication and volunteered his
skills to a support group within the government that was to be
summoned in the case of a major crisis. Brataas had a central role
in the Norwegian government’s follow- up of the tsunami in 2004,
including weekly meetings with next- of- kin and arranging for two
trips to Thailand for family members in 2005. When an official
report on the tragedy suggested a formal group be established
in the Ministry of Justice, Brataas was asked to be in charge of
setting up and designing crisis communication capability within
In July 2011, Brataas was called in to handle international
media, internal communication and next- of- kin support after the
bombing in Oslo and the mass shooting on the island of Utoya.
He assisted at the media center and monitored social media during
visits to Utoya in August for survivors and family members.
Brataas studied journalism and PR at the University of Texas
at Austin. He has lectured and shared his knowledge and experi-
ence in a variety of settings around the world. He has taught mul-
tiple courses in crisis communication at the Emergency Planning
College of the Ministry of Justice, and he is a guest lecturer at
the Arctic University of Norway. Additionally, Brataas has pre-
sented at the International Air Transport Association (IATA) con-
ference on crisis communication and social media in Istanbul,
the Intermedix Summit in Denver and the World Conference on
Disaster Management (WCDM) in Toronto (2014– 2016). In addi-
tion to serving as a presenter, Brataas has been a member of the
xiv About the Author
Advisory Board for WCDM, which included determining speakers
and organizing attendee events.
In addition to his work, Brataas enjoys traveling, skiing and
hiking in the mountains. He lives in Billingstad outside of Oslo
with his wife Janelle and their three children.
The author welcomes comments and suggestions. You can
contact Kjell Brataas through email: [email protected]
It is an absolute pleasure to be asked to write a foreword to this
excellent book by Kjell Brataas, whom I first met several years
ago in Canada during the annual World Conference on Disaster
Management. It soon became apparent that Kjell is a gifted and
highly competent communicator himself, and it is no surprise that
he quickly became a key member of the WCDM Advisory Board.
His personal experience with a variety of crisis communication
issues, media handling, hotlines for victims, support groups, site
visits, memorial services and so on have served him well as the
author of this important book, which focuses on disaster com-
munication with vital case studies and lessons learned from inter-
national disasters to avoid repeating past mistakes. This point was
first made way back in 1906 by the Spanish philosopher George
Santayana, who presciently stated then, as nowadays, that ‘Those
who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.’
If I think about my own experience in disaster management,
stretching back over nearly four decades, I am reminded of one
particular headline (which presently attracts over 29 million hits
on Google): ‘Crisis. What crisis?’ So said British Prime Minister Jim
Callaghan way back in 1979, returning from sunny Guadeloupe
to a damp, disastrous and strike- ridden U.K. with rubbish piled
high on street corners and even the dead unburied in some cities.
Or so history says. The fact is, Callaghan never actually said these
words. Instead, a reporter working for the popular Sun newspa-
per used them as a headline that caught the popular impression
of an out- of- touch government caught in the headlights. Perhaps
‘PM plays down problems’ might have been a more accurate head-
line, but ‘Crisis? What crisis?’ suited the mood of the nation and
has since become part of British political folklore. The impact of
this miscommunication was so forceful that a few months later
Callaghan’s government was voted out of office.
Among the many topics that underpin effective disaster man-
agement, I cannot find a more critical heading to focus on than
communication. Good leaders and supportive crisis teams are all
very well, but if they cannot communicate properly or are delib-
erately misquoted, their efforts become pointless. But communi-
cation is not just about command: I am delighted to note that
the largest chapter in this book is about family and victim sup-
port, dealing with an often forgotten or neglected aspect of crisis
We now live in a world where the extraordinary has become
commonplace and the unexpected is now regularly anticipated.
Add to that hundreds of predatory news organizations, immediate
and global communications, stories of abandoned disaster victims
and hitherto steadfast organizations frequently discredited and
ridiculed, and you might be correct to assume that we are perhaps
more vulnerable to all aspects of communication in a disaster than
ever before. This also means, of course, that we are more aware
of crises, yet at the same time more unforgiving if those trying
to resolve crises do not deliver the solutions we have been led to
expect: an extremely difficult, if not impossible, challenge for any
government, organization or body of people tasked with managing
any crisis, in that, for example, the speed of social communication
would have been unimaginable even ten years ago.
Nowadays we exist in an increasingly fragile, bewildering and
interconnected society, where just about all essential services we
rely on are far more entangled than we realize. When something
goes wrong, the consequences are therefore more sudden and
widespread, sometimes made worse by secrecy, scapegoats and
silos: we cannot be told, we need someone to blame and in any
case, we work separately.
If we fail to share assumptions and ideas on disaster communi-
cation between organizations, sectors, regions and even countries,
we must surely prepare to fail in the future. It’s therefore time to
learn from the lessons outlined in this book, climb much further
out of our silos and dismantle some of the unnecessary boundaries
that exist, especially in an age of unparalleled and instant com-
munication that, not forgetting simple acts of human kindness, we
should use to our advantage whenever the next disaster strikes.
This up- to- date and highly readable book, which deliberately
focuses on international crises, could not be better timed. Never
has it been more important to dismantle borders, learn from each
other, take better care of victims and above all, learn to be better
Peter Power BA FBCI FIRM JP
Co- author UK Government standard on
crisis management (BS 11200)
Managing Director, Visor Consultants
On December 14, 1911, the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen
and his team accomplished an astonishing achievement – they were
the first human beings to reach the South Pole. This feat would
fascinate a world hungry with questions; how was it humanly pos-
sible, why did they succeed and not fail, and what hardships did
they endure during their journey? All of those questions would
be answered, but it would be almost three months before the first
news article appeared to inform the world about Amundsen’s
In so many respects, the world today is totally different than it
was in Amundsen’s time. The speed at which news and information
are conveyed, analyzed and disseminated has shrunk from taking
months to being instantaneous. Smartphones with cameras can
broadcast live from almost anywhere on earth, and how govern-
ments and businesses deal with a crisis and respond appropriately
is judged immediately on television and social media. The days of
spending hours agonizing over a press statement are gone. Today’s
world must factor in citizen journalists, live feeds, hashtags and
crowdsourced information – and these transformations are here
As the possibilities in communication evolve, crisis manage-
ment has also had to adapt: Not just because there is an expecta-
tion of instant communication, but because of greater demands
for immediate answers, more pressure for transparency and an
expectation of openness. These changes are mostly positive, but
it is essential that government officials, business leaders and com-
munications professionals alike realize and accept this new reality.
They must be prepared for it and embrace it. That is the purpose
of this book.
I have always enjoyed writing. Growing up in Norway, I earned a
bit of extra income writing articles and conducting interviews for
magazines and newspapers, and as a young adult I published a few
travel guides. However, writing a book in a foreign language was
not one of my aspirations.
My first personal encounter with managing a disaster came
in 2004, when the tsunami hit Asia and killed close to 230,000
people, including 84 Norwegians. At the time, I was a senior com-
munications advisor with the Norwegian Ministry of Health, and
I was tasked with a variety of crisis communication responsibili-
ties. People from more than 50 countries died in the tragedy, and
I had the opportunity to see how colleagues from other countries
communicated about the crisis and to pick up some best practices
and lessons learned.
That event did not involve interacting with social media.
Facebook was still in its infancy, and YouTube, Twitter, Snapchat
and a host of other social media platforms had not yet been
invented. But social media played a significant role in the next
crisis management effort I was involved with. On July 22, 2011,
news about a bombing in downtown Oslo that killed eight peo-
ple quickly spread through Facebook and Twitter as well as tra-
ditional news outlets. Almost at the same time as that event was
unfolding, young people at a youth camp on Utoya Island – more
than 23 miles from Oslo – were sending terrified messages in real
time about a mass shooting taking place on the island.
Another interest of mine is meeting new people. My career
and crisis experience have taken me to many countries and conti-
nents where I have had the opportunity to speak at professional
seminars, to share ideas and to learn from friends and colleagues.
Attending these conferences has taught me that there is a large
group of professionals out there who have varied experience and
knowledge, and from whom there is much to learn. Sadly, though,
working in the aftermath of disasters has also forced me to meet
and confront the human side of tragedy, teaching me that the
greatest toll is on the victims, their families and those who knew
and loved them. It is our job, as those tasked with the management
of a crisis, to do so with as much compassion, professionalism and
speed as possible.
This book includes several examples of how crisis communica-
tion can make a tragic situation even worse. A common mistake
is when a government official or the chief executive officer of a
company chooses words badly or does not focus on the victims.
Many people remember the CEO of British Petroleum, in response
to a reporter about the disaster that killed 11 people on the off-
shore drilling platform Deepwater Horizon, saying, ‘I want my life
back.’ His tone- deaf response infuriated the victims’ families and
the general public alike. Another example of atrocious communi-
cation is recalled from the maritime disaster in 1994, when MS
Estonia sank in the middle of the night in the Baltic Sea and 852
souls perished. The first press release put out by the ship’s owners
created a firestorm of fury when they declared, ‘We can confirm
that the ship was insured.’
There are other lessons to be learned as well. One has to do
with the care taken when handling lists and numbers. It is essential
to keep track of who has died, where victims are, which hospitals
have admitted injured, where next- of- kin should report, and con-
tact information for both the next- of- kin and the media. Accurate
dissemination of information, and doing this in a timely fashion,
is among the most demanding tasks of crisis management. It can
mean the difference between staying on top of a crisis and letting
events get ahead of you and out of control.
Several chapters in this book cover the technical and theoreti-
cal aspects of crisis communication – these are the ‘nuts and bolts’
of our work. And I include sections on working with the media
and other communication channels and recommendations for
handling databases. But it is important to emphasize that disas-
ter management and crisis communication are, first and foremost,
about relating to people. As the result of a disaster, countless vic-
tims have their lives changed forever, and it is paramount to keep
that in mind when you draft press releases, comment on social
media or give interviews to print and electronic media outlets.
A poor response or ill- considered thought blurted out on CNN or
BBC can be devastating to your organization – but even more so
to the victims and their families.
For communicators as well as managers, it is also important to
understand the psychological aspects of being in a crisis situation,
or what it is like to be the sudden victim of a tragic event. Initial
shock often turns to anger, but effective and direct intervention by
management, combined with professional communication, can go
a long way towards mitigating the situation.
FOCUS ON COMMUNICATION
My main emphasis in this book is on the communication aspects
of handling a disaster, including the way we speak, write, tweet or
post about events during and after an event. The book is divided
into two parts. The first is called ‘Case Studies’ and includes narra-
tives of natural disasters, terror attacks and disasters in the trans-
portation sector. I have included 11 different case studies, and
I have chosen them because they – communications- wise – were
handled exceptionally well or exceptionally poorly, or because
they involved new and modern ways of communicating. Two of
the case studies include a personal voice, as I was heavily involved
in the handling of the tsunami in 2004 and the terror in Oslo and
Utoya in 2011. The second part of the book focuses on ‘Lessons
Learned’ and best practices, many of which are drawn from case
studies presented earlier. Most of the advice given is based on my
personal experience and knowledge, but I also include hints and
advice from additional sources and refer to studies and research
from people and organizations all over the world.
In addition, three sub- headings should be mentioned, as they
are featured widely throughout the book:
Social media have profoundly changed the way crisis manage-
ment works and how we, as crisis managers, do our jobs.
I focus on platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube
and others. In fact, because of their importance, some of the
case studies deal mostly with the use of social media. While it
may be a bit ‘scary’ to include social media in a book such as
this, due to the rapidity of change, what may be considered
the norm, and how all of that may change in a short period
of time, social media are an important component of crisis
Family support and victim assistance is a subject that could eas-
ily be a book in itself, but I have concentrated on the many
communication challenges an organization faces when deal-
ing with next- of- kin after a tragedy. And while many com-
panies have done an excellent job, case studies show there is
still a lot to learn, and the ‘victim dimension’ should never be
Leadership in a crisis is a subject covered extensively in case
studies. How a government official or CEO speaks and what
they focus on are quite often much more important than
many in top management positions realize. Examples of this
are highlighted from events ranging from a terror attack in
Algeria to a train crash in Canada.
I have written this book to share what I consider to be vital les-
sons learned for handling the communication aspects of a crisis.
My hope is that by reading this book you will be better prepared
to deal with unforeseen events. We do not know what tomorrow
will bring, but I hope the case studies and lessons learned that are
detailed here will help you be better prepared to make the right
decisions as you communicate in the minutes, hours, days, weeks
after a tragic event occurs – and long afterwards.
I hope you find this book helpful, and that the insights and
learning points I offer will help those who deal with crisis events
and disasters to better serve the victims, their families, the public
and the organizations they represent.
This book would not have been possible without help, assistance
and inspiration from a number of people. I want to thank as many
as possible in this chapter, but I apologize if someone who feels
they should be mentioned is not included here.
First and foremost, I want to thank my immediate family.
My wife Janelle has offered excellent support during the writing
process, with practical advice regarding wording as well as emo-
tional backing and encouragement. She suggested I spend a week
away from home for writing purposes, and for many months she
did not complain when I ‘hid’ in my office researching and writ-
ing this book. I am blessed with having a wonderful wife and life
I also need to mention our three kids, Rebekka, Aleksander
and Kristian. They too have been supportive and never complained
when I was focusing on writing or could not attend an event at
school. I am extremely proud of them and will love them forever.
The idea for this book was actually first put forward by one of
my best friends, Ture Lundh, whom I have known since we both
worked at Epcot in Disney World in 1988. When we were talking
one day about my varied experience in the field of crisis commu-
nication, he suggested that I write a book on the subject. We dis-
cussed it further for the next days and weeks, and when I started
writing, Ture provided invaluable help and support. He gave me
concrete advice about structure and content, and most of the chap-
ters in this book have been examined and corrected by Ture.
Someone else who has been of great help is Michael Kardos,
whom I first met as a student in Austin, Texas, in 1993. He was my
boss when I was an intern at the Texas Department of Commerce,
and his guidance and advice on finding the right words for press
releases and background articles have proven valuable for many
years since. When I moved back to Norway in 1994, Michael and
I kept in touch, and I am happy to say that he is still a good friend,
who has contributed valuable advice for this book.
A venue that has been instrumental in the development of my
crisis communication career is the World Conference on Disaster
Management in Toronto. Its lectures and presentations have been
top notch, but even more treasured are the professional connec-
tions and personal friendships I have made at WCDM. The peo-
ple I have met in Toronto have inspired me in so many ways,
and I have really enjoyed being a speaker and a member of the
Advisory Board of the conference. I will not be able to name all the
individuals I have met at WCDM, but I want to especially mention
Adrian Gordon, Peter Power, Bob Jensen, Christopher Tarantino
and Suzanne Bernier.
It was at the WCDM conference that I first met Australian
Melanie Irons in 2014. She gave a fast- paced presentation about
her volunteer work during the bushfire in Tasmania in 2013, and
I immediately became intrigued by her story and her unique way
of combining PhD studies, Facebook development and being a per-
sonal trainer. We talked for a while in Toronto, and I invited her to
come to Norway to present at a KrisKom seminar I was arranging
in Oslo the next year. Mel and her husband thus spent a week in
Norway in May 2015, and we had a great time together, which
was also spent discussing my book project. It was Mel who sug-
gested I contact Taylor & Francis as a possible publisher, and I am
very grateful for her advice, knowledge and friendship.
In 2005, the Norwegian government decided to set up a for-
mal Emergency Support Unit within the Ministry of Justice. To
make it happen, the ministry picked out five people with various
backgrounds, who were given half a year to establish a system,
write guidelines and properly equip the facilities two floors below
ground at the Government Complex in Oslo. The head of the group
was Per Brekke, and the other team members were Tore Drtina,
Rolf Wegner, Stein Solberg and myself. The five of us worked very
well together, and after the ‘handover’ of the unit to the Ministry
of Justice, we continued to stay in touch. Every year since, we
have met for a two days’ seminar in a closed- down lighthouse in
the Oslo fjord, where we update each other on personal matters
and discuss subjects related to emergency management, disaster
preparedness and crisis communication. We all look forward to
the gathering, and I have learned much from these gentlemen that
is included in this book.
Lindsay Crudele played an important role in handling the
Boston Marathon bombings. I brought her to Norway for a semi-
nar in 2015, and when I visited her in Boston in 2017 she presented
me to a number of key people with valuable insight into crisis
communication. Her introductions have been much appreciated.
I truly value my personal encounters with key people in the
victim management profession, whose insights and advice are dis-
bursed throughout the book. A few years ago I enjoyed a beer
with Ken Jenkins when he visited Oslo, and his insight into the
airline industry and its many accidents is probably equal to none.
Another meeting that made a lasting impression was my talk with
Heidi Snow in a hotel lobby in Boston. After experiencing a per-
sonal loss herself, Heidi set up an organization called ACCESS,
which today is a world leader in providing peer support through
‘grief mentors.’ I believe many organizations and individuals have
a lot to learn from her approach to grief counseling.
In June 2017 I attended a Victim Support Symposium in
Dublin. The event was a fantastic arena for learning about victim
support all over the world, and needless to say, I got to meet knowl-
edgeable and interesting people with a variety of backgrounds and
professions. The symposium followed the Chatham House Rules,
which provide anonymity to speakers, so I am not in a position
to name them here. Nevertheless, I want to thank the participants
for openly sharing their personal experiences and lessons learned
C H A P T E R 1
Disasters in the
When a tragedy happens involving a train or a passenger jet, peo-
ple all over the world pay attention. Often accompanied by pic-
tures showing burning wreckage or distraught next- of- kin at an
airport, these accidents touch the lives of all of us. Because flying
today is such a routine task, we feel that ‘It could have been me
on that plane,’ and we are again reminded of our own mortality.
The following case studies describe how crisis management,
top leadership and communications teams handled two aviation
disasters and one exceptionally deadly train crash. They each
showcase the importance of social media, and each event is a
reminder of how a CEO becomes an important figure – whether
he or she likes it or not.
ASIANA AIRLINES: THE SPEED OF
Case: An Asiana Airlines Boeing 777 from Seoul to San Francisco
crashed into the runway while attempting to land at San Francisco
Airport. Of the 291 passengers, 182 were injured and three lost
their lives. The accident became a vivid example of how quickly
news spreads through social media. Furthermore, it exemplified
the importance of communicating well from all levels of an organi-
zation, and it proved that silence is not a recommended approach.
2 Disasters in the Transportation Sector
The ‘15- seconds blog’ called the accident ‘Asiana’s Crash Course in
Bad PR’ (15- seconds.com, 2013).
When: July 6, 2013
The timeline of the crash tells a compelling story of the speed
of news spreading in the days of social media:
11.28: Asiana Airlines flight OZ214 crashes on runway 28 at
San Francisco Airport.
11.29: Google employee Krista Seiden, who was at the airport
ready to board another flight, uploads a picture of the crash
on Twitter. Reporters from Sky News, CNN and NPR quickly
reach out – through Twitter – to try to get her as a source for
their news stories on the incident.
11.45: Survivors post photos of evacuation. One of them, David
Eun, writes on Twitter (with an accompanying picture show-
ing the crashed plane and evacuating survivors – with hand
luggage): ‘I just crash landed at SFO. Tail ripped off. Most
everyone seems fine. I’m OK. Surreal …’
12.08: First tweet from Boeing.
12.23: First tweet from NTSB (National Transportation and
12.48: First tweet from SFO Airport – followed by 15 updates
for the next 12 hours.
15.39: First tweet from Asiana Airlines.
FIGURE 1.1 Asiana Airlines experienced several crisis communi-
cation challenges after flight OZ214 crashlanded in San Francisco.
Disasters in the Transportation Sector 3
By noon, there were more than 44,000 tweets about the accident,
but the airline took several hours to post anything on social media
about what had happened. Their excuse might have been that the
Asiana headquarters are in Seoul, where it was night at the time of
the accident and few people were in the office. For the first hours
after the accident, therefore, their last Twitter message was from
two days earlier – wishing everyone a happy Fourth of July.
“ Unfortunately, Asiana Airlines, with the world’s eyes set
on it, was slow to respond and was far from satisfying the
insatiable need for more information in the hours after
Shashank Nigam, Simpliflying.com (Nigam, 2013)
The way news spread on Twitter about the accident must be some-
thing close to a record, as a picture of the crash was published one
minute after it happened. Neither traditional media nor a com-
pany’s own communications team can ever compete with that, and
this case study shows how hard it is to be on top of the news – and
the importance of traditional and social media monitoring.
Asiana Airlines ‘woke up’ and published four updates on Twitter
in the 12 hours following the crash. However, it took eight hours
before they issued a press release, and when it came out it did not
have any words on compassion or apology. Instead, it started with
‘The following information has been confirmed’ and continued to
list the facts of the crash. It took nine hours for the phone num-
ber to the airline’s next- of- kin hotline to appear on their website.
Asiana chose not to engage in any conversations on Twitter, and
they did not answer a single direct question through social media.
A Late and Silent CEO
You would think that when you run an airline, you would have
no problem obtaining a ticket to fly to a crash site. Nevertheless, it
4 Disasters in the Transportation Sector
took the president of Asiana Airlines, Yoon Young- doo, three days
to arrive in San Francisco. What made matters worse was that he
had nothing to say to the 50 or so reporters who were waiting for
him at the airport. The CEO was quickly surrounded by journal-
ists demanding answers, and the mob scene ended with Young- doo
being chased back through the arrivals door. There was no other
spokesperson in the U.S. who could talk on the company’s behalf.
This perplexing silence was repeated at a later press conference,
where six of the 12 flight attendants from OZ214 took part. None
of them spoke, and some hid their faces from the cameras.
There was also criticism in the media about how Asiana
Airlines handled the surviving passengers. Many of them had no
clothes, no luggage, no money and no passport, and several com-
plained about not being heard or getting enough help. That they
were instructed by the airline not to speak to reporters did not help
matters (CBSNews, 2013).
Family assistance after an aircraft accident is taken seriously
in the U.S., and federal laws protect the rights of surviving passen-
gers and relatives. (See Chapter 9 for more information.) Asiana
Airlines did not behave appropriately, and the company was later
fined USD 500,000 for failing to help families after the July crash.
This marked the very first time the Department of Transportation
had issued a fine since a law about family assistance was intro-
duced in 1997.
News from Authorities
American authorities and organizations displayed a very different
approach to communicating about the accident. After the crash,
the home page of SFO Airport had problems due to a very high
number of visitors, but they made up for it with Facebook and
Twitter as alternative platforms. They published constant updates
on Twitter, made good use of hashtags and actively retweeted
information from other sources. They were also able to answer
individuals who had questions and comments about the situation
at the airport.
NTSB – the National Transportation and Safety Board –
sprang into action quickly. As is their goal, they posted a message
on Twitter within one hour after the accident, and in the following
Disasters in the Transportation Sector 5
hours and days they provided constant updates and streams of
photos. During the first week of the accident, NTSB published
86 tweets with information on the crash, often providing factual
information about the investigation and giving out pictures from
the accident scene.
Victim of a Prank
If it hadn’t had such a tragic backdrop, the prank played
on the local TV station KTVU might just have been a tough
lesson in the importance of verification. In their noon
broadcast on July 12, the news anchor told viewers that
‘KTVU has just learned the names of the four pilots who
were on board,’ then continued to read out four fake names
of the pilots. It is a bit bewildering how the names made
it all the way to the live broadcast, as at least one of the
names – ‘Captain Sum Ting Wong’ – should have told TV
producers that some fact- checking was in order. Soon after-
wards KTVU made a public apology, but they still received
heavy criticism for having allowed racist jokes. It did not
help them, or NTSB, that a summer intern at NTSB had
confirmed to the TV station that the names were correct.
The intern was fired soon afterwards, and the news segment
became an instant hit on YouTube.
GERMANWINGS: NO SURVIVORS, MANY
Case: Germanwings flight 4U 9525 crashed into the mountainside
at Massif des Trois- Eveches in the French Alps, killing all 150 on
board. Several commentators said later that the crisis communi-
cation from Lufthansa (parent company of Germanwings) was a
When: March 24, 2015
Although the plane crashed in a remote area, news about the
missing aircraft spread quickly. Flightradar24 was one of the first
to report about the accident with a Twitter message that simply
6 Disasters in the Transportation Sector
stated that the flight was lost from its radar. Within 90 minutes, the
message was retweeted more than 2,000 times.
Germanwings published their first tweet about the incident
within an hour and followed up with news on Facebook and
their home page. In a later tweet they urged the public to moni-
tor the website for updates, a task that became impossible, as the
home page crashed and was unreachable for several hours. Social
media therefore became extra important, and for the first 24 hours
Germanwings published 24 messages on Twitter (14 in German,
ten in English).
The CEO Steps In
Lufthansa, the parent company and owner of Germanwings, could
have taken a sideline approach and let others handle the situation.
That did not happen. Lufthansa’s CEO, Karsten Spohr, played
an important and visible role in the following days and weeks.
His name appeared in the first Twitter messages from Lufthansa,
thereby showing the world that the tragedy was being handled at
the highest level of the company.
Speaking at the first press conference about the tragedy, Spohr
said that the tragedy ‘makes us speechless.’ He continued to
express shock and stated that the crash was ‘our worst nightmare.’
The CEO showed commitment and care, and a few hours later he
recorded a video message in English and German that was pub-
lished on YouTube. He said that Lufthansa would support next- of-
kin in any way, anywhere in the world, and that ‘safety in aviation
is not a given.’ There were several reactions to the YouTube video in
its comments field, positive as well as negative. One person wrote
that Lufthansa showed a personal side of the business and genuine
feeling about the sad events. Nobody could take away the fact that
at this most difficult of times, Lufthansa showed responsibility.
A Logo in Mourning
The two airlines involved in the crash quickly changed their logos
and branding on social media, an action that has become the norm
in the airline industry. Germanwings recolored its logo to a black
Disasters in the Transportation Sector 7
and white version, and Lufthansa did the same, while also chang-
ing the cover page on its Facebook page to show only a black
Lufthansa went even further and used the hashtag #indeepsor-
row when it published news and comments on social media.
Family Support and Visits to the Crash Site
As described in Chapter 10 on family support, next- of- kin often
want to see where their loved ones died. It was not possible, or advis-
able, to bring families of passengers and crew of the Germanwings
flight exactly to the scene of the crash, but instead Lufthansa
organized travels to a more central location. On March 26, 2015,
two special flights brought family members from Dusseldorf and
Barcelona to Marseille, where a Family Assistance Center was set
FIGURE 1.2 Carsten Spohr, the CEO of Lufthansa, appeared in
a video on YouTube shortly after the Germanwings crash in the
8 Disasters in the Transportation Sector
up. More than 90 airline employees provided care and support at
the center. Relatives who wanted to were taken to a location as
close to the accident site as possible.
Books of condolences were made available at a variety of
locations, and Lufthansa even set up a web page for digital con-
dolences on www.indeepsorrow.com. The top of the web page
states that it is ‘A Place of Commemoration in memory of the
victims of Flight 4U9525. This site collects thoughts and con-
dolences for those who lost their lives in the tragic events of 24
An aircraft accident creates emotions of sadness, disbelief and
anger. Lufthansa and CEO Karsten Spohr made many good deci-
sions and communicated well, but in the weeks following the crash,
criticism arose regarding financial compensation. A single German
school had been hit especially hard, as 18 of its pupils and teachers
died in the crash. Their relatives launched several personal attacks
on Spohr, claiming that the airline should have done more to help
and that the CEO should have attended the funerals of their chil-
dren. In several interviews, Lufthansa spokesman Andreas Bartels
pointed out that Spohr had visited the crash site twice, that he
had been to Barcelona and that he had attended memorial ser-
vices in Haltern and Cologne. ‘He could not speak with each of the
more than a thousand relatives,’ Bartels told reporters (Australian
In total, Lufthansa had more than 600 of its employees work-
ing on next- of kin support after the crash in the French Alps.
LAC- MÉGANTIC: CRISIS COMMUNICATION
Case: A train with 72 tank cars carrying crude oil derailed in Lac-
Mégantic, Quebec, resulting in a series of explosions that burned
half of the downtown area and left 47 people dead. The commu-
nication efforts by the rail company and the behavior of the CEO
were heavily criticized by locals, the media and PR consultants
and have become a textbook example of how not to do crisis
When: July 6, 2013.
Disasters in the Transportation Sector 9
Of all the case studies in this book, the story from Lac-
Mégantic is probably the one that describes the least effective crisis
communication of all. Although the railroad company that owned
the train involved was a large corporation (Montreal Maine &
Atlantic), it did not seem to have any plans for crisis manage-
ment or crisis communication. Its handling of the situation was
so unprofessional that citizens of Lac- Mégantic felt neglected and
forgotten, and the company received criticism in traditional as well
as social media. It did not help that Montreal Maine & Atlantic
had no corporate social media presence, and therefore no way of
communicating quickly or interacting with journalists and citizens.
Much of the criticism after the crash focused on the head of
the rail company, Ed Burkhardt. He decided to handle the cri-
sis from his office in Chicago, and it took four days before he
appeared in the town of Lac- Mégantic. He did not want to talk
to the journalists who met him at the airport, and for a while he
FIGURE 1.3 At a speed of 65 miles an hour, a train with 72 tank
cars derailed in the center of town of Lac- Mégantic. Sixty- three
derailed tank cars were damaged, and a fire broke out almost
Source: Transportation Safety Board of Canada.
10 Disasters in the Transportation Sector
tried to avoid reporters, who swarmed around him on the street.
Burkhardt seemed surprised at the anger that was directed at
him, and when he finally decided to talk to the media, he did so
at the side of the street. He had no prepared statements and no
key messages, and in several of his comments he focused on his
own situation. Burkhardt might have been trying to be funny, but
his bad interaction with the press culminated when a reporter
asked about his financial worth, and he answered: ‘A whole lot
less than I was Saturday’ (Blatchford, 2013). In an interview with
CNN, Burkhardt later explained that his actions had been mis-
understood, pointing out what was obvious to everyone observ-
ing his news conference: ‘Maybe I didn’t present my case very
well. But I’m not a communications professional. I’m a manager’
“ People died. They died because MMA’s train derailed and
razed the downtown core of an historic Quebec town.
Offer your condolences. Say you’re heartbroken. For
God’s sake, show some humanity.
Jonathan McLeod (McLeod, 2013)
Lac- Mégantic is a mostly French- speaking part of Canada, but
Burkhardt only spoke English and did not bring an interpreter. He
could easily have delivered a phrase or two in French to connect with
the citizens, but he did not even convey ‘Je suis désolé’ – ‘I am sorry.’
It was not only journalists who were handled inadequately
and unprofessionally. Montreal Maine & Atlantic did issue a press
release in French, but its translation from English was so bad that
the words and sentences in the release became an insult to citi-
zens who already felt neglected. Several suggested on social media
that the company had used Google Translate, but Burkhardt later
explained in an interview with the Toronto Sun that they had
simply given the translating job to a member of their staff. ‘That
person’s French was not very good. It was an embarrassment,’
Burkhardt admitted to the reporter. Subsequent press releases
were translated by a professional agency (Parent, 2013).
Disasters in the Transportation Sector 11
In his defense, it can be said that Burkhardt believed he could
do his job best from the head office and not by traveling to Lac-
Mégantic. He was also surprised by the hostile atmosphere when
he finally arrived at the scene of the crash. However, the tragedy in
Lac- Mégantic has become a telling example of how handling the
communication aspect of a crisis – and top management involve-
ment – is of utmost importance.
“ Burkhardt failed in his crisis leadership duties and as a
result, the victims of the town of Lac- Mégantic were jus-
tifiably insulted and angry with him for doing so.
Melissa Agnes, Crisis Management Strategist
and Keynote Speaker. (Agnes, 2013)
15- seconds.com. (2013, July 10). 15- seconds.com. Retrieved from
Asiana’s Crash Course in Bad PR: www.15-seconds.com/
Agnes, M. (2013, July 11). Melissaagnes.com. Retrieved from
Australian Herald. (2015, July 22). Families of Germanwings
crash victims slam Lufthansa CEO’s handling of disaster.
Australian Herald. Retrieved from www.australianherald.com/
Blatchford, A. (2013, December 27). Head of railway at centre of
Lac-Mégantic disaster: ‘I was also a victim.’ The Globe and
Mail. Retrieved from www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-
CBSNews. (2013, July 17). Asiana crash victims: ‘We didn’t
get any help’ from airline. cbsnews.com. Retrieved from
12 Disasters in the Transportation Sector
Coren, A. (2013, July 13). Railway chairman: People in Canadian
city ‘wanted to throw stones at me.’ CNN. Retrieved from
McLeod, J. (2013, July 9). Lac- Mégantic rail disaster: Edward
Burkhardt is a bit of a jerk. Ordinary- gentlemen.com.
Retrieved from http://ordinary-gentlemen.com/2013/07/09/
Nigam, S. (2013, July 9). Asiana Airlines crash crisis management
2.0 – case study and analysis. Simpliflying.com. Retrieved
Parent, M.- J. (2013, July 19). CEO Ed Burkhardt hopes Lac-
Mégantic anger will one day ‘dissipate.’ Toronto Sun. Retrieved
C H A P T E R 2
When nature strikes, devastation and death tolls can be enormous.
At the same time, crisis communication becomes extra important,
as citizens in harm’s way need detailed and correct information in
order to survive.
This chapter focuses on flooding in Queensland and Calgary,
a forest fire in Tasmania and a tsunami in Asia. They all teach us
lessons about being prepared and using a variety of channels to
reach the public. And as the story from Tasmania reveals, com-
municating with a large audience can now be accomplished by just
one person dedicated to a page on Facebook.
The last case study in this chapter is a personal account of how
the Norwegian government handled the tsunami that killed almost
230,000 people, 84 of whom came from Norway. I worked on it
from the government side, and as the case study reveals, we were
not prepared …
FLOOD IN QUEENSLAND
Case: A massive flood and tropical cyclone swept through
Queensland, Australia, affecting more than 90% of the state and
millions of people. The Queensland Police Service (QPS) used
social media in an effective way and experienced an increase in
14 Natural Disasters
followers on Facebook from about 17,000 to more than 100,000
in 24 hours.
When: December 2010/ January 2011
Only half a year before the flood occurred, the QPS had
started experimenting with social media as an effective way of
reaching the public. Interest in their social media channel grew
steadily through word of mouth and by active promotion of the
channels in press releases and on web pages. By November 2010,
the QPS had 8,000 ‘likes’ on Facebook and 1,000 followers on
The QPS were therefore in good shape to start informing the
public about dangers and give directions about what to do when,
in December 2010, bad weather set in. Their first posts on social
media were copies from press releases, and interest and demand
grew quickly. After only two weeks, the number of ‘likes’ on their
Facebook page escalated from about 8,000 to 17,000.
Still, this growth did not amount to a lot compared with what
happened after January 10, 2011. On that day, a significant flash
flood occurred in south- east Queensland, and the number of ‘likes’
on the QPS Facebook page increased from about 17,000 to more
than 100,000 – in 24 hours (Queensland Police Service, 2011).
The Use of Facebook – a Success Story
An important reason for the popularity of their Facebook page
was that its content was up to date, an achievement in itself for
a public office used to having rigid clearance routines for infor-
mation issued in press releases. The communications team were
trusted to use their judgment, and journalists soon started seeing
the QPS social media channels as their main provider of official
information. Traditional media did a good job in promoting the
channels, often citing the Facebook or Twitter pages and thereby
informing the public of where they could find information directly
from the source.
Another cause for success was the capability of the social media
team to respond adequately and in a timely way to questions com-
ing in on their Facebook page. Although its popularity and usage
had grown immensely, the QPS media team attempted to pick up
on trending questions and comment where needed, something the
Natural Disasters 15
public valued, as they experienced concrete proof of being ‘heard’
and taken seriously at a difficult time.
Twitter: More than Short Messages
The QPS also made extensive use of Twitter. In addition to put-
ting out messages and updates, the police used the channel for
live- tweeting vital information from briefings and press meetings,
including new facts and advice to the public. All tweets carried the
hashtag #qldfloods, which made them easy to follow. The consist-
ent use of the hashtag also made the public want to retweet, as
they knew these messages were of great importance.
In any disaster, rumors and misinformation spread quickly. To
counter this, the QPS coined the hashtag #mythbuster and used
it extensively in tweets that killed rumors and misreporting. In
addition to reaching the public, the stream of #mythbuster tweets
became important for journalists to follow so that they could
report correctly about the situation.
The QPS Media Unit received several positive comments
about their use of Twitter during the flood; here are a couple of
@QPSMedia is doing a stellar job in a real crisis. Thank you
QLD Police Service. #qldfloods
@QPSMedia Thank you for using Twitter to keep everyone up
to date. And for clearing up all the misinformation so quickly.
• The QPS Facebook page is said to be the largest police
Facebook page in the English- speaking world. It has
some 800,000 followers – in a state with a population of
• The QPS Facebook page had 39 million views in one 24-
16 Natural Disasters
Extra Eyes and Ears through Social Media
During the flood in Queensland, the local police learned the value
of social media in a variety of ways. Not only were they an excel-
lent tool for providing information to the public and the media, but
they also became a useful means for the public to report dangerous
situations or vital facts the police needed to know about. For each
new ‘like,’ the QPS got an extra eye on the ground, thereby also
improving situational awareness and their ability to handle dif-
On Social Media from 2010
The QPS began using Facebook, Twitter and YouTube in May
2010 (Queensland Police Service, 2011).
Their aim was to:
• Claim social media presence
• Engage in a two- way conversation between the QPS and
• Develop an online community of followers before a dis-
TASSIE FIRE: ONE PERSON COULD HELP
Case: A forest fire in Tasmania, Australia, left hundreds of people
in need of support. Melanie Irons, a local PhD student, set up a
Facebook page that gave vital information and also mobilized peo-
ple to help others.
When: The fire started on January 4, 2013.
As news about the fire spread, Melanie Irons was at her home
in Hobart preparing her PhD. She immediately realized that many
Tasmanians would be needing help, and for a while she pondered
what she could do. Make sandwiches? Offer to take care of peo-
ple’s animals? ‘I wanted to do more, and when I saw a variety of
posts on Facebook asking for or offering help, I realized I could
Natural Disasters 17
set up a Facebook page that could facilitate this need,’ Irons said
at a conference in Oslo in 2015. The result was: ‘Tassie Fires – We
At first, the page received only two likes and two comments.
To help boost awareness, she decided to call the local ABC sta-
tion and told them about her project, and they agreed to put the
word out. After only one and a half hours, 3,000 people were
following the page – after 24 hours, it had reached 17,000 fol-
lowers. During the first hours, she posted lots of requests for help
combined with messages from people who wanted to help. She
also started copying news releases from the government, which
she published on her Facebook page. When she later analyzed all
its contents, she found that if she simply copied the text from the
government, the posts would get maybe 30 comments, likes and
shares. When she converted the language and made it more cas-
ual and accessible, the post would receive hundreds more com-
ments, likes and shares.
FIGURE 2.1 ‘My name is Mel …’ The Facebook page ‘Tassie
Fires – We Can Help’ featured a personal introduction from its
creator Melanie Irons.
Source: Facebook screen shot.
18 Natural Disasters
An Impressive Reach
Thanks to Irons’ hard work and dedication, ‘Tassie Fires’ became
the information hub for people needing assistance or offering
help. On average, Irons posted a message every 4.3 minutes for
two weeks, reaching a total of more than 3,000 posts in the same
period. The page had more than 20,000 followers and nearly
3 million ‘impressions’ during the first two weeks of its existence.
The Bushfire Inquiry was published by authorities in 2013.
Its nearly 300 pages refer to numerous roles, but include the
name of only one individual – Melanie Irons (Tasmanian
The posts varied greatly in content, length and tone. There were
many requests for essentials such as water or gas, and farmers
also needed help with their livestock or transportation. At the
same time, people were volunteering (offering anything from rep-
tile handling to babysitting), and Irons worked closely with the
The fire spread quickly, and for many Tasmanians, their only
option was to run for the water. At some places even the beach was
on fire, so the situation was definitely life threatening, with locals
and tourists trapped in several locations.
Facebook vs. Twitter
Irons also started cooperating with the police and government
officials. In Tasmania, the government had decided that Twitter
would be their main social media channel (Tasmania Police were
developing a Facebook page), but the Tassie Fires page showed
that the public was on Facebook. On several occasions the gov-
ernment called Irons and asked her to post their information on
her Facebook page, and at one point people from the government
Natural Disasters 19
came to her house to discuss strategies for reaching as many peo-
ple as possible through the Tassie Fire Facebook page. A clear
learning point is, therefore, that it is important to know which
platform is the best to reach your audience – and if in doubt, use
a scattergun approach and as many different platforms as your
In addition to providing a digital space for requests and offers
of help and practical support, Tassie Fires – We Can Help became
a forum for people to tell their stories – a critical function for
improving psychological recovery. It also provided fundraising
information, and Irons took an active role in making sure dona-
tions and offers of help were handled quickly. ‘I wanted to “suck
dry” the volunteers while they were still interested!’ Irons said at
the KrisKom conference in Oslo. She also pointed out that it was
important for people to see the results of giving, which in turn
made even more people want to help.
“ Engagement with the page continued to soar and Mel was
heard on radio, seen in the newspapers and acknowledged
by high profile people such as the Tasmanian Premier. This
generated even greater awareness about the page and what
Mel was trying to do. From the very beginning, Mel placed
her personal contact information on the page, which she
believes gave the site credibility. People emailed or called
her if there were any issues needing to be followed up.
From the official inquiry. (Tasmanian Government, 2013)
Although she was alone in the beginning, Irons did not do all the
work on the Facebook page herself. She got support from ‘digi-
tal volunteers’ who helped moderate the posts and follow up on
those messages that needed immediate attention. ‘I got 10 people
to help me; so far I have only met one of them face- to- face,’ Irons
said in Oslo. The Facebook page thus showed that people can help
in a variety of ways, and that the concept of a VOST – Virtual
Operations Support Team – shows that you can help in an emer-
gency even by sitting in front of a computer.
20 Natural Disasters
Irons got lots of positive feedback for her volunteer work dur-
ing and after the fire. She received numerous Facebook notes and
email messages praising the initiative, such as these:
FIGURE 2.2 Since the fire, Dr Melanie Irons has become a sought-
after presenter and has given talks internationally, including in
Toronto, Washington DC, Frankfurt, London, Belfast, Edinburgh,
Johannesburg, Wellington, Riga, and Oslo. She finished her PhD
Source: Kjell Brataas.
Natural Disasters 21
• The page was the right page at the right time. We were devastated
hearing about the fires, and you provided a means for all of us to
really help. The first week was absolutely awesome. I cried lots
with the fantastic things people were able to do. Not something
I’m prone to do much of – I’m male!! Your page kept us all in
touch with real time needs and we really felt what we were doing
was actually making a difference.
• When we were isolated on the Peninsula, this page was the life-
saver of my emotional wellbeing. Just reading of the goodness of
strangers and how every one was helping took my mind off the
fear I felt of being so isolated.
Advice and Lessons Learned
Some of the advice Irons presents can be summarized in these
• Utilize social media to give your organization a ‘human face.’
• Use volunteers. Actually use them.
• Have a rumor plan.
• Have a plan for keeping records.
• Sign off at night – don’t forget to sleep.
CALGARY FLOOD: CRISIS COMMUNICATION
AT ITS BEST
Case: A flood due to increased water levels in the Bow and Elbow
rivers caused the evacuation of 32 communities. Consequently, up
to 80,000 citizens had to temporarily leave their homes. The City
of Calgary and other government agencies handled the commu-
nication aspect of the crisis in a highly satisfactory manner, espe-
cially by using social media and by having an active mayor.
When: June 2013
The flood in Calgary turned out to be Canada’s costliest nat-
ural disaster, and normal activity in the city was suspended for
almost a week due to damages caused by the flooding. The City
Hall and the Municipal Complex were damaged, but fortunately
22 Natural Disasters
the city had invested heavily in a state- of- the art operations center,
which proved vital for handling the many tasks of crisis manage-
ment, clean- up and recovery. Another important asset was Mayor
Naheed Nenshi, who saw it as one of his key functions to inform
It is rare that government offices receive positive feedback for
the way they communicate during a crisis. However, that was the
case for the City of Calgary and Calgary Emergency Management
Agency (CEMA). According to a report by the Conference Board
of Canada – Forewarned and forearmed: The Calgary Emergency
Management Agency and the 2013 flood – the city’s quick action
was ‘lauded by the public,’ and their use of social media meant that
city officials could ‘lead the conversation from the start.’ In fact,
73% of Calgary’s citizens strongly agreed that the city had com-
municated effectively with them during the crisis (Vroegop, 2014).
In this chapter, we will look at what contributed to the success
of the communication efforts:
• A modern Emergency Operations Center (EOC) served as a
hub for communication, control and collaboration.
FIGURE 2.3 According to the City of Calgary’s web page,
‘Flooding can occur at any time with little to no warning.’ That
was the case in 2013.
Source: Wilson Hui.
Natural Disasters 23
• Government officials and offices focused on openness. Media
was allowed into the EOC, and journalists were given police
radios to be able to follow – live – what was happening.
• Social media were used extensively; the hashtag #yycflood
showed up an average of 32 times every minute over a 10- day
• The mayor did his utmost to inform the public and inspire and
applaud his people.
The necessity for a modern EOC became apparent after previous
flooding in Calgary in 2005. Coordination was somewhat lacking,
and it was therefore determined that the city needed a facility from
where all services could operate and coordinate the responses to
an event. Construction was started in 2009, and the operations
center opened in October 2012.
FIGURE 2.4 Calgary’s Emergency Operations Center has dedi-
cated facilities for journalists.
Source: Calgary Emergency Management Agency.
24 Natural Disasters
Thus, the City of Calgary had modern facilities to operate
from during the flood in 2013. The center is big enough to host
a variety of agencies and collaborators, and it has its own media
center – which made it possible for journalists to be close to where
decisions were made. Inviting media to the core of a crisis opera-
tions center might seem daunting, but the Calgary flood proved
that working with the media and having them close by can make
crisis communication easier and more effective. Another aspect of
the size of the EOC was that it was possible to have breaks and
organize media briefings and on- the- spot consultations in the same
place, which in turn meant less time organizing and traveling to
meetings and more effective and less stressed personnel, collabora-
tors and journalists.
CEMA coordinated the city- wide efforts of evacuation,
recovery and communication during the flooding. The EOC
is home to CEMA on a daily basis. The facility also contains
a back- up 911 call center and a city data center.
Social Media and ‘Twitter Jail’
When flooding started in June 2013, the City of Calgary was no
newcomer to social media. Its Twitter account @CityofCalgary
had more followers than any other Canadian city, and earlier
(although smaller) events had been utilized to test the use of social
media for two- way communication with the public.
Communications specialists within the city quickly realized
the importance of a hashtag, and #yycflood became a significant
tagline to communicate about the event on social media. Twitter
was the main social media channel utilized by the City of Calgary
and the Calgary Police Service. Other services included Facebook,
YouTube and Flickr.
The Calgary Police acted professionally and actively on
Twitter. Not only did they respond to questions and comments;
they also used the channel to create a strong bond between
those who worked on mitigating the flood and the people it
Natural Disasters 25
affected. One example is the response they posted on Twitter to
the question ‘What do we do about vagrants and questionable
people roaming the streets in suburban communities because
of the flood situation?’ Their reply: ‘Suspicious people can be
reported by calling the police. Homeless people may appreciate
Part of the success with social media can be attributed to
the fact that management levels and individuals in high- ranking
positions had a positive attitude towards the use of social media.
Many communication efforts and messages can be hindered by red
tape and approval processes, but this was not the case in Calgary.
In the report from the Conference Board, the Mayor’s Office as
well as CEMA senior leadership are credited with a ‘push for
the development of a city- wide corporate social media capacity’
In fact, the Calgary Police used their Twitter channel
(@CalgaryPolice) to such an extent that on the evening of June 20 it
found itself in ‘Twitter jail.’ Their office had sent out such a high
number of tweets – and replied to many incoming messages – that
automatic systems at Twitter deemed the activity to be a sign of
something wrong. As a result, the Twitter account of the Calgary
Police was shut down. Obviously, this resulted in hectic activity
trying to get the account restored as quickly as possible. Several
individuals contributed, including a platform relations manager
for Twitter. Only 40 minutes after it was blocked, @CalgaryPolice
was back up and working again. Reinstating its professional man-
ner in dealing with social media, the very first ‘new’ message from
the police thanked Twitter for getting the account back up, fol-
lowed by the short message ‘Testing. Are we back?’ and a back-
to- normality message saying: ‘Update. Our account has been
FIGURE 2.5 The Calgary Police did an excellent job of commu-
nicating through Twitter.
Source: Screen clip from Twitter.
26 Natural Disasters
restored. Sorry for the delay in responding to all your #yycflood
Although social media proved extremely valuable as a commu-
nication tool, other channels were also in use. Radio and television
interviews with crisis managers appeared regularly, and a blog as
well as two free apps from the City of Calgary also helped get mes-
The Role of the Mayor
During a crisis, people affected want to see the face of the man or
woman in charge. Mayor Naheed Nenshi was this person, and his
outgoing personality, humor and long hours undoubtedly contrib-
uted to the success of the city’s crisis communication. Nenshi gave
a number of press briefings and many more interviews, and he
made several visits to various sites in the city where flooding had
occurred. (Most of them took place during the night, so as not to
disturb clean- up crews.)
FIGURE 2.6 The mayor of Calgary used every opportunity to
praise his staff, who worked hard on handling the flood.
Source: CBC LICENSING.
Natural Disasters 27
Many politicians are capable of handling the media, but what
made Nenshi stand out was his constant focus on praising his staff.
He used every chance he had to talk positively about the police
force and fire officials, and when asked on TV by reporter Ian
Hanomansing from ‘The National’: ‘What is the message for the
country?’ Nenshi had the following answer: ‘First of all, the mes-
sage is: Hug a public servant.’ Nenshi then went on to commend
all those who worked on the crisis and the dedication they dis-
played (‘The National,’ 2013).
Nenshi was also active on Twitter, and on many occasions, he
used his Twitter account to reinforce messages from the police and
from the City of Calgary.
In an interview with CBC, Nenshi explained that he had three
main tasks in managing the flood (Rieti, 2013):
1) Give people the information they need to stay safe.
2) Give hope and courage to people affected by the floods.
3) Stay out of the way as relief efforts continue.
EOC Underground Facilities
Most of the EOC building is underground – in part because
of security, but also because the building is designed to
blend into the surrounding area rather than compete with
it. Extensive community consultation was completed prior to
building construction in 2008.
The EOC has built- in redundancy and is capable of run-
ning ‘off the grid’ for a minimum of 72 hours. Several genera-
tors power the EOC in the event of a grid interruption.
The EOC cost approximately $54 million to build.
High River – Lessons Learned from an Appropriately
Named Town …
The community of High River south of Calgary was one of the
hardest hit by the flood in 2013. As the entire town was evacuated,
crisis communication became essential. Joan Botkin, who was the
28 Natural Disasters
Communications Manager for High River at the time, points out
these lessons learned:
• Implement an early notification system.
After the flood High River implemented a system called High River
Alerts that enabled us to issue alerts through a direct message
to anyone who subscribes via phone (voice), text, or/ and email.
Residents choose how they want to be contacted. This system has
now expanded and has become a regional network for the area
with eight communities participating. The name has changed to
SCAN (Safe Communities Alert Network).
• Develop a comprehensive crisis communications plan.
It should have a clear description of how supporting agencies
will work with the local communications department. It should
also provide clear descriptions of the roles and responsibilities for
each member of the communications team. Creating it under the
ICS model (Incident Command System) allows the organizational
chart to shrink and expand depending on the scope of the crisis. As
well, the plan should include back- up personnel within the organi-
zation who is capable of fulfilling the role, although their job may
not be communications.
• Create a regional crisis communications support team.
Most municipal communications teams are very small (ours was
an office of two), and this does not provide the capacity to respond
to a crisis effectively. Also, it allows no breaks for the information
team. By creating partnerships with other towns and regions, you
can double the size of the communication response. In most cases
the partners can provide support from their desks through social
media and the web.
• Save stuff in the cloud.
During the first 36 hours we lost all forms of communication
including Internet, land lines, cell phones and didn’t even have a
printer. Our website also crashed for part of the time due to the
Natural Disasters 29
heavy traffic. The Town’s servers were down for several days and
we were lucky that we had set up a separate Gmail account prior
to the flood since the Town’s service was not working.
• Appreciate the importance of paper.
Everyone always lauds the benefits of social media, but when
you’re dealing with people in extreme stress, like we were, they
don’t retain things. Providing printed materials is comforting
and lets them reread the message as many times as they need to.
Essentially – use as many different tools as possible to reach as
many people as possible. The entire town of High River (12,900
residents) was evacuated and not allowed back for almost a week.
Some weren’t allowed back for several weeks. Everyone was scat-
tered all over the place so we needed to think of as many different
ways to reach them as possible.
Repurposing existing online tools like an e- newsletter that are
considered trustworthy and credible by residents can help organi-
zations in sharing information.
We had a regular e- newsletter that we repurposed into an
information bulletin that we sent out several times a day during
the initial hours of the crisis. Subscription to the site tripled within
48 hours. It remained one of the key information tools throughout
the crisis and recovery.
THE TSUNAMI: A WAVE OF CHALLENGES
Case: An earthquake measuring 9.3 on the Richter scale triggered
a large sea wave that struck the coast of Thailand, Sri Lanka, India
and ten other countries. The waves killed more than 230,000
people, including 33 Americans, 151 British, 543 Swedes and 84
Norwegians (26 of the Norwegians being younger than 18). Crisis
communication, especially the first days after the tragedy, was cha-
otic. Governments and their respective agencies were not up to
standards and were duly criticized for not being prepared for han-
dling the situation.
When: December 26, 2004
December 26, 2004 was supposed to be one of the happiest
days in their lives. Thousands of tourists had chosen to spend their
30 Natural Disasters
Christmas 2004 vacation in Asia, many of them in resorts along
the western coast of Thailand. Khao Lak was especially popular;
with accommodation ranging from first- class hotels to a variety of
beach bungalows, it was ideal for families with children.
The morning started like any other day in ‘paradise,’ with
lazy breakfasts, beautiful sunshine and happy travelers. However,
beachgoers noticed something strange – the sea water was reced-
ing. This made people curious, and many wandered into the sea
to check out what was happening and to take pictures of the fish
jumping in the sand. Yet, most people along the beach had no idea
that something was about to happen – and that they would soon
be in a life- threatening situation.
At around 10.30 in the morning, an enormous wave hit the
western coast of Thailand. Where the beach was at its most shal-
low, the wave grew tallest, meaning that the child- friendly beach
of Khao Lak quickly became a disaster zone. The waves reached
10 meters (33 feet) in height, crashing into everything in their path
and instantly making paradise into hell. Most of the guests in the
hotels had no warning whatsoever of what was happening, and
they had no time to reach for their kids or try to find safety. Soon,
everything, everybody – men, women, kids – furniture, minibars
and cars were floating around in muddy, swirling water; survivors
later described it as being swept up in a whirlwind of terror.
Coordination and Communication Challenges
At the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Oslo, a duty
officer was notified of the tsunami at around 5 am Norwegian
time. He then contacted Norway’s embassy in Bangkok and told
them about the news. Soon afterwards, the switchboard at the
ministry started receiving phone calls; their numbers soon esca-
lated in such a way that it became difficult to make outside calls
Two challenges became apparent right away: how to find out
what had happened to the 4,000 or so Norwegians vacationing in
Thailand, and how to get survivors back to Norway. Government
officials soon started cooperating with various travel agencies while
at the same time sending two extra people to staff the embassy in
Natural Disasters 31
Information about what had happened and how many were
affected took several days to work out accurately. On the evening
of December 26, Reuters reported that a total of 11,300 individu-
als had died in Asia; two days later, they reported the number to
be 26,000. At the same time, Norwegian newspapers printed dra-
matic pictures and stories from survivors, and Norway’s national
TV station NRK even had a reporter near Phuket who had been
vacationing there with his family and who reported live through
a bad telephone line to viewers in Norway. All media outlets in
Norway told their journalists on vacation to report to work imme-
diately, and TV and radio stations had several extra news broad-
casts already from the first day of the tragedy.
Telephone Support, with Not Much Support …
In 2004, I was a communications advisor with the Ministry of
Health and also part of a support unit that was to be called in when
there was a need for extra personnel. On the morning of December
27, I made contact with the Communications Unit at the Ministry
of Foreign Affairs, offering my assistance. They declined, saying
‘We can handle it.’
With so much uncertainty – understandably – families in
Norway were desperate to find out what had happened to their
loved ones in Thailand. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs received
hundreds of phone calls, and their numbers increased dramatically
in the afternoon of December 27 when a hotline number was pub-
lished and news about 13 dead Norwegians got out.
I then got a phone call, urging me to come to the Ministry of
Foreign Affairs as soon as possible to assist with answering the
hotline. Arriving at their office in the afternoon, I met colleagues
from other ministries – and a room and equipment that were not
at all designed for handling a large number of incoming calls.
About ten of us were asked to sit around a large table, where 12
telephones (of the normal kind with no headset) were constantly
ringing. Beside each was a stack of papers; no forms, no instruc-
tions as to what to say or do. We were only told: ‘You can now
start answering.’ We did.
At the other end were all kinds of callers with a variety of ques-
tions and information, many in tears and desperate. Most were
32 Natural Disasters
wondering if we knew anything about their family member, and
gave us their names, height, eye color and so on. Some Norwegians
also called from Thailand, informing us that they were in good
shape or that they needed assistance with evacuating. We wrote all
this information down, one piece of paper for each phone call. The
papers were then piled on top of each other at a central location in
the room, but as hours passed we noticed that nothing happened
to the stack of papers. When later in the evening I got a phone call
from a person I had talked to hours earlier, asking if there was any
news about his missing person, I could therefore glance at the pile
of papers and know that there was no news to give out.
To lessen the burden on the telephone line, the Ministry posted
a generic email address to the public. In only a few hours, more
than a thousand emails came in, but unfortunately there was no
system in place to handle all the incoming questions. Another
obstacle was what kind of database to choose. During the first
two days of the tragedy, Word, Excel and Access were tried, before
agreeing on File Maker Pro. Merging the information into one sys-
tem took 20 people several hours, and by the evening of December
29, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had 8,000 registrations in File
Telephone enquiries grew to a new level on December 28, when
the Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a press release stating that
700 to 800 Norwegians were missing. Two days later, Norway’s
prime minister, Kjell Magne Bondevik, said that 460 were missing
and that the country had to realize that many of them were dead.
On December 31, Norway’s largest newspaper VG printed the fol-
lowing headline, covering the whole of its front page: ‘At least 100
Norwegian children might have died.’
The media soon started reporting about the lack of coordination and
support from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Survivors in Thailand
complained that they could not get hold of anyone from the embassy
in Bangkok, while family members in Norway criticized long waits
and few updates from the hotline at the ministry in Oslo.
Desperate, and in need of information about their loved
ones, several relatives of missing Norwegians jumped on a plane
to Thailand to take part in the search effort themselves. Having
Natural Disasters 33
experienced the chaotic situation at the telephone hotline, they got
even more frustrated when they had problems finding anyone from
the Norwegian authorities in Bangkok, Phuket or Khao Lak. The
frustration culminated at a hastily organized meeting in Phuket,
where the Norwegian ambassador to Bangkok clashed with an
individual representing the 30 or so relatives at the meeting. There
was so much heated debate and discussion that at one time they
had to call a ‘time- out’ and then resume the meeting when every-
one had had time to calm down. Several reporters watched what
happened, and as a result Norwegian newspapers the next day
carried several stories about frustrated relatives and incompetent
authorities. One headline read ‘Strong criticism against the gov-
ernment’; another simply stated – in bold letters – that there was
News reports showed that many of the survivors were in bad shape,
skimpily clad and in shock. They had been through a traumatic
situation, they had only narrowly survived, and many of them still
did not know whether their family members were alive, missing or
deceased. At the same time, journalists had a great ‘need’ to inter-
view the returning survivors, and in order to protect them from a
media frenzy, the Ministry of Health decided that extra staff and
communications experts would assist at the airports in Norway
Evacuation processes in Thailand were chaotic. Some sur-
vivors flew home on their scheduled flights, but governments in
several countries also sent chartered planes and special Medevac
planes that could accommodate several individuals on stretchers.
At Phuket Airport, survivors were desperate to get away, and they
often got a plane ticket to a city that was not their final destina-
tion. Many Norwegians therefore ended up on a plane going to
Gothenburg or Stockholm in Sweden.
On December 30, I was asked to fly to Arlanda Airport in
Stockholm to assist Norwegian survivors. Upon arrival, I was
positively struck by the resources and care displayed by Swedish
authorities at the airport. The Swedish government also got lots
of criticism for their handling of the tsunami, but they deserve
praise for the way they set up survival support at Arlanda. At a
34 Natural Disasters
designated area of the airport, special fences had been put up so
that those arriving from Thailand could walk into the arrival hall
without anyone seeing them from outside. This meant that they
were protected from curious travelers and journalists, and that
they could feel safe and taken care of. Psychologists and staff from
local authorities were on hand to answer questions, and food and
drink were provided. The McDonald’s restaurant at the airport
constantly brought fresh hamburgers, and IKEA had donated a
big pile of teddy bears for the arriving children.
Many of those arriving wanted to talk. I therefore spent sev-
eral hours hearing the horrific stories from the survivors, and
being a father of three, I paid special attention to those arriv-
ing with small children. Our second task was to get Norwegians
on to their next flight, which people from SAS and Star Tours
handled exceptionally well. Another group that did a great job
was representatives from the Norwegian Church Abroad. With
their experience and insight into grief and counseling, they were
a great resource for survivors who wanted to talk or a shoulder
to cry on.
I returned home in the afternoon of December 31. There had
been no sleep at Arlanda, and I was therefore physically and men-
tally drained and slept all the way on the plane back to Oslo.
Needless to say, we cancelled our New Year’s Eve celebration
At the beginning of January 2005, survivors and next- of- kin
formed a national support group. They had several objectives;
perhaps the most important was to be a central point for con-
tact with the government and other authorities handling the tsu-
nami and its aftermath. In order to facilitate this in an effective
manner, it was decided that there should be frequent meetings
between the support group and authorities. It turned out to be a
good choice, and although members of the support group were
highly critical and vocal, they valued the chance to talk directly
to those in charge.
They had many questions. They wanted to know what was
being done to find survivors, what the Norwegian government
Natural Disasters 35
was doing to assist local authorities, whether Norway could
send ‘sniffing dogs’ to the beaches in Thailand to help locate the
deceased, and how the dead would be transported to Norway.
The meetings (I attended all of them) were quite emotional,
and on several occasions representatives at the meeting – from
both ‘sides’ – shed a tear or two when hearing about the ordeals
in Thailand and the frustration and anger many felt when
On ‘our’ side of the table were representatives from several
ministries. I was there from the Ministry of Health; other gov-
ernment officials came from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the
Ministry of Justice, the Directorate of Health, the police, psychol-
ogists, the Norwegian Church Abroad and other experts. Often
they could answer questions from the support group right away,
but some questions needed more looking into and were therefore
answered at the meeting the following week.
Back to where It Happened
It was during one of these meetings that the idea of taking next-
of- kin on a trip to Thailand was first discussed. Relatives of those
who died or were missing had a number of questions about the
circumstances surrounding the tragedy, and some were wonder-
ing ‘Why didn’t they swim away?’ or ‘How come he couldn’t save
his son?’ The support group actively reinforced the idea, and in
early March the Ministry of Foreign Affairs started looking into
the feasibility of a trip. Obviously, there were uncertainties, but at
the same time those involved envisioned that a visit ‘back to where
it happened’ could have many merits.
I personally think that all the criticism and the bad light
authorities found themselves in played a role in the decision to go
ahead, maybe hoping to finally get some positive feedback from
next- of- kin and the media.
Whatever the underlying cause, the Norwegian government
decided to arrange for family members of those who had died in
Thailand and Sri Lanka to travel to the area where their loved
ones had perished. Families of the four who died in Sri Lanka
were given financial aid for traveling by themselves, but for people
headed for Thailand there had to be a more formal set- up, which
36 Natural Disasters
included flights to Phuket, arrangements for personal visits to the
disaster areas, and a memorial service with speeches and music.
To arrange for all this, the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign
Affairs established a small task force that was in charge of logis-
tics, support group cooperation, media handling and communi-
cating with the next- of- kin who would be traveling. I was part of
the group, and as can be imagined, we realized in one of the first
meetings that we had a challenging job ahead of us – and many
• How many will be traveling?
• When should the trip take place?
• How do we travel?
• Who should be eligible?
• How many from each family should be allowed to go?
• What would be a good location for a memorial service?
• Which hotel would be suitable?
• How do we inform group members about travel plans, changes
and itineraries during the trip?
• What kind of media interest will there be?
• What costs should be covered?
It soon became apparent that we could not find the answers or
plan the details of a complicated trip without seeing the desti-
nation firsthand. The task force therefore traveled to Phuket in
Thailand at the beginning of April 2005 to survey possible hotels
and transportation options and to meet with local authorities
and travel agents who could help us with the logistical challenges
One of the first meetings we had upon arrival in Thailand
was with Espen Westlie, who was head of the Star Tour agency,
which had been responsible for most of the Scandinavians trave-
ling in Thailand at the time of the tsunami. Westlie became a
vital asset in planning for the trip, and his local contacts and
geographical knowledge were invaluable for the rest of us, who
had not been to the area before. Other helpful advice came from
ministers of the Norwegian Church Abroad who had been assist-
ing victims in the days after the tsunami, and representatives
from the Norwegian support group, who had opened a small
office near Phuket.
Natural Disasters 37
The 80 Norwegians who died in Thailand had been to various
parts of the country when tragedy hit. A few had stayed on the
island of Phi Phi, some had vacationed at Krabi or Phuket, while
most of them had spent the Christmas days of 2004 near Khao
Lak. From talking to the support group, we knew that each next-
of- kin who would be traveling wanted to get as close as possible to
where their loved one had died. This meant that the group would
be spread widely, and that we had to arrange for various trans-
portation options. For the Phi Phi families we chartered a large
yacht, but the trips to Khao Lak proved the greatest challenge.
Looking at maps of the area in meetings in Norway, we originally
thought we could rent several buses that could bring our guests to
Khao Lak as a large group. However, when we got to the beaches
of Khao Lak ourselves in April 2005, we soon realized we had to
reconsider. The resort area was much more spread out than we
had thought, and the Norwegians who died there had stayed at
hotels many kilometers apart. Bringing everyone there as a group
was therefore not possible, as they would need individual trans-
port modes to ‘their’ part of the beach. Alas, walking was out of
the question too – the age of some of the travelers, combined with
a tropical climate, meant that we could not risk having our guests
wander around in the blistering heat.
Another challenge was finding the right hotel. We knew we
would be a large group, so smaller boutique hotels or romantic
bungalows would not be possible. At the same time, we were told
that the next- of- kin on the trip did not want to stay too close to
the beach (but they would like the beach to be within walking dis-
tance), and they would not accept staying on the first floor. While
doing research in Thailand, our task force therefore spent consid-
erable time scouting suitable accommodations.
Next, we needed to find a close to ideal place for the memorial
service. We looked at everything from school yards to a moun-
tain lookout, but we soon decided the location had to be a beach.
Again, there were all kinds of considerations, including the need
for shelter in case of rain, access to bathrooms, technical facili-
ties for microphones and speakers, and food and drinks for guests
We spent almost two weeks in Thailand for planning purposes,
and when we returned we had a pretty good idea of how the trip
should be organized. By then, it was also clear that there had to be
38 Natural Disasters
two different trips, one in May and one in October. As not all the
84 Norwegian casualties of the tsunami had been identified, sev-
eral family members did not want to go to Phuket when the status
of their loved one was still unclear.
In the afternoon of May 2, 2005, a chartered plane took off
from the airport in Oslo with 200 next- of- kin on board. Other
passengers included support staff, representatives from the
Norwegian Church Abroad, family liaisons from the police, and a
variety of doctors, nurses and psychotherapists. They arrived the
next morning (Phuket time) and were transported by bus to the
Royal Orchid Resort in Karon. The members of the task force had
arrived a few days earlier, and we met the travelers at the hotel,
where we handed out a short note explaining the hotel’s amenities
and location and an invitation to an informal meeting the same
afternoon. At the meeting, we explained the agenda for the next
days, gave advice about coping with the heat, and also encouraged
FIGURE 2.7 The beach of the Katathani Hotel was chosen as the
site for the Norwegian memorial service to commemorate victims
of the tsunami in Asia.
Source: Kjell Brataas.
Natural Disasters 39
participants to undertake an activity not related to the tragedy,
such as riding an elephant or trying scuba diving.
The next two days were set aside for family members to visit the
area where their loved ones had died. For each family wanting to
see Khao Lak, we had rented a mini- van and a driver who had been
told which hotel their next- of- kin had stayed at. Each family could
make use of the mini- van however they liked. In the mornings, we
had arranged for locals to set up a flower stand in the hotel lobby,
and most families bought beautiful bouquets, which later in the day
they would place in the sand on the beach. We also rented several
large buses that drove to Khao Lak early in the morning. On board
were support teams of ministry officials, police and healthcare pro-
viders, and we also packed bags of ice, soft drinks and light refresh-
ments. Upon arrival in Khao Lak, the buses were parked in various
predetermined locations along the beach, functioning as ‘offices’
FIGURE 2.8 When Norwegian next- of- kin of tsunami vic-
tims visited Khao Lak in May 2005, Hilde Sirnes (left) from the
Norwegian Church Abroad and Kjell Brataas from the Ministry of
Health offered support and practical advice.
Source: Cathrine Andersen.
40 Natural Disasters
as well as providing air- conditioning and toilet facilities for family
members. Most of them spent the better part of the day there, look-
ing at the remnants of the hotels destroyed in the tsunami, creating
makeshift memorials in the sand or having a quiet moment with a
minister. The next day, several family members went back, while
others had the mini- van take them to the local hospital where sur-
viving family members had been treated.
The official and formal memorial service took place in the
afternoon of May 6 on the beach of the Katathani Hotel. The pro-
gram included poems and speeches, collective songs and music.
Before announcing one minute of silence, the Minister of Health,
Mr Ansgar Gabrielsen, read out the names of all the 84 Norwegians
who had died in the tsunami. For each name, a rose was placed
in an ornament formed as a heart, so that when all the names had
been mentioned, the flowers represented a red heart on the beach.
A heart was also a central part of the memorial speech given by
Hilde Sirnes, a minister from the Norwegian Church Abroad who
played an important role in comforting survivors and next- of- kin in
Thailand in the days after the tsunami. In beautiful afternoon sun-
shine on the beach of Katathani, Sirnes described losing a loved one
as like having a sharp triangle inserted into your body. ‘It turns and
tumbles, and its edges pierce sores in your heart. The pain is so enor-
mous you think you will not survive,’ Sirnes said. She also gave the
audience a feeling of hope, as she continued: ‘After days, months or
years, the edges soften, and the “triangle of sorrow” starts resembling
a pearl. A pearl that will forever stay in your heart. Like a treasure.’
The trips to Thailand took place in 2005, before the advent of
social media. We therefore had to use ‘traditional’ means of com-
municating with participants, including printed fact sheets and
instructions handed out on board the plane to Phuket, a manned
information booth at the hotel and messages on bulletin boards.
Before family members arrived, I suggested to colleagues in
the task force that we produce a printed newsletter that could be
handed out each morning. The newsletter would include updated
facts about the day’s agenda, weather forecast and suggested activi-
ties and could be copied in our makeshift headquarters at the Star
Natural Disasters 41
Tours office in Phuket. Everyone thought it was a great idea, and
not surprisingly, I got the job of writing and producing it. I therefore
spent each evening coming up with appropriate text, designing the
newsletter in Microsoft Publisher and then waiting for a slow copy
machine to churn out 300 copies of the two- page newsletter.
Another idea I had was more rewarding on a personal level. I had
spent an afternoon in April at a local tailor near the Karon hotel, and
when I picked up my new suits and shirts, the young man who had
made my nice clothes mentioned that his brother owned a small bar
on the other side of the building. We went to see him together, and
FIGURE 2.9 A heart filled with red roses was used to symbolize
the casualties of the tsunami on the beach in Thailand.
Source: Kjell Brataas.
42 Natural Disasters
we agreed that we would use his facilities for a party for all staff on
the very last evening of the last trip in October. I told him we needed
his entire bar for ourselves, and that guests could order anything they
liked throughout the evening. Not surprisingly, the night at the bar
was a great success, and at the end I happily signed a bill that would
have been much bigger almost anywhere else in the world.
Fortunately, participants on the two trips were also satisfied.
They answered a quick survey on the flights back to Oslo, and
the results showed they were overwhelmingly positive about their
experience and the organization of the trips. Not surprisingly,
maybe, as it was an ‘all expenses paid’ trip that included flights,
connecting flights in Norway, airport transportation, local trans-
portation and all meals for a week.
Communication Challenges in Many Countries
It was not only Norwegian authorities that struggled with
handling the tsunami. Several countries in Europe had sim-
ilar experiences, and quite a few of them were detailed in
official reports that came out later. A document by the
Accident Investigation Board of Finland stated that Public
communications by the authorities were less than success-
ful. The Information Unit at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs
restricted itself to official bulletins; these conflicted with the
information available to the general public and published by
the media, and the latter were subsequently proven correct.
(Accident Investigation Board Finland, 2005)
In the U.K., much of the focus of an official review was on the
communication aspect of the crisis:
The experiences reported by survivors in affected areas and
by relatives in the UK show that the most consistently dif-
ficult and frustrating aspect of their interactions with the
UK agencies was the communication of information; mostly
(although not exclusively) on missing or located persons.
(National Audit Office, 2006)
Natural Disasters 43
Accident Investigation Board Finland. (2005). The natural disaster
in Asia on 26 December 2004. Retrieved from www.coe.int/ t/
dg4/ majorhazards/ ressources/ virtuallibrary/ materials/ finland/
National Audit Office. (2006, November 1). Review of the expe-
riences of United Kingdom nationals affected by the Indian
Ocean tsunami. Retrieved from www.nao.org.uk/ wp- content/
uploads/ 2006/ 11/ Review_ Tsunami_ Experiences.pdf
Queensland Police Service. (2011). Disaster Management and
Social Media – a case study. Retrieved from www.police.qld.
gov.au/ corporatedocs/ reportsPublications/ other/ Documents/
Rieti, J. (2013, June 25). CBC News Canada. Retrieved from www.
cbc.ca/ news/ canada/ alberta- floods- keeping- up- with- calgary-
mayor- nenshi- 1.1303739
Tasmanian Government. (2013). 2013 Tasmanian Bushfire
Inquiry Report. Retrieved from www.dpac.tas.gov.au/ _ _ data/
assets/ pdf_ file/ 0015/ 208131/ 1.Tasmanian_ Bushfires_ Inquiry_
‘The National’. (2013, June 21). Mayor Nenshi on Floods
[Video file]. Retrieved from www.youtube.com/ watch?
Vroegop, R. (2014). Forewarned and forearmed: The Calgary
Emergency Management Agency and the 2013 flood. Ottawa:
The Conference Board of Canada
C H A P T E R 3
Sadly, terror attacks are becoming more and more common, in
the U.S. as well as in the rest of the world. And with social media
bringing images directly from the scene to the living rooms and
smartphones of the general public, people around the world learn
about such atrocities simultaneously and sometimes in real time.
This chapter focuses on terror attacks that took place in
Boston, Algeria, Orlando, Oslo and Utoya. Their means of
spreading death and bereavement differ greatly at each location,
but from a crisis management standpoint they provide numerous
examples of the many challenges a terrorist attack creates for vic-
tim support, media handling, international cooperation and crisis
BOSTON MARATHON BOMBINGS
Case: Two bombs exploded near the finish line of the Boston
Marathon at Boylston Street. Social media were used extensively
in the aftermath, spreading rumors and false information as well
as corrections and important messages for the safety of the public
When: April 15, 2013.
The Boston Marathon is an iconic race. It is one of the oldest in
the U.S., and as it is always held in April, it is a symbol of the City
of Boston awakening from winter. The marathon is a celebration
of spring, renewal and, of course, energy and invigoration through
athletics. Runners are exhausted and enduring some of the most
challenging and physical activity of their lives, but at the same time
the city has an atmosphere of lightness and positive vibrations.
The race always draws thousands of spectators. Many of them
were gathered around the finish line on Boylston Street, enjoy-
ing the nice weather and cheering the runners. The elite runners
started in the morning, so in the afternoon it was mostly casual
runners and those participating for charities who were still on the
course, a vast mix of old and young, fit and slow.
The first bomb detonated at 2:49 pm, the second only 13 sec-
onds later. At first there was panic and confusion, but medical vol-
unteers and bystanders quickly responded to the many wounded.
At the same time, there was speculation about more bombs, and
then came questions about how to inform the runners and the
Social Media Ready
In 2012, the City of Boston had appointed Lindsay Crudele as
its very first social media director. She initiated an assorted social
media presence for the city, which included accounts on Twitter,
Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest, Instagram and SoundCloud. Crudele
eagerly trained office personnel in handling social media, which
resulted in the city having more than 50 different Facebook
accounts and 50 different Twitter accounts for departments and
interests ranging from archives to transportation.
Shortly after the explosions, Crudele and her team flipped into
an emergency mode, which included a multi- channel approach
combined with a common voice that could speak on several social
media accounts. Enterprise- style management and account con-
solidation, put into place in advance, helped centralize the social
media accounts, and another quick decision was to remove all
scheduled information, so that premade messages about totally
different subjects would not appear when much more urgent posts
needed to be the focus.
As is typical for breaking news, the first message on social
media about the explosion came on Twitter, when only about
two minutes after the blasts runner Josh Cox published a pic-
ture of the finish line – with smoke from the explosion in the
background – saying: ‘Do not go near the finish line at the
#BostonMarathon – 2 explosions in buildings.’ It was retweeted
more than 300 times.
Official information came quickly, too. Within an hour of the
explosion, the Boston Police Department used Twitter to inform
the public: ‘Boston Police confirming explosion at marathon finish
line with injuries.’ Thirteen minutes later, they tweeted: ‘Updates
to follow. Please clear area around marathon finish line #tweet-
fromthebeat via @CherylFiandaca.’
The Twitter handle @CherylFiandaca showed up in a num-
ber of messages from the Boston Police. As bureau chief of pub-
lic information for the police department, Cheryl Fiandaca had
been instructed by Police Commissioner Ed Davis to increase
the department’s social media presence. Davis wanted com-
munication with the public through social media, and it was
Fiandaca and her team of five who were responsible for social
media messages from the police during the Boston Marathon.
They didn’t waste any time after the explosion, and Fiandaca
tweeted the first message after the explosion from a shopping
mall (Bindley, 2013).
There was also an official Twitter account for the Boston
Marathon. About two hours after the detonations, they published
a tweet about where runners could meet their families. To find
the locations of the runners, the public could also use a website
with ‘checkpoint tracking,’ where information was stored about
which runners had been stopped from continuing to race after the
FIGURE 3.1 Twitter was used for a variety of purposes, includ-
ing showing a personal side of the Boston Police Department.
An Official and Visible Voice
As it happened, the mayor of Boston, Thomas M. Menino, was in
hospital recovering from surgery on April 15. It was important to
show Bostonians that someone was in charge, and that the local
government was still there and in action. Menino checked himself
out of the hospital to show control through presence, and he also
took part in several press conferences during the next days.
Menino could very well have been a victim himself, as he
described in an article a year later:
For 19 years I sat in the front row of the bleachers, right across from
where it happened. I immediately thought about that. I could have
been part of the injured. I used to sit there with all my grandkids.
I didn’t panic. I kept on saying: We gotta make sure the public knows
what really happened. We’re in control. We’re not going to let the
terrorists take over our city.
The City of Boston and the Boston Police collaborated on
press briefings and press releases. The communications team often
started their day with a meeting at 6 am, then held a press brief-
ing – followed by more briefings during the day if there was devel-
oping news or vital information to give out. In the days after the
bombing, the social media team of the City of Boston continued
and expanded their use of ‘shareable social graphics’ – short mes-
sages in the form of a picture with text or a graphical element.
They customized content for each social platform and used a
variety of tools to visualize trends and data. Hootsuite Enterprise
became their most important digital dashboard, but Dataminr and
GroundSignal were also of great help in trying to get an overview
of what was happening.
Misinformation and Rumors
The Boston Marathon bombings became an example of how
incorrect information can spread rapidly – on social as well as
traditional media. CNN, AP and the Boston Globe all reported
stories about an arrest that had not taken place, and the New York
Post wrote that 12 had died in the attack (even citing law enforce-
ment as its source).
From a few minutes after the explosion, social media, espe-
cially Twitter and Reddit, were filled with rumors, hypotheses and
a ‘hunt’ for the perpetrators. Bad tips were circulated, the library
was mentioned as the original target, and the names of several
innocent people were mentioned as possible suspects. Undoubtedly,
this information did not help law enforcement and at the same
time spread unnecessary fright and paranoia.
Reddit’s digital ‘voting system’ was initiated to try to find the
bombers. On the website, the public was invited to scrutinize hun-
dreds of pictures in order to see if they could identify suspicious
activity or the actual bombers. Although hundreds of people took
part, it did not succeed, and several commentators saw it as a fail-
ure of modern crowdsourcing. (The main reason for the unsuccess-
ful attempt was that pictures of the two brothers who organized
the bombings were never made public; Surowiecki, 2013.)
The Reddit attempt to find the criminals through crowdsourc-
ing unleashed a vigorous debate and criticism regarding the use of
social media. It also exemplified that people are much more willing
to share rumors or spread incorrect information when they are not
in a face- to- face situation, and that comments under the pictures
on Reddit resulted in many people following a trend instead of
thinking independently. In an article in LA Times, a media studies
professor at the University of Virginia, Siva Vaidhyanathan, com-
mented: ‘This is one of the most alarming social media events of
our time. We are really good at uploading images and unleashing
amateurs, but we’re not good with the social norms that would
protect the innocent’ (Chang, 2013).
Police Radio Open to the Public
As the hunt for the suspects continued, individuals all over
Boston – and the world – could follow police actions through
streams of online scanners. Many tweeted what they heard, and
tactical information about police actions was therefore spread on
social media. Such messages obviously put officers at risk, and
on April 19 the Boston Police Department issued a warning on
social media: ‘#MediaAlert: WARNING. Do Not Compromise
Officer Safety by Broadcasting Tactical Positions of Homes Being
The frenzy of social media messages with detailed information
about police whereabouts, rumors and comments received lots
of attention, and traditional media struggled to keep up with the
news. At one point an individual commented on Twitter:
Taking Care of Survivors
The City of Boston organized a family center at the Seaport Hotel.
There, next- of- kin of those who had died and those who were
hurt could gather and get updates. The city also set up a closed
Facebook group for survivors, which proved to be an effective way
of communicating with the people most directly affected by the
Google also launched its system for finding people after a
tragic event: Google Person Finder. Through this free and easily
accessible tool, the public could use Google’s search muscles to
look for their loved ones – or report about their own safety (simi-
lar to today’s Safety Check from Facebook).
The FBI also sprang into action to take care of victims, and
their Office of Victim Assistance set up a web page that encour-
aged those who were injured or who had witnessed the bombing
to register. The site also provides links to a variety of resources,
including hints on coping with trauma and guidelines for helping
youth after the bombings.
FIGURE 3.2 Social media were the preferred news channel for
many people following the manhunt after the Boston Marathon
A Visit from the President
With only 19 hours’ notice, the City of Boston also had to
organize a visit from President Obama, resulting in hectic
activity and several meetings with the Secret Service. When
they arrived, the President and his entourage first took part in
a memorial service at Cathedral of the Holy Cross. The ser-
vice also included comments by Mayor Thomas Merino and
Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick. The president then
met privately with patients, families and hospital staff at the
Massachusetts General Hospital, while Michelle Obama vis-
ited Boston Children’s Hospital and Brigham and Women’s
Hospital (Eversley, 2013).
To give Bostonians – and people all over the world – something
positive to focus on, the City of Boston quickly organized a fund
for receiving and organizing donations: One Fund Boston. Mayor
Menino and former Governor Deval Patrick were personally involved
in its inception, and less than 24 hours after the attack the fund was
initiated – with papers filed and new bank accounts linked to PayPal.
Dot Joyce was the former chief communications officer and
press secretary of the City of Boston. ‘We started the One Fund
Boston with messages of hope and resilience. We saw it as an outlet
for anger and frustrations, and we also wanted to focus on togeth-
erness and something positive children could do in the aftermath
of the bombings,’ Joyce said about the initiative.
The City of Boston partnered with Twitter, which provided a
pro bono ‘Promoted Trend’ campaign for digitally launching the
One Fund. It immediately became a success, and tweets about the
fund spread rapidly. The mayor also used his personal Twitter
account to promote the fund and raise awareness, tweeting: ‘To
assist victims of the #bostonmarathon tragedy, please visit one-
fundboston.com #oneboston.’ The message was retweeted more
than 700 times.
The One Fund has become a ‘best practice’ example of how to
collect funds after a tragic event. There were many reasons for its
success, but some vital clues were the speed of launch, messages
on a variety of social media channels and a large initial donation.
A sponsor of the Boston Marathon since 1985, the investment
company John Hancock donated USD 1 million to get the One
Fund started, thereby setting an example for other sponsors and
companies (Weiss, 2016).
By the first week, the fund had USD 10 million in its account.
The One Fund set up a system which asked people to self- identify
as victims of the attacks, and with money collected so quickly, the
fund was able to start issuing checks to the injured within a short
time. About USD 60 million was initially disbursed to survivors
and families of the victims. There were no spending criteria. When
USD 20 million more came in, the money was given to survivors
and a few organizations that could provide care for the victims.
In order to ensure a speedy distribution of funds, the One Fund
management team used a category model for who would receive
money from the fund, with a descending amount of support:
• Families of the four people who died and the two people who
suffered double amputations
• Persons who suffered single amputations
• All others who had been hospitalized for at least one night, with
compensation determined by length of required hospitalization
• Persons who suffered physical injury and received emergency
room treatment but were not admitted for hospitalization
As planned from the start, the One Fund shut down and stopped
collecting donations 20 months after the terror attack. By then, it
had received contributions from more than 200,000 individuals,
groups and businesses.
The Boston University’s Initiative on Cities published a report
in 2014 about lessons learned from the One Fund initiative so that
‘communities affected by mass trauma who are confronted with
a similar desire and need to coalesce empathy into a useful form’
can learn from Boston (Yesnowitz, 2014). The report lists five key
ingredients for the success of One Fund Boston:
1. Strong political leadership
2. Establishment of a single disbursal engine
3. Speed of execution
4. Preexisting relationships between public and private sector
5. Commitment to transparency and community involvement
Shortly after the attack, the City of Boston started receiving con-
dolences and pictures from all over the world. The social media
team therefore developed a presence on the photo sharing site
Tumblr, and used a service called IFTTT (IF This Then That) for
automatic transfer of pictures to the blog. ‘One Boston’ was a
common theme, as was ‘Dear Boston.’
Since 2015, April 15 has been dedicated as a day that encour-
ages public service, charity and community resilience. The hashtag
#OneBostonDay has become a popular tool for sharing how the
day is being observed, and the City of Boston has even produced
a number of shareable social graphics that can be downloaded for
free. The One Boston Day website describes the day like this: ‘On
this day, we remember and reflect. We greet our neighbors. We lend
a hand. We reach out, give back, and go above and beyond. We
epitomize the spirit of the city we love.’
IN AMENAS ATTACK ON GAS FACILITY
Case: Terror attack on gas facility at In Amenas, Algeria. Forty people
from 10 countries lost their lives during the four days’ siege. Among
them were five employees of Norway’s largest company, Statoil.
When: The attack started at 5:30 on January 16, 2013.
The attack on the Statoil facilities in Algeria was the most
serious international crisis the company had ever faced. There
were many challenges regarding communication, but Statoil
handled most of them well and was later applauded for the
way it informed and supported the families of those employees
affected by the crisis.
With more than 800 people on site, there were many uncer-
tainties from a Statoil crisis management standpoint during the
first few hours of the attack. In Amenas is in the desert and far
away from any cities, and its remote location meant that few
other sources – such as local media – were reporting from the
incident. A positive side to this was that there were fewer rumors
and less potentially false news developing out of a grave situation.
Nevertheless, because of the scope of the terror attack, and also
the fact that there were workers at In Amenas from 29 different
countries, the attack immediately erupted into a global news crisis.
The leadership of Statoil, represented by the CEO, Mr Helge
Lund, proved to be a vital part in the handling of the event. On
the morning of January 16, Mr Lund arrived on a business trip
in Tokyo, where he was given a quick briefing on the situation
in Algeria. He decided to return immediately to Norway and the
Statoil headquarters in Stavanger, where he joined the emergency
response team at 00:20 on January 17.
Crisis managers with Statoil had learned several lessons from
the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, and on
January 16 they immediately planned for the worst. Internal
authority for handling the situation was quickly handed over to
the Statoil hostage incident response team, and they then made
contact with outside sources, partners and government agencies
such as the police and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Three days after the attacks had started, Algerian military took
control of the production area at In Amenas. The next day, Statoil
received confirmation that 12 of the 17 employees missing were
safe. After family members had been informed, the names of the
five people missing were made public on January 20.
Statoil is known for supporting families affected by a crisis, and
about four hours after getting the first message about ‘something’
happening at In Amenas, a telephone support system was in place.
The support staff soon realized the terror attack could last a long
time and possibly mean casualties, and a next- of- kin center at a
hotel in Bergen was ready within one hour after being contacted.
The first family members arrived in the afternoon of January 16.
The next day, Statoil took over the whole hotel, and it remained a
family center for eight days.
Being the largest employer in Norway, and with a major focus
on health, safety and environment and good values, Statoil had a
robust system in place for taking care of next- of- kin. A hundred
employees had been trained as ‘volunteers’ for family support,
and they came from all kinds of backgrounds and fields of work.
Many of them worked in HR, but some volunteers were also
engineers and accountants. The management of Statoil sees this
kind of mix as highly valuable, as the volunteers then have a
varied background and a diverse knowledge of Statoil personnel
At the Scandic hotel in Bergen, a predefined plan for use
of the facilities was set in action. Access control, registration
and group rooms were organized, and during the week more
than 100 Statoil employees were involved with family support
at the hotel.
The main reason for gathering family members at the hotel
was to be able to give them firsthand information and news at one
place simultaneously. It was important for Statoil that this was
done in a professional and correct way, and they therefore set up
a rotation scheme for top managers, who alternated the difficult
task of giving bad news – or sometimes no news at all – to family
members of those missing or dead. Mr Helge Lund took his share
of giving updates at the next- of- kin center. ‘Families, friends and
colleagues are waiting for news about their loved ones. We are
doing everything we can to assist and help all of them,’ Lund said
during a press conference about the situation.
Statoil also organized several ceremonies to show respect
for those missing or known dead. The company held a mourn-
ing ceremony at Haakon’s Hall in Bergen on February 4, and in
its invitation Statoil stated that ‘It is intended for the next of kin,
those directly affected, representatives of management, support
staffs and other Statoil employees involved.’ The same day, a one-
minute silence was planned for Statoil locations all over the world.
Condolence books were placed in central Statoil locations, and
thinking of its very international staff, a digital book of condo-
lences was also organized.
Communicating with Media and Staff
Statoil’s management team, as well as government officials, made it
an important point to always give information to family members
before giving it to the press. At the same time, there was enor-
mous interest from journalists, and Statoil therefore arranged sev-
eral press conferences where the CEO and other key people from
management were available for interviews. The Statoil communi-
cations team also set up a dedicated web page, which included the
latest facts and press releases, as well as pictures and maps avail-
able for download.
Statoil issued their first press release in the early afternoon of
January 16. It simply stated that their plant had been attacked and
that they were gathering information. In total, during and after
the event, Statoil published 26 press releases and held nine press
It is very seldom that a crisis takes place in a location where no
outside witnesses or the public report about what has happened.
This was the case at the plant at In Amenas, and the communica-
tions team of Statoil therefore became one of the only sources of
information for the media.
Contrary to most of the other case studies presented in this
book, social media did not play a very important role in han-
dling the In Amenas crisis. The communications team in Norway
used various tools for surveying social media in several countries,
but social media were not used extensively to get messages out.
Statoil’s main objective was to communicate directly with those
affected and their families, and they gave updates to the media and
the public several times a day.
Providing information about the crisis to Statoil employees in a
total of 35 countries took various forms. An effective way of doing
this was a town hall meeting that took place in Stavanger. Statoil’s
CEO Helge Lund and Norway’s prime minister Jens Stoltenberg
attended the meeting. It lasted for 30 minutes and was broadcast
live to Statoil employees all over the world.
An Official Report
About a month after the terror attack, Statoil’s board of direct-
ors commissioned an investigation into the attack. The investiga-
tion team submitted their report on September 9, 2013. It stated
that extensive resources were made available, the teams involved
had freedom to act, and survivors and next- of- kin gave positive
feedback regarding the support they had received. ‘Statoil’s con-
tribution to the overall emergency response was effective and pro-
fessional […], with clear and honest communications,’ the report
concluded (Statoil.com, 2013).
Facts about the Terror at In Amenas
• The In Amenas facility was operated as a joint venture
between the national oil company Sonatrach, BP and Statoil.
• In Statoil alone, more than 350 people were mobilized as
part of the company’s emergency response effort.
• Statoil published a report on the attack and how the com-
pany handled it in September 2013.
• The attacks generated 9,000 news articles in Norwegian
FIGURE 3.3 Statoil and the Office of the Prime Minister worked
jointly on the In Amenas crisis. Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg
(left) and Statoil’s CEO Helge Lund both spoke at a staff meeting.
Source: Harald Pettersen, Statoil.
TERROR IN THE CAPITAL OF NORWAY AND ON
THE ISLAND OF UTOYA
Case: A terrorist attack on the Government Complex in Oslo and
a youth camp for the Labor Party on the small island of Utoya. In
Oslo, eight people were killed when a bomb exploded outside the
Prime Minister’s Office; at Utoya, the terrorist shot and killed 69
people. Internal as well as external communication became dif-
ficult and partly broke down in the early phases, as the bomb hin-
dered normal communication tools and made the situation highly
uncertain and unmanageable.
When: July 22, 2011.
It happened on a Friday. July 22, 2011. I was happily driving
home from vacation in Sweden with my wife and three kids when
all of a sudden I started getting several text messages from col-
leagues in Oslo. ‘Are you OK?’ they asked, and I at first thought
they were requiring about my vacation. Then a text message from
my boss said something about ‘I hope you are all fine, please report
back as soon as possible.’ I stopped the car, sent her a short mes-
sage, and then we turned on the news on the radio. We were imme-
diately stunned. The reporter informed of an explosion in Oslo. It
was too early to tell whether there were casualties or what was the
cause. We drove in silence, listening to the continued coverage on
Once safely back home in our house, we immediately turned
on the television to watch live coverage from the Government
Complex in Oslo (where my office was). The pictures were unbe-
lievable: chaos, debris and glass fragments, wounded people and
dust everywhere – and the building where I worked was on fire.
After the tsunami in 1984 (see Chapter 2), the Norwegian
government had organized a crisis communication support group
consisting of communications specialists from several ministries.
I was one of their ‘volunteers,’ and I therefore knew that I would
probably be requested to come to work fairly quickly. Rightly so;
in the early part of the evening I got a phone call urging me to
come to Oslo as soon as possible to help with communication
efforts after the attack. There were two obstacles, however. First,
the crisis team was supposed to meet at the Crisis Support Unit,
but their facilities were in the basement of the building that had
been bombed in Oslo and therefore unreachable. Instead, I was
instructed to report to work at the Ministry of Defense, as their
offices were further away from the Government Complex and
therefore easier to reach – and protect. The second challenge came
in the form of a news flash popping up on TV as I was about to
leave in a taxi, heading for Oslo – there was something about sev-
eral people being shot at Utoya. This puzzled me, and I started to
wonder whether we also had to deal with a situation there that
needed extra communications personnel. An already bad feeling
further developed and was unmistakably reinforced when min-
utes later – still in the taxi towards Oslo – we encountered several
ambulances driving fast in the opposite direction. I later learned
that they were on their way to Utoya.
The Office of the Prime Minister
In hindsight, it is easy to see that security around the Government
Complex was too relaxed. Anyone was, for example, able to drive
a car near the entrance and park it there: exactly what Anders
Behring Breivik did. He parked his Volkswagen Crafter containing
his home- made bomb (consisting of 950 kilos of fertilizer, diesel and
aluminum), left it there and walked out into the streets – wearing a
fake police uniform. Security personnel quickly started looking into
the situation, trying first to find the owner of the car by checking its
license plate via video surveillance. However, no immediate attempt
was made to remove the car, and when it exploded it instantly killed
eight people on the ground and wounded more than 200.
Fortunately, Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg was not in his
office on the top floor of the building when the bomb went off
at 3:25.19 in the afternoon. The blast rocked the 17 stories of
the structure, and staff immediately started evacuating through
the stairs. One of the communications people in the Office of the
Prime Minister immediately called Jens Stoltenberg and told him
that there had been an explosion and that they were running out
of the building. They agreed to meet at the Residence of the Prime
Minister, where Stoltenberg had spent the afternoon preparing a
speech he was to give at Utoya the next day. Within a fairly short
time, several staff reported to work at the residence, including
communications staff who had had the great foresight to bring
their personal printers. This proved valuable, as the residence was
not set up to handle lots of office workers. The training room was
used for sorting papers, and during the afternoon and evening sev-
eral ‘official’ rooms were turned into makeshift offices.
Handling the Media
Immediately, the media pressure was enormous. In the building
where I had my office (R4), a colleague got a call from a reporter
while evacuating through the emergency exits, and journalists
from all over Norway – and soon the world – were trying to find
out what had happened to the prime minister. An international
news agency got hold of the phone number to one of Stoltenberg’s
advisors, called him up and said: ‘You are live in 20 seconds.’ For
a while the press line was so busy that it was impossible to use it
to make outside calls.
FIGURE 3.4 Jens Stoltenberg, Merete Guin and Arvid Samland
worked in makeshift offices at the Residence of the Prime Minister
on the evening of July 22, 2011.
Source: Office of the Prime Minister.
The Prime Minister’s Office soon released a statement saying
that Stoltenberg was safe, but they made sure not to mention any-
thing about where he was located. There were several reasons for
not disclosing his whereabouts, the most important being that at
this time no one could know whether there were more attacks
coming. At the same time, Stoltenberg wanted to address the
media and get his messages across so that he could reassure the
public and not risk others dominating the media with rumors or
false information. They therefore organized telephone interviews
with Norway’s two major TV stations (NRK and TV2) in which
Stoltenberg talked about what actions were being taken, that a cri-
sis team had been established and that everything was being done
to save lives.
By this time, Stoltenberg knew that something was going
on at Utoya. Representing the Labor Party himself, he person-
ally knew many of the young people attending the youth camp,
and he had received several messages about someone shooting
on the island. His team discussed what to say to reporters if they
should ask about Utoya, and they agreed he would be honest and
inform them of what he knew if they asked. At the end of the
interview with one of the news channels, the reporter said that he
had heard that ‘something’ was happening at Utoya, and he asked
what Stoltenberg knew about the shooting. Stoltenberg said that
he had received reports about someone shooting young people
on the island. This turned out to be vital and possibly life- saving
information, as neighbors of the island who watched the broad-
cast then realized people were in danger and subsequently set out
in small boats to try to save people attempting to swim away
Norway’s Response to Violence: More Democracy, More
Hans Kristian Amundsen was one of Stoltenberg’s closest advi-
sors and responsible for most of his speeches. When the attack
occurred, he was vacationing in the northern part of Norway, and
he immediately booked a ticket on the first flight back to Oslo.
He therefore had one and a half hours of undisturbed time on the
plane, which he used to draft the first official message from the
government about the terror attacks.
Stoltenberg and Amundsen agreed that this was not the time
to ask for revenge. Instead, their focus was to show togetherness
and that even a small country like Norway could handle a ter-
rible situation in a good way. In his press conference at 10.30 in
the evening of July 22, Stoltenberg therefore talked about the fact
that Norway had experienced its most brutal attack on democ-
racy since the Second World War, and that ‘Norway will not be
intimidated by terror attacks.’ He condemned the terrorist’s brutal
assault and said that the country would ‘stand firm in defending
their values.’ Stoltenberg ended the short press conference by stat-
ing that ‘Norway’s response to violence is more democracy, more
openness and greater political participation.’
Communicating from Utoya
In the afternoon of July 22, a total of 564 people were gathered
on the island of Utoya. As part of a youth camp organized by the
Labor Party, they were in good spirits after a visit the same day by
former prime minister of Norway, Gro Harlem Brundtland. She
left the island at 3 pm, and half an hour later news spread about
the explosion in Oslo. The camp therefore organized a brief gath-
ering at 4 pm, during which several participants said they were
happy to be so far away from the terrible events in Oslo.
What they did not know, of course, was that Anders Behring
Breivik had not finished his plot. Still dressed in a police uniform,
he approached the dock that connects Utoya to the mainland
and asked a guard there to summon the ferry to take him over to
the island. This was organized, and Breivik got on board for the
ten- minute ride to Utoya. He had with him a Glock brand semi-
automatic 9 mm pistol, a Ruger brand Mini 14 semiautomatic
rifle cal. 223, a heavy box, and a sharp and visible bayonet. At
5:17 he climbed ashore, and four minutes later he killed two
people who were with him on the dock. This was the start of a
terrible killing spree; during the next one hour and 20 minutes,
Breivik shot and killed 69 people. He was arrested by police
at 6:34 pm.
One of the first messages about what was happening at Utoya
came on Twitter, when at 5:25 Kjetil Vevle – a 23- year- old who was
one of the first to see what was happening – reported: ‘Shooting at
Utoya. Update the police!’ Several similar postings followed, and
at the same time numerous police operations centers were inun-
dated with frantic calls from the people on the island.
For the crisis communications team gathered at the Ministry
of Defense, the frequent messages on Twitter made it hard to keep
on top of the situation and describe to crisis managers what was
happening. Traditionally, such reports are based on what police
and other agencies provide combined with media surveillance, but
live tweets and text messages from Utoya meant that many of the
politicians and key people handling the crisis got their updates
directly from those who were at risk.
News about the shooting came sporadically and then spread
quickly. Norwegian reporters knew several of the people on the
island and called them directly, but international journalists had
to call a dedicated phone number set up specifically for the media.
I was among those who answered these calls, but there was not
much information I could reveal, at least not in the early hours of
this dreadful happening.
FIGURE 3.5 A dramatic message on Twitter: ‘Someone is shoot-
ing at Utoya.’
Descriptions from the Judgment
“ Heartbreaking scenes unfolded as people hid, ran or
swam for their lives while at the same time trying to help
and comfort each other. In some places, the living and
the dead lay side by side. Some were paralyzed by fear
as they were being shot at, some pretended to be dead,
while others begged for their lives. Many hyperventilated.
Telephone calls were made and text messages were
exchanged with family and friends, partly to ask for help,
partly to calm them down, and partly also to bid farewell.
Oslo District Court (Oslo tingrett) – Judgment.
For a long time that first evening, the police reported that about
ten people had been killed on the island. However, politicians and
crisis managers had seen indications or even text messages from
witnesses on the island that had shown much higher numbers, and
at 3:50 the next morning the police told the media that ‘at least 80’
had died on the island. Needless to say, Norwegians woke up that
morning to once again shocking news, and those in Oslo saw a
very different city, with police and the military guarding key build-
ings and offices in the capital.
Taking Care of Survivors and Next- of- Kin
The all- important challenge was then to handle those who had
survived the attack and to get vital information to next- of- kin.
This was not an easy task, as the sheer number of people involved
meant that patients were transported from Utoya by private boats,
private cars, helicopters, ambulances and buses. A total of 12 heli-
copters, 42 ambulances and three buses took part in the evacua-
tion of those who had been on the island.
While survivors and deceased were taken to several hospitals,
family members started gathering at the Sundvollen Hotel, situ-
ated fairly close to Utoya. The hotel did its utmost to provide care
and necessary rooms, and during the evening all the regular guests
were moved to other hotels in the area. Parents, sisters, brothers
and other family members came from all over Norway, and many
of them wanted to take part in the search and rescue efforts and
help locate their loved ones.
Although this happened in the middle of summer, with lots of
Norwegians vacationing abroad, more than 250 medical person-
nel, psychologists and nurses reported to Sundvollen Hotel in the
evening of July 22. Organizing them into groups and noting their
specialties took some time, but their assistance proved invaluable
as more and more parents and other family members showed up
at the hotel. There was chaos and loud voices at first, but as the
number of dead became apparent, the hotel became very quiet and
On Saturday July 23, the prime minister held a new press con-
ference at the residence. He called the attack a ‘national tragedy.’
Then he traveled to Sundvollen Hotel to console and meet with
family members. King Harald and Queen Sonja of Norway also
visited the hotel that day. Such VIP visits are usually highly appre-
ciated by family members and should therefore be encouraged, but
they put a special demand on crisis communication, security and
logistics, and it is crucial to also plan for these situations after a
It was not only the media and the public who needed information
about what was happening. The Government Complex in Oslo
houses 11 different ministries, and many employees were directly
affected when the bomb exploded. Office workers who had been
at the site needed to be taken care of, and at the same time many
on vacation wanted to know what was happening and whether
their colleagues were safe.
Communicating internally proved difficult at first. The
bomb had destroyed several IT systems, which meant that for a
while intranets and email did not work. Communications staff
at the ministries had to find alternative ways of getting informa-
tion to their employees. Regular phone calls and text messages
were used, and by the evening of Friday 22, several ministries
had created closed Facebook pages. This proved very effective,
as employees could comment and ask questions, and informa-
tion could be distributed freely and easily to only those who
It soon became apparent that employees wanted to meet each
other in person. Many ministries therefore organized open meet-
ings for their staff as early as Sunday July 24. I helped set up a
meeting for the Ministry of Trade and Industry at a hotel in Oslo,
and we were quite surprised to see how many showed up that
afternoon. It was a relief to learn that no one at our ministry had
been killed, but of course, at the same time there was sadness and
grief about what had happened. Many personally knew some of
those who had not survived the explosion. The main reason for
organizing the meeting was simply to let staff see each other and
be able to talk and cry together, but at the same time many practi-
cal questions came up: Some wanted to know how they could help;
others were wondering where to show up for work the next day.
We also learned that many employees had kept a variety of per-
sonal effects in their offices, and there were questions about how
they would obtain their passports, keys to apartments and even
national costumes that had been stored in the office closet. And,
of course, there were questions about the cars they had driven to
work on July 22, as the parking garage was directly below where
the bomb went off.
According to the official report published by the Norwegian
government in August 2012, only four of the 17 ministries
had a predefined alternate location. There was therefore hectic
activity to find new office space for the 2,000 or so employ-
ees who could not report to work at the Government Complex
the following Monday. This was also a communications chal-
lenge, as staff needed to know where to come to work and what
Employees of the ministries showed a variety of reactions. For
many of them, their office had been blown to pieces, they had been
forced to evacuate in dramatic circumstances, and they had seen
wounded or dead colleagues. Heads of the ministries therefore
offered referrals to health workers and psychologists, and every-
one was told that they did not have to show up for work the next
day if they did not feel up to it.
Memorials and a Sea of Roses
A common reaction after a tragedy is the need to come together
and show support. An individual suggested on Facebook that
there should be a ceremony in the city of Oslo on Monday July
25, where people could bring torches and roses and walk silently
through the downtown area. Twenty- four hours after the event
had been launched on Facebook, some 30,000 individuals said
they would attend.
Officials in Oslo soon realized that a march through the city
would not be feasible, as many areas were still considered a crime
scene, and the safety of such a big group could not be guaranteed.
Instead, a ‘rose march vigil’ was organized outside the town hall.
Although it was a ‘spur of the moment’ event, it is estimated that
150,000 people showed up that evening for a silent and somber
ceremony. The prime minister and members of the royal family
attended, and Crown Prince Haakon told the crowd: ‘Tonight
the streets are filled with love.’ Prime Minister Stoltenberg also
addressed the crowd. Thousands of people carried red roses as
a sign of remembrance. The English newspaper Express com-
mented: ‘In a country of 4.8 million, where a single murder makes
front- page news, the solidarity rally was probably the biggest since
World War Two’ (Fox, 2011).
When the ceremony was over, participants were urged to ‘dec-
orate the city’ with the flowers they had brought. They did. For the
next weeks, inhabitants and visitors to Oslo could see roses every-
where, and they instantly became a symbol of what had happened,
of remembrance and of democracy.
Without this having been planned, the area outside of the Oslo
Cathedral became the main place for laying down flowers, teddy
bears and letters. It started slowly, but soon the ground was covered
in flowers and other items people put down. It hindered traffic, but
the area became a kind of attraction in itself, and more and more
people wanted to participate and see it. The Oslo Municipality got
phone calls from Norwegians abroad who urged officials not to
remove the flowers before they had been able to put theirs down,
and the ‘memorial’ was allowed to remain through July.
In several presentations, the head of communications for Oslo
Municipality, Erik Hansen, has said that ‘We did not have a com-
munications plan for removing a sea of flowers.’ But it had to
be done, and at nighttime at the beginning of August gardening
crews from the Agency for Waste Management in the City of Oslo
started removing the flowers, letters and candles from the area.
They did so respectfully; only small trucks carried the items (a
total of 33 loads) to an area where they were sorted and cleaned.
The National Archive received 4,000 items and 25,000 documents
relating to the terror in Oslo and Utoya, while the collected flow-
ers were composted. The resulting soil would later be used for a
Back to Where It Happened (II)
Escape from Utoya Island in the evening of July 22 had been hur-
ried and chaotic. Some of the survivors did not want to ever set
foot on the island again, but quite a few expressed a desire to
go back and relive the terrible, death- facing hours of the attack.
At the same time, many next- of- kin of the 69 who had died also
wanted a chance to visit Utoya, to learn about what had happened
to their family members who had died on the island.
The Norwegian Directorate for Civil Protection (DSB) was
therefore given the task of arranging visits to Utoya on August 19
and 20. The planning phase was short and hectic, and involved
FIGURE 3.6 ‘A sea of roses’ in downtown Oslo.
Source: Kjell Brataas.
getting the island ready for a large number of guests of all ages
and physical conditions. To make the pathways safer to walk on,
tons of gravel was transported by boat and helicopter, and the
Norwegian Civil Defense arranged for large tents, trashcans and
portable toilets to be located around the island. Parking facili-
ties on the mainland were almost non- existent, so the organizers
decided to transport guests by bus from Oslo. A special vessel was
designated for bringing large groups of people across the lake to
the island, and other boats and ferries were also made available.
Tore Drtina from DSB was head of the organizing committee.
For the last two weeks before the visits, he attended daily meet-
ings in Oslo with representatives from the support group, the Red
Cross, the Ministry of Justice and the police. ‘The planning phase
was intensive and emotional,’ Drtina explained. He believes an
important factor in the success of the project was that planning
was inclusive and that many voices were heard and considered.
‘We knew that our guests would be anxious and worried, and we
therefore did everything we could to make the visits to the island
as smooth and well- organized as possible,’ Drtina said. He com-
mends everyone involved, especially the police National Criminal
Investigation Service, which produced detailed maps of Utoya
(including the location of victims) and took great care in providing
adequate signage on the island and personal care of the visitors.
Media handling became an interesting challenge. There was a
huge international and national interest in the two days of visits to
Utoya, and organizers had to balance the media’s rights to cover
important events with survivors’ and family members’ right to pri-
vacy. In the planning phase, survivors had made it very clear that
they did not want to be surrounded by journalists and photogra-
phers on the island, and a ‘media camp’ was therefore organized
on a farm across the lake from Utoya. Large tents were erected
in case of rain, and reporters from CNN, BBC and other inter-
national and local news organizations were invited to cover the
Utoya visit from the camp.
DSB cooperated with the police regarding how visitors would
see the island (still considered a crime scene) and remnants of what
had happened. Blood had been removed from walls and floors and
the houses on the island had been cleaned, but other evidence of
what had happened – such as bullet holes – was still present when
visitors arrived. That is how they wanted it, and seeing the physical
evidence of what had taken place gave an extra dimension to the
Before the guests arrived, DSB conducted a thorough risk anal-
ysis. Many factors had to be considered, including the varying age
of the visitors, the physical condition of the pathways, and the
possibility of boats colliding while transporting visitors or people
falling in the water.
August 19 was set aside for family members representing 50 of
the young men and women who had died on Utoya. Upon arrival,
they were met by representatives from the Red Cross, and each
family had a designated policeman who pointed out where their
loved one had been found. Many lit candles and left flowers in
makeshift shrines around the island.
The next day, survivors of the mass shooting returned to the
island for the first time after the attack. As there were 495 of them,
each could only bring one family member or friend along for the
visit. They started arriving early in the morning, and survivors
spent many hours on the island, wandering around and talking to
DSB used the Sundvollen Hotel as their local headquarters for
organizing the visits. One meeting room was designated for com-
munications staff, and I was one of the people from the government
FIGURE 3.7 From a temporary media camp, reporters could
watch across the lake as visitors arrived at Utoya.
Source: Kjell Brataas.
handling media and surveying social media. We wanted to be
aware of possible complaints or questions on Twitter, and I there-
fore spent most of the day at the hotel following Twitter streams
and hashtags such as #Utoya via the social media management
tool Hootsuite. There were few complaints, but when someone
posted a message about being fearful of meeting journalists on the
island, I could send a reply ensuring them that no reporters were
allowed on Utoya.
In total, more than 1,600 individuals visited the island on
August 19 and 20. All their expenses were paid for by the govern-
ment, including connecting flights to Oslo, bus and boat transport
to Utoya, and meals and refreshments on the island.
FROM NIGHTCLUB TO NIGHTMARE
Case: A gunman opened fire at a gay nightclub called Pulse, one of
the biggest nightclubs in Orlando. Forty- nine people were killed.
For the first time ever, Facebook launched its Safety Check feature
for an event in the U.S.
When: June 12, 2016
It was supposed to be a happy, Latin- themed night at Pulse.
More than 300 people were inside when, at around 2 am, shoot-
ing started. Shortly afterwards, the nightclub posted a warning on
Facebook urging ‘Everyone get out of pulse and keep running.’
The ordeal lasted several hours as the gunman used his AR- 15
type assault rifle and a handgun in heavy gun battles with law
enforcement. In the end he was shot dead by the police, but with
49 innocent people killed, the Pulse tragedy became the worst mass
shooting in the U.S. in the past 25 years (until the shooting in Las
Vegas in October 2017).
The Pulse shooting is another example of victims using social
media to communicate while the ordeal was going on. According
to the report ‘War and Tweets,’ victims provided information that
facilitated the rescue and communicated with the police as well
as friends and family from inside the nightclub (Burke, Sims, &
Sterman, 2016). Approximately 20 to 30 people hid in a bath-
room for four hours, and several of them sent videos and pictures
through social media. The report states that few videos made it
onto news media, as news directors decided not to air graphic
material from the victims. However, three video clips originally
posted on Snapchat by a victim who did not survive the attack
were later uploaded to a Facebook page, garnering more than one
million views in 24 hours and 3.7 million views by the end of
October. The video also made its way to television news stories.
With several large hurricanes passing through Florida for the
last few years, the City of Orlando had learned several lessons in
crisis communication. It had implemented mass casualty incident
(MCI) training with the Orlando Police Department and the FBI as
early as 2005, and in 2015 the city took part in an active shooter
exercise on a college campus.
Social Media for Crisis Communication
One part of the crisis plan for Orlando stated that in the case of
a large event, ‘ESF- 14’ – a group of communications people from
various emergency operations functions – would work together
on crisis communication. Shortly after the shooting started, the
Orlando Police and the City of Orlando were overwhelmed with
hundreds of calls from the media. The communications team
were not able to answer them all, and they therefore used Twitter
as their main channel for putting information out to journal-
ists and the public. The Orlando Police Department handled
their Twitter account, but ESF- 14 took over all other accounts
of the city and engaged partners to share messages throughout
Doug Richards, digital communications manager with the
Office of the Mayor in Orlando, explained that ‘the big thing fol-
lowing the incident that morning was that Twitter allowed the
Orlando Police Department to provide accurate information. That
really was the lone source for accurate information.’ Again, social
media proved to be a powerful tool, and the successful use of
Twitter by the Orlando Police Department showed the importance
of having an already very active and credible Twitter presence.
Two elements of the shooting created an extraordinary number
of hateful comments on social media: Pulse was a gay arena, and
the killer was a Muslim. In the early hours of the night, the com-
munications teams of the city tried to monitor all the comments,
but as more information about the shooting came out, that became
an impossible task. Fortunately, there were also many positive
comments, and questions soon started appearing about how indi-
viduals could help or where they could donate money.
Sharing graphics on social media helped in getting important
messages across to a vast audience. The City of Orlando brought
in their graphics team early, and they were tasked with produc-
ing signage, website design, road closure maps and backdrops for
media interviews. The graphics team also developed a new logo,
and the hashtag #OrlandoUnited was featured prominently in
graphics and messages on social media.
Handling the Media
In the hours and days following the shooting, the Orlando police
arranged several press conferences. The first took place at 7:15
in the morning, about five hours after the shooting had started.
The ‘audience’ were mainly journalists, but in order to reach
more widely, the police broadcast the conferences live through the
Periscope app. The initial plan for the press conference was to have
the police chief speak first, but before the conference started the
order was changed so that Mayor Buddy Dyer took the podium
first. He used the opportunity to set the tone and to let people know
they were safe. The second press conference was more solemn, as
the mayor then had bad news to deliver: ‘Today we’re dealing with
something we never imagined and is unimaginable. Since the last
update, we have gotten better access to the building. We cleared
the building. And it is with great sadness that I share we have not
20, but 50 casualties’ (Burke, Sims, & Sterman, 2016).
The City of Orlando created a special page on their website
with content related to Pulse. It included all relevant updates
and special sections such as volunteer forms and public records
requests. The website was the location for accurate information,
and several messages on social media referred to the web pages
for further and detailed facts about the shooting. The web also
became an important source for journalists.
In most cases it is the police who release names of the dead
to the media and the public. The Pulse tragedy was handled
differently, as city staff were tasked with publishing names of the
deceased on the city’s web page after police had notified next- of-
kin. The ‘War and Tweets’ report explains that ‘an assistant would
eventually take calls throughout the night from an officer who was
notifying victims’ next of kin. Once the web assistant received that
information, she would immediately put the name online.’ As there
were 49 victims on the list, publishing the names naturally put an
extra mental toll on the communications team.
Facebook Safety Check
The night of the Pulse shooting was the very first time Facebook
launched its Safety Check feature in the U.S. (The service was first
initiated after Typhoon Ruby in the Philippines in 2014.) While
Safety Check in the beginning had to be ‘turned on manually’ by
Facebook staff, the company’s algorithms turned on Safety Check
automatically at 3:37 am, about one and a half hours after the
shooting started (Metz, 2016).
“ That Safety Check portal became the source of news
they cared about most.
How Facebook Is Transforming Disaster
Response, (Wired), Metz, 2016
One of the learning points for the communications team in
Orlando was how swiftly focus shifts from immediate response to
messages of uniting the community. A tragic event like the Pulse
shooting could have torn the city apart and created hate groups
and verbal attacks, but the mayor and other leaders did a great
job in focusing on unity. Other lessons learned were the need for
more bilingual staff and to better plan for an influx of people
wanting to help.
The City of Orlando were able to use a number of digital tools
that helped them communicate effectively:
Wufoo forms were used for registering requests and incoming
messages, and this data was later transferred to other data-
bases and reports.
Password Manager Pro helped staff access applications and sys-
tems from anywhere.
Google Doc was used to share and collaborate on content and
social media plans remotely.
Nextdoor, a social network for neighborhoods, proved valuable
in targeting messages to specific audiences.
These learning points came to good use in June 2017, when the
city marked the one- year anniversary of the Pulse shooting. The
city again operated its Emergency Operations Center and ESF- 14
function. They responded to media calls, monitored social media
to answer questions, posted event logistics such as road closures,
FIGURE 3.8 At the time, the Pulse shooting was the deadliest ter-
rorist attack in the U.S. since September 11, 2001.
Source: John Rothwell.
and thanked well- wishers from around the world. ‘Multiple events
took place, and the City of Orlando was able to inform the public
and engage in conversations in an even better way than before
the mass shooting,’ Richards explained. The city’s social media
platforms shared content that honored and remembered the 49
victims, and the Orlando Police Department account was ready to
be utilized if there were any law enforcement issues. Thankfully,
there were not.
Bindley, K. (2013, April 26). Huffington Post. Retrieved from
www.huffingtonpost.com/ 2013/ 04/ 26/ boston- police- twitter-
marathon_ n_ 3157472.html
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policy- papers/ war- and- tweets
Chang, K. B. (2013, April 20). Boston bombings: Social media
spirals out of control. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved from
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bombings- media- 20130420
Eversley, Y. A. (2013, April 18). Obama provides comfort in
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from- sidelines- marathon/ 6jsHt1EIKm1IK98ZvRIYvN/ story.
Metz, C. (2016, November 10). How Facebook is transforming
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are/ algeria/ the- main- conclusions- of- the- investigation.html
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ers. Boston University OpenBU. Retrieved from https:// open.
bu.edu/ handle/ 2144/ 8943
C H A P T E R 4
Models for Crisis
Communicating with a variety of stakeholders in times of ‘busi-
ness as usual’ is normally not especially challenging. There might be
internal conflicts to handle, a negative newspaper article to respond
to or a social media message that did not work as intended. In daily
life, communicating is part of the routine, but those days should also
be used to plan for the worst. When disaster strikes, crisis communi-
cation becomes vital. How a company or organization responds to
victims, the media and the public can change the course of the cri-
sis – for better or worse – and in some instances end careers, reduce
stock prices or have a catastrophic impact on reputation.
In ‘the old days’ (which is not that long ago), communications
teams and management had some time to agree on how to han-
dle the situation and what to say publicly. Some textbooks talk
about ‘the golden hour,’ explaining that the first hour after an
incident could be used for planning and getting ready. With social
media, such a ‘luxury’ is no longer part of the scenario, and more
often than not news about a tragedy appears first on Facebook or
Twitter. Soon afterwards, the public and the media expect answers,
and the whole world can scrutinize how you respond and what
your priorities are.
If you do not provide an immediate response, you are seen as
hiding and being evasive. This creates a vacuum others will fill, and it
is therefore good practice to make your presence as a communicator
early – as early as possible. By posting a Facebook message or tweet-
ing a few words shortly after something has happened, you demon-
strate that you and your company will be a voice to be reckoned with.
78 Models for Crisis Communication
The National Transportation Safety Board usually tweets about an
accident within an hour, thereby showing the public, the media and
airlines that an authoritative voice is already on the case.
The first message does not need to be very long. It could
• Acknowledge what has happened
• Explain what is being done
• Show empathy
• Provide a link to more information
Transparency, openness and care are words that are often used to
describe the goals of crisis communication. They are not easy to
achieve, and in a crisis situation there can be a tendency to avoid
giving out bad news in the hope that it will not otherwise surface.
That is very seldom the outcome, and if a newspaper or a citizen
instead is the source providing the negative information, the com-
pany or organization often finds itself in trouble. It is therefore
wise to be open and give out all kinds of news, even if it involves
admitting a wrong decision or having provided the incorrect facts.
Care should be a vital word in all crisis communication. A crisis
always involves victims, and when communicating it is imperative
that the focus is on those who have been hurt or those who have
lost loved ones. As described in Chapter 10, families should always
be informed before the media, which can be accomplished through
a Family Assistance Center or through a dedicated web page for
victims. At the same time, though, it is vital that as many people as
possible see themselves as survivors instead of victims of a disaster,
a point President Obama described in his commencement address at
Joplin High School in 2012: ‘We can define our lives not by what
happens to us, but by how we respond. We can choose to carry on.
We can choose to make a difference in the world’ (Obama, 2012).
MODELS FOR CRISIS COMMUNICATION
Getting messages across in a timely, compassionate and under-
standable way takes planning and collaboration between several
parts of an organization.
Models for Crisis Communication 79
As the ‘Circles of Crisis Communication Collaboration’
model in Figure 4.1 describes, three parts of an organization need
to work exceptionally well together in times of crisis. The CEO,
of course, takes charge and makes priorities, but she or he needs
a lot of advice from HR and Communications. The CEO and
COMM, for example, collaborate on media statements and press
conferences, while the CEO and HR will work together on victim
The second model of a ‘Communication Product Loop’
(Figure 4.2) explains how even more parts of an organization
interact in order to produce communication ‘products’ (press
releases, messages on social media, web pages etc.) for various
stakeholders. This model also includes IT (handling computer
access etc.) and a support group or secretarial service (handling a
variety of tasks such as copying, food and drinks, transportation
FIGURE 4.1 ‘The 4C Model’ Circles of Crisis Communication
Collaboration describes how the CEO, the communications team
(COMM) and human resources (HR) need to collaborate in times
Source: Kjell Brataas.
80 Models for Crisis Communication
Obama, P. B. (2012). Read President Obama’s Commencement
Address at Joplin High School. Time. Retrieved from
http:// time.com/ 4341639/ obama- commencement- speech-
transcript- joplin- high- school
FIGURE 4.2 The ‘Communication Product Loop’ can be
expanded or changed based on type of organization, crisis and
Source: Kjell Brataas.
C H A P T E R 5
Working with the Media
Even with a large part of the world using social media on a daily
basis, traditional media should not be forgotten when planning for
or handling a crisis. People still turn to local news or CNN when
something has happened, and press releases and one- on- one inter-
views continue to be an effective way of getting messages across.
What is new, however, is that more and more people consume tra-
ditional news sources and social media simultaneously. Especially
after a tragedy, people seeking information will be watching the
news on TV while at the same time following Twitter feeds and
checking Facebook. The sources of news reports have also changed
dramatically, as more and more pictures and videos from the scene
of an accident come from bystanders with smartphones.
In addition to being a news source, traditional media have an
advantage in also offering in- depth analysis, critical voices, impar-
tial studies and commentaries. Although not always positive, it is
important to have these aspects in mind when planning for and
dealing with the media, and to have systems in place for media
Even in a stressful crisis situation, and with journalists uncov-
ering unflattering news or asking questions that are hard to
answer, we should remind ourselves that having a free press is part
of democracy. Victims, citizens and the public in general deserve
to know the truth, even if it is sometimes not favorable from our
standpoint. Getting facts straight and admitting mistakes can con-
tribute to making sure the same tragedy does not happen again.
82 Working with the Media
ACCEPTING AND ANSWERING MEDIA CALLS
The press office of a private company, a government ministry or
a hospital might receive hundreds of phone calls from journalists
in a few hours after a tragic event. Such calls create at least two
imminent questions that need to be planned for internally:
• How do we handle and process the calls?
• What do we answer?
The first question concerns preparation (see also Chapter 11), as
plans for taking calls from journalists should be in place before
something happens. As a minimum, there should be a dedicated
phone number and a technical system that allows several people
to answer. There must also be plans for how to process incoming
phone calls and their follow- up, which is often accomplished by
using an electronic logging system. Spreadsheets like Excel can do
the trick, but it is often better to set up a simple, web- based system
that several people can access at the same time (Google Sheet is a
free and simple solution to consider).
Shortly after an event, there is usually not much con-
crete information to give out. Incoming calls from journalists
FIGURE 5.1 Media interest can escalate quickly, as was the case
after the terror attack in Oslo in the summer of 2011.
Source: Kjell Brataas.
Working with the Media 83
can therefore be answered with basic facts about what has hap-
pened and some words on what is being done about the situa-
tion. The focus ought to be on the victims and immediate support
and response, and questions about cause or blame should not be
answered at this time. If a press conference is scheduled later in
the day, it is a good idea to refer journalists to that event and to
publicize an invitation to the media on a website and in Twitter
messages. Knowing that there will be a press conference later can
lessen the burden on the press office staff, who instead can focus
on preparing and checking facts and developing the right mes-
sages for later dissemination.
If the crisis being handled has an international aspect, for
example if it involves foreigners or has happened in another
country, the communications staff must be prepared to handle
phone calls from journalists speaking several languages. If we
are talking about an aircraft accident, the airline should expect
phone calls from all the countries that had passengers on the
Journalists calling a press office often have deadlines. While
they are not always possible to honor, the communications team
should try to get answers or at least call back within the deadline
specified. If a journalist asks for a live interview with the CEO, this
should be viewed as an opportunity to get your side of the story in
front of a large audience.
THE PRESS RELEASE
Press releases should be short and to the point. They usually fol-
low the style of an upside- down pyramid, with the most important
message at the top followed by a short statement and additional
facts and information. The press release must convey sincerity and
compassion and focus first and foremost on the victims and on
what is being done to lessen the burden.
A press release needs someone to receive it, preferably news
organizations, journalists and editors. How it is distributed should
be planned before a crisis; it can be in the form of an email distri-
bution list or a paid service through a third party provider.
Bear in mind that the press release is not written for the press
alone. It should therefore be published on the organization’s own
84 Working with the Media
web page, be linked to from a message on Twitter and have some
of its contents used in a Facebook post.
Organizing a press conference can have several merits:
• It provides time to prepare and get information and facts
• It makes it possible to discuss messages and key points with
other parties involved.
• It gives the communications staff a break from a bombard-
ment of requests for interviews.
• It is a concrete example of something being done and that you
are ‘on’ the case.
• It is an opportunity to show leadership and commitment to
resolving the issue.
A traditional press conference should be combined with social
media, for example by having a live video feed on Facebook
or by live- tweeting key points. You could also videotape the
whole press conference and post the recording on your YouTube
A press conference usually follows the following structure:
2. Head of company/ CEO/ mayor etc. talks about what has hap-
pened and what is being done.
3. Someone else, such as an expert or the police, says something
and gives more details.
4. Journalists can ask questions.
5. The formal part of the press conference ends, and journalists
can have one- on- one interviews.
It is important to set aside enough time for one- on- one inter-
views, as these tend to be popular and take time. The person
being interviewed should be told to stick to the points outlined
for the press conference, and never to break news in a one- on-
Working with the Media 85
To be mutually effective, press conferences need firm leader-
ship. A senior communications staff member usually functions as
the moderator and starts by giving a short summary of the order
of events before presenting the panel. Journalists wanting to ask
questions should be told they have to raise their hand, and when
they are called, state their name and which media outlet they rep-
resent. If the press conference is being recorded or broadcast live,
everyone should use a microphone. The moderator also plays an
important role in keeping order and making sure the conference
does not last too long. If someone repeats a question, the modera-
tor should immediately jump in and say: ‘That’s been answered,
let’s move on to NBC.’
If the press conference involves a tragic event such as an air-
plane accident, an appropriate start could be to have all partici-
pants stand while one person reads a joint statement about what
a tragic day it is, that they are all sorry and that they are doing
everything they can to help.
As with all kinds of crisis communication, preparation is essen-
tial. Before a press conference, the CEO or other spokesperson
should be briefed about the kind of questions that might come up
and appropriate responses. Questions might be quite personal, and
the person in front of the microphone needs to be prepared when
journalists start asking ‘impertinent’ questions such as ‘Will you
resign?’ Tell the spokesperson that these types of questions are part
of the business and what viewers want answered – and that losing
one’s temper on camera makes for great TV …
In a very few instances, a next- of- kin might show up at a press
conference and start asking questions. This should, of course, be
avoided if possible, as such an appearance is likely to harm the
family member in the long run and totally take away from the
messages being conveyed from the podium. This is another rea-
son for having an arrangement in place that makes sure that only
journalists are present at the press conference, and that security is
available in case someone else tries to ‘break in.’ If a relative of a
deceased or missing person nevertheless enters the arena and takes
the spotlight, the CEO or moderator should stop the press confer-
ence and walk up to the relative. A possible approach could be to
say gently: ‘Would it be OK if we speak in private in a few minutes,
just you and I?’ and then suggest that he or she probably does not
want to be on the evening news.
86 Working with the Media
PREPARING FOR AN INTERVIEW
Below are seven questions worth considering before giving an
1. What is the setting?
Find out where the interview will take place, who the journalist is
and who else has been interviewed about the same story.
2. How to prepare?
Do your homework. Know as much as possible about what has
happened, the order of events and who is handling the situation.
Looking at other interviews conducted by the same journalist
might give some ideas about the kind of questions that will be
asked and the ‘tone of voice’ that can be expected. This can also be
accomplished by checking the journalist’s Twitter profile. (Ideally,
all CEOs and prospective spokespersons should go through media
training before a crisis.)
3. What if you don’t know the answer?
No one is expected to have all the answers to questions that can
arise after a tragic event, especially not in its early phases. If you do
not have a concrete answer, it is OK to say that in an interview –
ideally in combination with a ‘bridging technique’ (described
below): ‘I’m sorry, I don’t know. However, what I can say is …’
This is especially important if the journalist wants details about
numbers. Offer to get the facts checked, then get your communica-
tions team to find the answers – and get back to the journalist as
soon as you have them.
4. How to ‘steer’ the interview?
While you should always answer the question the journalist poses,
do not be afraid to take the initiative and talk about what you
want to say. One technique to use is called ‘bridging,’ which means
that you – as eloquently as possible – move from one sentence to
an answer that is more in line with your key messages. For this
to work, you need to keep talking and say something like ‘… but
what is important for us now is that …’ or ‘… at the same time,
I want to point out that we are …’ Another option is to mention
something in your answer that will make the journalist ask for
Working with the Media 87
more, for example: ‘… that is not what is most important for me
5. What if I or we have done something wrong?
If you personally, your staff, the company or organization has done
something wrong, the right thing to do is to apologize. Use simple
words and few sentences and convey sincerity when admitting to
having done something wrong. It might be a hard thing to do, but
the future will look much brighter if you admit at once, instead of
trying to cover up, blame someone else or dodge the question.
6. How should I handle ‘small talk’ before and after the interview?
You should consider all conversations with a journalist as part of
the interview. Do not be tempted to ‘confess’ while off camera or
to say something that is contrary to your main points.
7. How should I answer questions about competitors, other agen-
cies and so on?
While it might seem tempting, avoid saying anything negative –
and say as little as possible – about your competitors. The inter-
view you are giving will likely get only a few seconds of air time;
use it wisely to talk about your organization and your messages.
WHEN THE RED LIGHT FLASHES – THE
Giving an interview in the early phases of a crisis can be trying, but
for the first few hours most questions will concern what has hap-
pened and what is being done about the situation. Nevertheless,
preparation is the key, and a useful approach is to coin two to
three sentences that say the most about the situation – from your
point of view. This does not mean you have to keep to a script, and
when the interview starts it is OK to be personal. If you say some-
thing like ‘This is the worst day of my life,’ or ‘As a father myself,
I can only imagine …,’ you come across as someone who takes the
tragedy personally and as someone with compassion and a human
side to a company or an organization.
While the person being interviewed should try to convey his
or her predefined messages, it is important not to totally ignore
88 Working with the Media
the journalist’s questions. If you never answer the question and
talk about something else, you instead appear as a person having
something to hide, and you will make the journalist as well as the
Take this example from an interview on ‘Good Morning
Britain’ in June 2017, during which journalist Piers Morgan tried
to get an answer from Culture Secretary Karen Bradley to a simple
question about the number of armed police (MediaFirst, 2017):
Piers Morgan: Do you know if the number of armed police has
gone up or down in the last six years? Do you know the answer?
Karen Bradley: Piers, what I am interested in is making sure
that we have the right resources, the right powers and the
right training and capabilities. I am assured by the police that
they have that to deal with the counter- terrorism threat, but
we need to look, learn lessons and make sure we act where
Piers Morgan: Is there any reason why you can’t answer the
Karen Bradley: Piers, we are here to talk about how we react to the
attack on Saturday.
Piers Morgan: So, you just don’t want to answer?
Karen Bradley: Piers, we are here because on Thursday there is a
The exchange made Ms Bradley seem robotic and scripted, and
social media reactions on the same day were harsh in their criti-
cism, like this message on Twitter: ‘Ceiling- shattering levels of eva-
siveness, even for a politician …’ (MediaFirst, 2017).
Some other advice for the interview situation:
• Do not speculate.
• Do not repeat exact wording from a press release.
• Do not repeat negative phrases used by the journalist.
• Do not predict the future or answer hypothetical questions.
• Do not give guarantees.
• Do not give different answers to the same (repeated) question.
• Do not fill ‘dead space’ during an interview with additional
• Do not be afraid to repeat your talking points.
Working with the Media 89
OTHER CRISIS COMMUNICATION PRODUCTS
Media Surveillance Reports
In the early phase of a crisis, people reporting on social media and
traditional news outlets often know more about what is happening
than the organization handling it. Bringing news and rumors to the
attention of senior management, a media surveillance report can
therefore be a valuable tool for assessing what is happening and
what needs to be done. Producing such a report takes knowledge
and experience and should therefore ideally be handled by a senior
communications expert. The report should include bullet points
about what is being reported by news organizations and on social
media (with links and screen clippings) and also sentiment evalu-
ation and a few words on how the overall media picture might
When crisis hits, communications staff do not want to be caught
up in mundane tasks of providing the media with pictures of CEOs
or their office building. To avoid this, every company or organiza-
tion should have a web page dedicated to the media, where pic-
tures of management and other generic images can be downloaded
in high resolution. Specialized web services are also available, such
as Flickr or Google Photos.
In addition to appearing on TV news, the head of the company
handling a crisis could give a statement on a social media chan-
nel. Many organizations have an established presence on YouTube,
and a short message from the top manager can work well in con-
veying sincerity and management involvement. The video could be
recorded and edited on a smartphone, but it is important to use
a tripod and a microphone, which gives the result an acceptable
quality. The finished video should also be published on the com-
pany website and social media.
90 Working with the Media
MediaFirst. (2017, June 5). Mediafirst. Retrieved from www.
mediafirst.co.uk/ our- thinking/ four- quick- lessons- from- this-
C H A P T E R 6
Social Media in Crisis
A BRIEF HISTORY
As will be clear from the case studies and other chapters presented
in this book, social media have dramatically changed crisis com-
munication and the way it is conducted. There is no longer a dis-
cussion about whether or when to use social media, but how! The
focus is on how to use and incorporate social media into daily
routines, how to improve virtual collaboration, and how organiza-
tions and top management can succeed in crisis communication –
with the help of social media.
The watershed moments for social media and crisis communi-
cation came with the earthquake in Haiti in 2010 and Hurricane
Sandy in 2012. After the earthquake, traditional telecommunica-
tions infrastructure crumbled, making Haitians in Port- au- Prince
as well as the Haitian community in Miami turn to social media,
and especially Twitter. Initially focused on information and reports
about what was happening, tweets soon turned to requests for
aid and donations. Many news organizations based their report-
ing on social media, especially CNN, which utilized its iReport
section of its web pages for people uploading video from Haiti.
They also published articles which mostly contained information
from Twitter, such as a story titled ‘What we’re hearing via social
media’ (CNN, 2010).
The use of social media became even more prevalent dur-
ing and after Hurricane Sandy in 2012, and Sandy was one of
the first examples of government agencies using several social
92 Social Media in Crisis Communication
media platforms to communicate with the public and maintain
awareness in connection with a major disaster. It helped that
New York City was ready. Before the storm hit, the city already
had 300 different accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and
other channels (Cohen, 2013). The city monitored social media
for reactions to the storm and used data collected to send reports
to City Hall, while government officials with thousands of fol-
lowers used social media to actively spread vital information
about the storm. The potential was much greater, though, as of
the 840 fire and police departments within a 100 mile radius of
Sandy’s landfall, only 7% used Twitter and 25% used Facebook
On a side note, it is tempting to think of how another dis-
aster – Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005 – would
have played out if social media had been around at the time.
There is no doubt that the communication part of the crisis
would have been very different, but some commentators believe
lives could have been saved through Facebook, Twitter and
YouTube. In an article in Washington Post, Jason Samenow
argued that ‘In today’s social media climate, the echo chamber
about how grave a threat Katrina posed would have been deaf-
ening. The hype would have appropriately blown through the
roof and preparedness messages would have spread like wild-
fire’ (Samenow, 2015).
FIGURE 6.1 Governor Christie and other leaders used Twitter to
reinforce important messages.
Social Media in Crisis Communication 93
Fast- forwarding to today, it is easy to see a number of reasons for
using social media during a crisis:
• The public expect it.
• The tools are often for free.
• News often breaks on social media.
• Social media enable dialogue.
• Social media function as an alternative channel when normal
channels cannot be used.
• Messages can be targeted to specific groups of people.
• Many social media channels offer advanced analytics.
• Social media can enable crowdsourcing.
• Messages on social media often require fewer steps of approval.
• Social media can be used to give instructions to people who
might be harmed.
• Social media can help humanize an organization or govern-
• Through social media, the public can be supplementary ‘eyes and
ears,’ thereby providing an additional situational awareness tool.
• Social media can be used to promote volunteer possibilities.
• Social media can be used to kill myths and rumors.
• Social media staff can be ‘distributed’; they can work from
locations other than main office, from abroad or from a café.
• Social media can act as free and easy tools for sharing ‘safe and
• Event detection is possible through social media.
“ We can have conversations with the citizens, and they with
one another, in a public forum for all to see. Through this
type of dialogue, you start to understand your community
and what is important to them. That is invaluable.
Mastering Social Media: An Analysis of Jefferson
County’s Communications during the 2013 Colorado
Floods (St. Denis, 2013)
94 Social Media in Crisis Communication
Although traditional websites of government agencies, organiza-
tions and corporations are still central in a crisis situation, social
media have benefits that can amplify important messages. One
obvious and important advantage is that social media can be an
alternative channel if a website crashes or has other technical
issues. After a tragic event, traffic to a website can escalate tremen-
dously, often resulting in no one being able to reach the important
information published there. Facebook, Twitter and other social
media channels can then provide the same information.
Traditional web pages often require a log- on procedure involv-
ing usernames and passwords, and many websites are best updated
from a PC. Social media channels are easier to connect with, and
they enable communications staff to publish ‘on the go’ from a
smartphone or a tablet.
“ Using social media as part of a comprehensive approach
enabled CEMA and the City of Calgary to lead the con-
versation from the start, communicate reassurance, and
explain decision- making to the public.
Calgary Flood Report (Vroegop, 2014)
ESTABLISHING A PRESENCE
When you register a username on Twitter or an organization’s
presence on Facebook, you start with zero followers. To be an
effective tool, social media therefore need to be thought of before
something bad happens and to be part of everyday life in the office.
Routines must be in place for handling several administrators and
editors, and information about suitable picture sizes and how to
upload images should be easily available. Another useful routine is
to have a dynamic social media calendar, which is populated with
important events and historical notes that can be used for pub-
lishing on Facebook, Twitter or other social media channels. Also,
there need to be staff in place and internal guidelines in order to
decide what kind of information should be distributed through the
various channels and platforms.
Social Media in Crisis Communication 95
Some other best practices:
• The profile photo is noticed more than you might think, and it
is therefore a good idea to modify it regularly. If a crisis occurs,
consider promptly changing it to a neutral image of just a grey
or black color.
• No one expects an organization or a company handling a cri-
sis to answer every question on social media. However, those
questions convey important clues about what the public is
thinking of and what their focus is. You should therefore sum
up some of them and give answers in more general terms, and
use the same information for an FAQ on the official web page.
• Long form content can also have a place on social media, for
example in the form of articles or background information
posted on Facebook Notes or similar.
• Social media monitoring can be used to identify reputational
threats and to gage how your messages are being perceived by
POLICING THROUGH SOCIAL MEDIA
Police forces in many parts of the world profit from having an
established presence on social media, in everyday life as well as
in times of crisis. When the bombs went off near the finish line of
the Boston Marathon in 2013, the Boston Police benefitted greatly
from their #TweetfromtheBeat Twitter interactions with citizens
since 2011, which helped ensure the public that the police Twitter
account was one they could trust. Several police forces also utilize
social media to show a lighter side of their work. One example is
the Bangor Police, whose public information officers invoke humor
in a way that attracts followers from far outside their jurisdiction.
They use Facebook for branding the Bangor Police and do not shy
away from long posts without pictures. One especially popular post
suggested to local residents how they should behave if interviewed
by the media about winter storms. It was shared more than 5,000
times and combined serious preparation advice with hints such as
While being interviewed, make sure there is a shovel somewhere in
the camera shot. People want to believe we always have a shovel.
96 Social Media in Crisis Communication
This in turn makes them feel badly for us, and when they return in
the summer they will tip better at our local restaurants.
After several similar jokes, there followed sections with ‘real’ mes-
sages, as in: ‘On a serious note, make sure that your woodbox is
filled, generators are serviced and ready, fuel tanks have plenty
with some reserve, and anything that can blow away is secured’
(Bangor Maine Police Department, 2016).
Another police force that has been in the forefront of social
media is the police in Iceland. They experimented early with lost
and found pictures on Pinterest and ‘tweetathons’ that included
descriptions of all cases the police worked on for a 12- hour period.
‘We view our social media channels as flowers in a garden. Daily
care and frequent updates make activity grow,’ explained Thorir
Ingvarsson, who headed the Iceland police social media presence.
He says that by communicating on an everyday basis, the police
build a relationship that can be used to help them in a crisis situa-
tion. Ingvarsson explained further:
Social media is a way for people to get messages straight to you,
meaning that when people are dissatisfied with the service you are
delivering they will tell you straight away. I think of this as a contract
of sorts where you agree that if you can have a direct line to the pub-
lic you serve, they in turn have a direct line to you. That means that
a complaint might be posted on your wall where everyone can see it
and we have to deal with it publicly. In my opinion, this is not nega-
tive, but it can be challenging, for obvious reasons. This also means
that when people contact you directly, they are in fact giving you a
possibility to respond and fix the problem. If you do just that, people
will usually be very happy and satisfied that you took the time to
remedy their situation.
RULES OF ENGAGEMENT
It is a good idea to post ‘rules’ on Facebook and other platforms
regarding what kind of comments will be accepted, for example in
the form of a few sentences:
We welcome your comments and invite you to share your ideas
on our Facebook page. We ask that you do so without using foul
Social Media in Crisis Communication 97
language, sexist remarks or otherwise inappropriate words. Please be
‘on topic’ and do not threaten or defame any person or organization.
Failure to follow these guidelines might result in posts being deleted
or individuals being banned from commenting.
Having guidelines in place makes it easier for the communications
team to assess whether comments are acceptable or not, and it
helps to have concrete rules to refer to when informing individuals
that their comments will be deleted. (It is always a good practice to
keep a screen shot of the offending post on file, in case the person
submitting it or others start debating the ‘censorship.’)
Removing offending messages should be a last resort, and
crisis management as well as the CEO should be told that you
will allow negative comments and open criticism. Removing a
negative comment can easily result in a blowback, and as long
as comments conform to your posted guidelines, they should be
SOCIAL MEDIA MONITORING FOR FACTS,
RUMORS AND FAKE NEWS
Many case studies and previous events show the importance of
monitoring what customers, journalists, competitors or individu-
als say about your company or industry. This should be done on
a routine basis, but in times of crisis it needs to be escalated to
include more key words or hashtags. Fortunately, there are several
tools available; some of them are even free.
In a crisis, citizens and victims often become reporters, giving
those handling the situation an excellent tool for situational aware-
ness and on- site intelligence. These data are sometimes more cor-
rect than what is being reported by the police or in the media, as
was the case in Norway in the evening of July 22, 2011, when at
9:38 the police confirmed ten deaths on the island of Utoya. Shortly
afterwards, an individual who knew a survivor tweeted: ‘I have a
friend who barely escaped Utoya. He is convinced the number of
deaths is much greater than the 10 confirmed.’ (The correct number
Monitoring also includes picking up concrete questions and
requests for help through social media, as described in a research
98 Social Media in Crisis Communication
paper from the University of Colorado, Boulder: ‘The public
expects a group with a Twitter presence to monitor their ques-
tions and concerns, and to respond’ (St. Denis, 2013). Requests for
emergency assistance will appear on social media, and it does not
help to have a statement saying that such requests must be made
through a telephone call to 911 or similar services. During a crisis,
often telephone lines are down, and citizens in despair will then
ask for help on one or more social media channels, and they expect
to be heard.
After a large tragedy, misinformation and fake news often
appear on social media. There are several reasons for these postings;
some come from people who do not know they are spreading false
information, while others deliberately publish messages to confuse
others or to hinder investigation. While you will not be able to con-
trol rumors, it is vital to follow conversations closely and to have a
system in place for correction, as the Queensland police did effec-
tively during the flooding in 2013 (described in Chapter 2).
It is important for everyone in crisis management positions to
realize that volume does not equal facts when it comes to posts on
social media. Even if many people give out the same information
or images, it does not mean they are conveying the truth. Having
an authoritative voice and a constant presence on social media can
help, and the police or city officials can avoid confusion by tell-
ing citizens that their information is correct, and that they should
turn to these channels for confirmed facts. Another solution is to
set up a dedicated website for ‘rumor control,’ as FEMA did after
Hurricane Sandy and Hurricane Irma.
Verifying content on social media can be done in a variety
of ways. A study titled ‘Information Verification during Natural
Disasters’ suggests considering the number of Twitter followers a
user has and whether the Twitter account is followed by reputa-
ble sources, and checking how long the Twitter account has been
active. Other verification methods regarding pictures can include
considering time of day of pictures (shadows etc.), weather and
landmarks (Popoola, 2013).
A useful tool for verification purposes is Google’s Reverse
Image Search. It enables anyone to search by images instead of
keywords, and the result is a list of sites that include the image as
well as visually similar images.
Social Media in Crisis Communication 99
“ Twitter is for delivering the news. Facebook is where we
talk about the news, and the blog is where we provide
The Jefferson County IMT Team (St. Denis, 2013)
An organization that used social media successfully dur-
ing a crisis is the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department and
their Incident Management Team (IMT). When a large flood
occurred in 2012, they used what they call an ‘integrated social
media strategy’ that included social media surveillance and use
of digital volunteers (VOST) to monitor and amplify messages.
According to the report ‘Mastering Social Media: An Analysis of
Jefferson County’s Communications during the 2013 Colorado
Floods’ (St. Denis, 2013), the team used multiple strategies
for getting messages across a variety of platforms. Relevant
hashtags, frequent messaging and good hyperlinks were key
reasons for their success. By providing a simple Google form
for uploading pictures and video, they could ask the public for
help with situational awareness, and with the assistance of a
VOST team, they were able to squash fraudulent tweets asking
Fake Content from Boston
According to research from 2013, a lot of fake content
and malicious profiles originated on Twitter after the
Boston Marathon bombings: 29% of the most viral con-
tent on Twitter during the Boston crisis was rumors and
fake content, while 51% was generic opinions and com-
ments, and the rest was true information. According to the
report: ‘Many malicious accounts were created on Twitter
during the Boston event, that were later suspended by
Twitter. We identified over six thousand such user profiles’
100 Social Media in Crisis Communication
“ Social media can act as excellent tools for situational
awareness and intel gathering.
Christopher Tarantino, CEO of Epicenter Media &
Training (personal communication)
SOCIAL MEDIA MESSAGES
Twitter, Facebook and other social media channels are excellent
tools for giving instructions when a crisis has occurred. There are
many good examples, such as the Belgian authorities using Twitter
for warning the public not to go the airport after the terror attack
in 2014, or German police urging people not to come to the site of
the bombing in Berlin as they needed as many routes as possible
for police cars and ambulances.
The speed at which an organization handles social media
challenges – and releases information – can be vital to the out-
come of a crisis. Crisis managers often want to wait until infor-
mation is confirmed and fact- checked, but for greatest effect, the
first messages need to appear shortly after a crisis has occurred.
A simple confirmation from an official source can suffice, such
as a short Twitter message stating: ‘We are aware of the situa-
tion in India and will publish more information shortly.’ Such
a message shows the public that your organization will be a
voice to be reckoned with, and that you are ‘on the ball.’ In fact,
research shows that messages of official communicators can rise
above the noise of others and that engaging in the online con-
versation can dampen the spread of rumors (Andrews, 2016).
To be able to distribute the first messages quickly, it is therefore
a good idea to have templates of statements available that do
not need managerial approval. A best practice in this regard is
the Canadian airline WestJet, which has 100 precrafted ‘stock’
tweets, approved by the executive team, designed for various
events (Andrews, 2016).
Some messages on social media can be generic, and it is a
good idea to have a ‘bank’ of instructions thought of in advance
Social Media in Crisis Communication 101
of a crisis (and part of the crisis communication plan). A few
• ‘Do not spread rumors or images of victims.’
• ‘Out of #respect for victims, please restrain from publishing or
sharing any sensitive images.’
• ‘Follow local authorities and reliable sources for advice and
• ‘Use SMS instead of calling.’
In addition to being a source of information, social media are often
used by the public to help each other or offer assistance after a tragic
event. Twitter can be used effectively for connecting with strangers,
and hashtags such as #openhouse or #RoomForManchester have
proven valuable when stranded individuals need a place to stay.
There are many examples of social media bringing a per-
sonal side of crisis communication into the realm of the public.
The CEO of AirAsia, Tony Fernandes, was praised for his use of
Twitter after flight QZ8501 crashed in 2014, as his tweets rallied
his team, provided support and gave details about the tragedy.
Individual responders also have a voice through social media, and
in June 2017 an English firefighter tackling the Grenfell Tower
blaze received worldwide attention after tweeting a photo of his
helmet and a simple message: ‘You know it’s not going to be good
when you are told to write your name on your helmet before you
The main reason for publishing a message on Twitter is for peo-
ple to read it, and a useful tool for reaching a large audience is to
use relevant hashtags like #jeffcoflood or #Manchester. Hashtags
make searching more effective and allow people to follow messages
from a variety of sources regarding one event. Through tools for
social media management, journalists and citizens alike can easily
organize hashtagged messages on Twitter about an emergency, and
they should therefore include at least one hashtag. (A world record
of hashtag use might have been set by the social media teams com-
municating about the flood in Calgary in 2013. According to a
report by the Conference Board of Canada, the hashtag #yycflood
showed up an average of 32 times every minute over a 10- day
period; Vroegop, 2014.)
102 Social Media in Crisis Communication
Over the years there have been several discussions about best
practices and suggested standards for the use of hashtags.
In 2014, United Nations Office of the Coordination of
Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) published a study that came
up with three types of hashtags to be used during a crisis;
a disaster name hashtag, a public reporting hashtag and an
emergency response hashtag.
LIVE REPORTING THROUGH PICTURES
It is nothing new that individuals can report directly from a tragic
event to the police and to the media. Ever since their widespread
adoption in the 1990s, cell phones have proved a valuable commu-
nication tool in disasters, and a 1999 Library of Congress report
on the 9/ 11 attacks mentioned that ‘the proliferation of cellular
phones in recent years has made it possible for emergency vic-
tims to interact directly with the media.’ Another development
came around 2000, when camera phones became popular. Their
importance was first demonstrated in July 2005, when commuters
provided pictures from the bombing of the London metro system.
According to an article in National Geographic, cell phone video
from the area was airing on television within 30 minutes of the
The change with social media is that such footage now can
have a global audience – and be broadcast live. Unfortunately, it is
not only the victims or the bystanders who can report live on social
media, as the perpetrator has the same ability. There have been
gruesome images posted by shooters or terrorists on Facebook,
Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat, and such posts can unfortunately
spread fear and despair to a large audience.
There are advantages too, of course, and live reports can be of
excellent help to anyone in law enforcement or crisis management
whose task it is to figure out what is happening.
Social Media in Crisis Communication 103
DISASTER RESPONSE THROUGH FACEBOOK
In 2014, Facebook launched a new feature they called ‘Safety
Check.’ The company realized that people were using Facebook
to tell their friends and family members they were OK after a
crisis, and Safety Check became an easy- to- use and available
social infrastructure to help communities connect. The CEO of
Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, explained the reasoning behind
Safety Check in a post on Facebook on October 16, 2014: ‘Over
the last few years there have been many disasters and crises where
people have turned to the Internet for help. Each time, we see peo-
ple use Facebook to check on their loved ones and see if they’re
safe. Connecting with people is always valuable, but these are the
moments when it matters most. Safety Check is our way of help-
ing our community during natural disasters and give you an easy
and simple way to say you’re safe and check on all your friends
and family in one place.’
The earthquake and tsunami in Japan in 2011 was the event
that created an interest within Facebook to develop a new tool for
connecting people after a disaster. Their engineers in Japan took a
first step by building a message board, and when a test showed an
overwhelmingly positive response, the project later evolved into
‘Community Help,’ an additional part of Safety Check, was
launched in 2017. This feature makes it easier for people to find
and give help, enabling individuals to offer shelter, seek food or
DIGITAL VOLUNTEERS AND THE CONCEPT
For most of history, assisting in a disaster has been restricted to
those who can physically take part, issue a check, or give money
to the Red Cross or similar organizations. With social media, how-
ever, anyone can be a volunteer, making it possible to contribute
from a home in another part of the world or an office in a different
time zone. Surge support is now international.
104 Social Media in Crisis Communication
Several organizations offer digital volunteers assisting in dis-
asters. Humanity Road, Geeks Without Borders, OpenStreetMap
and VOST (Virtual Operations Support Teams) are various groups
that provide support, but VOST is the group with the closest ties
to emergency managers.
The concept of VOST originated in the U.S. in 2010 after
attendees at a national emergency conference discussed the pos-
sibility of providing ‘digital’ assistance in case of disasters. By then,
social media were becoming a challenge, especially in regard to
social media surveillance and rumors being spread on Twitter and
Facebook. Individuals such as Jeff Philips, Scott Reuter and Cheryl
Bledsoe in the U.S. and Caroline Milligan in New Zealand there-
fore started forming groups of volunteers who – with training and
approval processes – could provide valuable insight into what was
being discussed on social media. The idea spread to many states
in the U.S. and across borders, and by summer 2017 there were
VOST groups in 32 U.S. states and 18 different countries.
VOST members provide innovative resources and can assist
with translating ‘noise’ on social media into actionable intelligence.
FIGURE 6.2 Facebook has developed several tools for use in a
crisis, including ‘Safety Check’ and ‘Community Help.’
Social Media in Crisis Communication 105
They are able to validate what is being said and commented on,
contextualize media reports, and follow and analyze messages
on social media, blog posts, community forums and online news
comments sections. Other important goals of a VOST team are to
amplify official messages, detect trends and issues early, and cor-
rect rumors and misinformation.
When a large forest fire broke out in Fort McMurray in May
2016, Canada VOST received a formal request for support from
the Alberta Emergency Management Agency (AEMA). The team
assisted with social media monitoring and provided twice- daily
reports on trends and rumors to officials handling the wildfire. ‘We
paid special attention to progress of evacuation and sentiments at
reception centers,’ said Patrice Cloutier, who headed the CanVOST
team. They got valuable support from other VOST teams in the
U.S. and Australia.
FIGURE 6.3 VOST teams are ‘trusted agents’ who can pro-
vide valuable situational awareness through surveillance of
Source: Caroline Milligan.
106 Social Media in Crisis Communication
VOST groups differ from other volunteer efforts in that they
cannot self- activate. In the U.S., each team hooks up to a corre-
sponding Emergency Management Office that issues a mission
request before VOST can activate. Volunteers spend their time
surveying social media channels such as Facebook, YouTube,
Instagram and Twitter; they then report their findings using col-
laboration tools such as Google Docs or Slack before a team
leader filters the information to produce a ‘listening report,’ which
is sent on a regular basis to the Emergency Management Office.
Depending on the disaster, VOST teams work for a few days or
several weeks. An exceptionally long- lasting mission was the
school shooting in Oregon in 2016, which the local VOST team –
under the supervision of Cheryl Bledsoe – worked on for 17 days.
‘We ended up providing a total of 287 hours of volunteer work,’
Bledsoe explained. Her team consisted of 11 different people who
surveyed social media messages on anything from rumors and sen-
timents to vigils and donations.
VOST volunteers have to be social media savvy, but training
and documentation are available for those who want to learn.
Quite a few volunteers are ‘regular people’ who want to contrib-
ute by spending a few hours in front of a computer, but more and
more VOST teams are being populated by professionals within the
field of emergency management. With training and policy devel-
opment, VOST teams have been able to also include ‘traditional’
practitioners and upscale them to the digital environment of social
The ‘beauty’ of VOST is that groups are scattered around the
world, and with social media and digital tools such as Google
Docs, they are able to work on the same issues and in the same
document from anywhere. When team members in Canada or
the U.S. get tired, they can ask a VOST team in New Zealand
or Europe to support them and continue their work, which has
proven a valuable approach in many disasters. International VOST
teams also bring a non- local perspective, such as when Caroline
Milligan – situated in New Zealand – functions as a team leader
for Colorado VOST or Oregon VOST.
Many officers of emergency management have learned to value
digital volunteers. They are seldom able to sort out and be on top
of social media messages by themselves, and Director Andrew
Phelps of the Oregon Office of Emergency Management points
Social Media in Crisis Communication 107
out that ‘having these folks on the virtual operations support team
to really get what the sentiment is for the public that we’re here to
protect makes that go a little bit easier for us.’ His colleague Cory
Grogan agrees: ‘VOST works. It’s needed. It’s an important tool
for emergency managers’ (Eiten, 2015).
VOST in Colorado and France
According to the web page of the Colorado Virtual
Operations Support Team (COVOST), their mission is to
provide the State of Colorado and local Colorado com-
munities with a powerful and effective team of trusted
agents. They will ‘support public information, operations,
and information gathering efforts through an innovatively
effective, efficient and elegant use of social media and other
online or “virtual” tools.’
The French VOST team – called VISOV – mainly sup-
ports the Civil Defense Department (COGIC) in France.
VISOV has also supported the United Nations Office for the
Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) and aims
to help develop VOST for multiple French- speaking locations
during disasters, specifically VOST methodology, tools and
human resources. VISOV has been active for several floods
in France and was in operation after the terror in Paris and
Nice. VISOV’s teams have specialized their use of WhatsApp
as a collaboration tool. Using color codes and ‘rooms’ for
training, some of VISOV’s chat rooms in WhatsApp have
more than 50 members. For activation and alert purposes,
the group uses an app called Vialert (by Cedralis), which ena-
bles mobile calls even when the device is switched off or put
on silent mode.
IT’S HARD TO LIE …
With social media, anyone in the world can watch what you
are saying and thus check the accuracy of your messages. That
fact might have been overlooked by the communications staff of
108 Social Media in Crisis Communication
Finnair in the summer of July 2014, when the airline got caught
for stating on Twitter that their aircraft did not fly over Ukraine.
What transpired was an example of individuals and company staff
monitoring what was being said on social media – evidence of the
fact that there is a lot of interest in major brands such as Finnair
1. Message from Finnair on Twitter:
‘For those of you wondering, Finnair does not fly over Ukraine. Your
safety is our top priority.’
2. A private person posted a message on Twitter that included a
screen clipping of Flightradar24 showing Finnair flying over
‘@Finnair This flightradar info says differently.’
3. At this stage, of course, Finnair could have checked the accu-
racy of its first message and consequently issued an apol-
ogy. Instead, it confronted Flightradar 24 with this Twitter
‘Flightradar is inaccurate and it does not take into account that the
world is round.:) The route goes on the West border.’
4. Naturally, the people at Flightradar24 did not appreciate this
accusation, which brought them into the conversation with
this message on Twitter:
‘Flightradar24 data is very accurate. A flight over Ukraine is over
Ukraine no matter if the world is flat or round.’
5. After this, Finnair came back and did issue an apology:
‘We were wrong. Apologies!’
The airline received several comments on Twitter afterwards. Some
were critical of how the company had handled the situation, but
Social Media in Crisis Communication 109
one lesson learned is that the public appreciate when a company
is willing to admit a mistake. Some of the comments on Twitter
‘And that’s how you recognize a good company – able to admit its
mistake and apologize. Thumb up for you, Finnair.’
‘Appreciate accepting the mistake. Respect.’
‘I have travelled nearly 1 million miles with you. It’s good to know
that you also know where you are.’
‘Never let ill- informed comm people handle technical issues.’
‘Kudos for being honest. We appreciate it.’
A good summary of the Twitter conversations – and a major learn-
ing point regarding social media – came in the form of a comment
on Twitter by a private citizen:
‘It’s hard to lie in this world full of fine technology open for the pub-
lic, isn’t it.’
Andrews, C. (2016). University of Washington, Seattle. Retrieved
from http:// faculty.washington.edu/ kstarbi/ CSCW2016_
Tweetdashians_ Camera_ Ready_ final.pdf
Bangor Maine Police Department. (2016, December 29). Bangor
Maine Police Department. Retrieved from www.facebook.
com/ bangormainepolice/ posts/ 10154888826151079:0
CNN. (2010, January 14). edition.cnn.com. Retrieved from http://
edition.cnn.com/ 2010/ TECH/ 01/ 13/ haiti.social.media/ index.
Cohen, S. E. (2013, March 7). Emergency Management. Retrieved
from www.govtech.com/ em/ disaster/ Sandy- Social- Media- Use-
Eiten, K. (2015, October 21). KPTV. Online efforts of virtual vol-
unteers critical in aftermath of UCC shooting. Retrieved from
www.kptv.com/ story/ 30319594/ online- efforts- of- virtual-
volunteers- critical- in- aftermath- of- ucc- shooting
Gupta, A. (2013). precog.iitd.edu.in. Retrieved from http:// precog.
iiitd.edu.in/ Publications_ files/ ecrs2013_ ag_ hl_ pk.pdf
110 Social Media in Crisis Communication
Hughes, A. L. (2014). amandaleehughes. Retrieved from www.
Popoola, A. (2013). irevolution. Retrieved from https:// irevolu-
tion.files.wordpress.com/ 2011/ 07/ verily- swdmwww13.pdf
St. Denis, L. A. (2013). cmci.colorado.edu. Retrieved from https://
cmci.colorado.edu/ ~palen/ palen_ papers/ StDenisPalenAnderson-
Samenow, J. (2015, August 28). Washington Post. Retrieved from
www.washingtonpost.com/ news/ capital- weather- gang/ wp/
2015/ 08/ 28/ why- social- media- wouldve- saved- lives- during-
hurricane- katrina/ ?utm_ term=.a8494ef8f55f
Vroegop, R. (2014). Forewarned and Forearmed: The Calgary
Emergency Management Agency and the 2013 Flood. Ottawa:
The Conference Board of Canada
C H A P T E R 7
Internal Communication –
Don’t Forget Your
While handling the media is a given during a crisis, informing
employees is often forgotten or neglected. Keeping staff informed,
however, will empower them and make it easier to trust manage-
An easy way of informing employees is to send emails to eve-
ryone in the company. Consistent messaging through email does
not need to take up much time, but it will definitely be valued. The
message should include information about the situation, how it is
being handled internally, and links to more information.
To issue more important or timely information, consider (also)
using text messages to employees. Ideally you do not want to spend
a long time writing down a message on the small screen on your
phone, so a dedicated service for group SMS will come in handy.
If not, use a PC to type the message you want to distribute, send
the text to yourself by email, and open and copy it on your phone
for easy input as a text message. You also need to think of ways of
accessing employees’ mobile phone numbers; again, a group text
service or an app for sending messages to many simultaneously
will be of help.
Electronic forms of communication – such as intranets or email
services – might not be available in a crisis situation. You will then
need to be creative and to find alternative means of communicat-
ing internally. Setting up a Facebook group or even using a special
‘hidden’ page on the company website are alternatives to consider,
but paper- based tools such as posters or fact sheets distributed to
employees in the cafeteria can also work.
112 Internal Communication
For extreme situations, or when there is a need for employees
to meet in person, arrange for a company- wide meeting. Present
news and facts about the situation, and also spend some time
explaining what the company or organization is doing to handle
it. An all- employee meeting is an excellent venue for praising staff
and for letting employees ask questions or voice their concerns.
A crisis situation is a perfect time to repeat internal guidelines
for activity on social media. Remind employees that there will be
rumors and fake news, and that business- related matters should
not be discussed on private social media accounts. You should also
use the opportunity to ask for help and invite employees to for-
ward messages on social media that the company should react to
or know about to the communications staff.
If possible, give information to employees before issuing a
press release or appearing live on a newscast. This is especially
important if the news concerns closing down an office building or
gives information about missing or hurt personnel. You can also
use intranets or group email to urge employees to watch a certain
TV station or follow a press conference.
FIGURE 7.1 All- employee meetings can be an effective way of
disseminating information during a crisis.
Source: Harald Pettersen, Statoil.
Internal Communication 113
Keeping employees informed and up to date from sources
within the organization will help them communicate correct facts
about the crisis to their personal networks. As a result, you will
enhance trust in leadership, have employees who value and under-
stand your efforts, and maintain your brand in a difficult situation.
C H A P T E R 8
The head of a company or organization is literally put to the test
if a crisis occurs that involves employees, customers, the media or
the public. How he or she handles it will have a profound effect
on the outcome of the crisis, and top management communication
therefore needs to be addressed before a crisis occurs.
Fortunately, there is lots to learn from previous disasters:
• Respond quickly and appropriately.
• Take responsibility.
• Go into reaction mode.
• Keep your perspectives.
• Be visible.
• Avoid speculation.
• Focus on the situation and the audience, not yourself.
• Empower your employees.
• Make sure victims are prioritized.
• Commit to communicate.
Preparing a CEO for crisis management includes discussions
about possible negative outcomes that may result from the cri-
sis, for example, the fact that the CEO personally, as well as the
company or organization, will be criticized and scrutinized. There
might also be campaigns attacking the management, the company
or its employees – by targeting company mailboxes or through
campaigns on social media.
Top-Level Communication 115
It is vital that the CEO of a company or the head of an organi-
zation in trouble does not focus on his or her own situation. As
Bill Salvin, president and founder of the consulting company
Signalbridge explains, ‘The audience doesn’t care how inconven-
ient it is for you to work on a cell phone, they want the head guy
on the ground so he can move heaven and earth to help them in
their time of need’ (Salvin, 2013).
THE CEO ON SOCIAL MEDIA
Top managers with a profile on Twitter or a personal blog can
be an effective voice in crisis communication and a proof of con-
crete and visual leadership. There are several examples of CEOs
tweeting with compassion after a tragic event, such as the head
of Air Asia, Tony Fernandes, who posted this message on Twitter
shortly after one of their flights had crashed: ‘I am touched by the
massive show of support especially from my fellow airlines. This
is my worst nightmare. But there is no stopping.’ Other leaders
might choose other platforms. Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg of
Norway posted several personal messages on his Facebook page in
the days following the terror in Oslo and on the island of Utoya,
and he received much praise for the way he shared his thoughts
Video can be an effective form of communicating CEO involve-
ment, and the International Air Transport Association (IATA)
therefore advises an airline to
consider posting a broadcast- quality video statement by the CEO on
its website and/ or YouTube, in which he/ she confirms key facts and
outlines the airline’s immediate priorities, with appropriate messag-
ing. This would ensure that the CEO is ‘visible’ early in the response,
without necessarily exposing him/ her to media questions at a point
where confirmed information is scarce.
A visible leader can also assist in reinforcing important mes-
sages. CEOs and mayors often have a large pool of followers on
Twitter and Facebook, and when they retweet or share a post, it
reaches new and important audiences.
116 Top-Level Communication
THE CEO AS A SPOKESPERSON
In addition to possibly having a voice on social media, the head
of a company or organization, almost without exception, needs
to give a statement about a crisis on TV, on radio or in the press.
To do this in a professional manner, it is vital for him or her to
have gone through some type of media training. If not, tension
and nervousness might hinder important messages and shine a bad
light on the crisis management process. There is no doubt that
rehearsing and exercises are ‘insurance’ for personal reputation,
and media training is an investment that will always be beneficial.
In addition to following the advice on handling the media
earlier in this chapter, the CEO needs to think thoroughly about
which words to use to describe the situation and what is being
done to mitigate it. Rehearsing and dry- runs are key preparations
for an interview to be successful, and senior communications staff
should advise the CEO of possible angles and questions.
FIGURE 8.1 With 370,000 followers on Twitter as of July 2017,
the mayor of Calgary, Naheed Nenshi, has the potential of reaching
a vast audience. He actively amplified messages from @cityofcal-
gary and @CalgaryPolice during the flood in the summer of 2013.
Source: City of Calgary.
Top-Level Communication 117
A crisis situation is not the time to be funny or to play – know-
ingly or not – with words describing the scene. That was not the
case when the head of the company responsible for a train accident
in Canada (described in Chapter 1) was asked what had happened.
Even though everyone knew that the cause was that 72 tank cars
carrying crude oil had blown up, his response was: ‘I think we
blew it … we blew it big time’ (CBC News, 2013).
THE DIFFICULT TASK OF APOLOGIZING
“ Apology is the atomic energy of empathy. Apologies make
bad things start to stop happening.
James E. Lukaszewski, President, The Lukaszewski
Group (personal communication)
One of the most challenging tasks a CEO will face when han-
dling a crisis is the art of giving a genuine apology. Sometimes
because they do not want to, and occasionally because they are
forced to, there are many examples of companies and top man-
agers fumbling with what should be a relatively easy task – and
one that is expected. It also has a financial and reputational side,
and according to an article by Michael Shmarak about corpo-
rate America, a genuine and immediate apology ‘can save them
billions in business and heaps of embarrassing PR blowback’
As we have seen earlier, how words are chosen also plays an
important role in how an apology is perceived. Some CEOs give
statements like ‘I am sorry if I offended anyone’ or ‘I am sorry if
you feel that way.’ That does not work. Shmarak therefore recom-
mends that a genuine apology must include responsibility, sympa-
thy and accountability, and that a full statement of apology must
include the following six elements:
1. Acknowledge what you did wrong.
2. Take responsibility for your actions.
118 Top-Level Communication
3. Acknowledge the impact your actions had on others.
4. Apologize for having caused pain or done damage.
5. State your future intentions and repair the damage.
6. Above all else, do not make excuses.
An important task for top management is to take care of the staff
who are handling the crisis. This is easier said than done, as lengthy
meetings, business continuity and financial questions often occupy
many hours for a leader dealing with a crisis. However, visible
leadership also within an organization is valued and should be
prioritized. It does not take much, and a surprise visit to the com-
munications team to cheer them on and give encouragement goes
a long way in providing support. Handing out bags of candy or
making sure they get pizza when hungry are other ways for the top
manager to show his or her commitment. Praising staff in public
and in media interviews is also a winning gesture.
More serious is the fact that communications teams and other
internal staff handling a crisis might need psychological follow- up
after the crisis has subsided. Traditional first responders usually
get a chance to see a psychologist or have a debrief, but those
who respond digitally should also be considered. At the same time,
looking after personnel in this way will build resilience and make
the organization even better prepared for another crisis.
CHOOSING YOUR WORDS
Crafting a quote for a press release or deciding key messages for an
interview, a speech or a funeral takes time, knowledge and a mas-
tery of words. If possible, senior communications advisors should
write and rewrite, adjusting words and sentences until they bring
about exactly the feeling the victims, the journalists or the public
need to hear.
There are many excellent speeches given by CEOs from
around the world, but I choose to end this chapter with the last
sentences from Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg’s
Top-Level Communication 119
introduction to the press conference on the evening of July
We must never give up our values.
We must show that our open society can pass this test too.
That the answer to violence is even more democracy.
Even more humanity.
But never naivety.
We owe this to the victims and their families.
CBC News. (2013, July 9). CBC.CA. Railway chair defends safety
record. Retrieved from www.cbc.ca/ player/ play/ 2396202194
IATA. (2016, December). iata.org. Retrieved from www.iata.org/
publications/ Documents/ crisis- communications- guidelines.
Salvin, B. (2013, July 17). Signalbridge. Retrieved from http:// sig-
nalbridge.blogspot.no/ 2013/ 07/ tragedy- at- lac- megantic- rail-
Shmarak, M. (2017, May 9). ragan.com. Retrieved from www.
ragan.com/ Tomorrow/ Articles/ For_ a_ genuine_ apology_ go_
back_ to_ the_ basics_ 52725.aspx
C H A P T E R 9
High- Flying Crisis
Special Case of Airlines)
The airline industry stands out in the crisis communication world
for several reasons: not only because it has seen its share of tragic
events, but also because there have been several instances of ‘live
reporting’ from passengers on airplanes while they are experienc-
ing an emergency. With wi- fi on board, passengers are able to surf
the web or update their Facebook page 30,000 feet up in the air,
and the same technology can, of course, also be used for tweet-
ing messages about the plane having problems or live- streaming
an emergency landing. This kind of broadcasting obviously brings
new challenges, especially for the airline’s communications team,
and it certainly makes for several lessons learned and best prac-
tices that can be useful to consider.
With 275 members from 117 nations, the International Air
Transport Association (IATA) offers guidelines and advice for
inter- airline cooperation, some of which focuses on crisis commu-
nication. In 2012, the organization published its first guidelines
on social media, and the document has since been restructured
to include new technologies and updated advice based on recent
events in the industry. In the guidelines’ introduction, the organiza-
tion explains some of the challenges an airline faces after an acci-
dent: ‘The airline may be left struggling to make its message heard
above the cacophony created by citizen journalists, politicians,
Airline Crisis Communication 121
government agencies, celebrities, “experts” and self- publicists
eager to share their opinions’ (IATA, 2016).
The IATA document has a chapter on ‘Communication flow
and timeline,’ which describes how an airline should strive to com-
municate after first being notified (T = 0):
T+15 mins: Release first ‘tweet’ acknowledging initial reports.
Update regularly with short posts as new information is
T+ 60 mins: Issue longer summary of information confirmed
to date, via multiple channels and posted on website. Release
new summaries hourly, or as key developments are confirmed,
while maintaining regular flow of short updates.
The concept of ‘T+15’ is one to consider also for crisis manag-
ers in other industries. Although very few will be able to fulfill its
goal, it says something about the need for being prepared and the
importance of social media surveillance 24 hours a day, seven days
a week …
CHALLENGES TO CONSIDER
It is not only the advent of social media that has brought challenges
for an airline’s crisis management team. Several flight tracker web-
sites make it possible for anyone to follow the route of an air-
craft – in real time – and to look up its history and last known
position and speed. It is also possible to subscribe to flight emer-
gency messages on Twitter, and several airline operation rooms
have a dedicated screen displaying such messages.
Flightradar24 started as a hobby project in 2006 when two
Swedish aviation geeks decided to build a network of ADS- B
receivers in Northern and Central Europe. It is now the larg-
est such network in the world, with over 10,000 connected
receivers. Flightradar24 tracks over 150,000 flights a day and
has more than 1.5 million daily users.
122 Airline Crisis Communication
An airline’s communications team needs to be aware of several
special challenges concerning the industry:
• Passengers who are on board a flight having trouble might call
the airline or family members before any of the airline staff
know something is wrong. Distressed passengers can also get
in touch through text messages or via social media.
• Be aware of ‘accidental spokespersons’ – such as passengers
tweeting about an emergency – becoming important sources
• Other airlines might express their sympathy before your own
has issued a statement.
• Changing the top banner on social media accounts should be
• Flightradar24 and other flight tracking services are important
sources of crisis information – for the airline as well as for pas-
sengers, media and the general public.
• Other parties involved – such as airports or the National
Transportation and Safety Board (NTSB) – will probably start
commenting early, and their social media accounts should
therefore be followed closely.
• Families of passengers on board a flight that has had an acci-
dent are likely to show up at the flight’s departure or arrival
airport. Airlines therefore need to be prepared for arranging
two Family Assistance Centers – one at each airport.
• Arrangements for a Family Assistance Center should be han-
dled and communicated promptly. (The airline will have to
‘compete’ for suitable hotels with government agencies and
• Use social media for customer service.
THE ROLE OF NTSB
The U.S. NTSB plays an important role in aviation accidents in the
U.S., or when a U.S. carrier has an accident abroad. Their primary
role is to investigate, but NTSB will also actively issue information
about their work. Airlines that are involved in an accident that NTSB
will investigate should therefore work closely with the agency and
be acquainted with their routines for disseminating information.
Airline Crisis Communication 123
The NTSB is active on social media and will often post on
Twitter within the first hour of an accident. Usually, this first mes-
sage is a confirmation that something has happened, and NTSB
might also publish a statement about their Go- Team having been
sent to the crash site. Later, the NTSB will also arrange press con-
ferences, give out factual bites of information and provide photos
of on- scene work. NTSB will often live- tweet and provide video
from their media briefings.
In addition to investigating and communicating about an
accident, the NTSB has its say in taking care of next- of- kin, in
close cooperation with the airline. The NTSB manages the Federal
Family Assistance Plan for Aviation Disasters, which clearly points
out who is responsible for family assistance:
• The air carrier has a fundamental responsibility to victims and
their families affected by an aviation disaster. The air carrier is
primarily responsible for family notification and all aspects of
victim and family logistical support.
• All personnel involved in providing services to assist victims
and their family members should be trained in crisis response
and must demonstrate compassion, technical expertise, and
LAWS AND REGULATIONS
Today, there are strict laws in the U.S. and the EU regarding how
an airline must provide care for next- of- kin after an aviation dis-
aster. The Disaster Family Assistance Act of 1996 and the Foreign
Air Carrier Family Support Act of 1997 are important docu-
ments that came into being as a result of hard work and dedica-
tion by several individuals who did not receive adequate treatment
after having lost family members in airline accidents. Paramount
in this development was the accident with Flight 4184 in 1994.
According to the support group that was formed after the tragedy,
there were several examples of mistreatment and unprofessional-
ism (American Eagle Flight 4184, n.d.):
Following the crash of American Eagle Flight 4184, several areas
of critical importance to the families were mishandled. The victim
124 Airline Crisis Communication
identification process fell short. Although 68 caskets containing
small amounts of the remains of each victim were distributed to all
families, for most, their loved ones were buried in seventeen caskets
of ‘unidentified remains.’ These seventeen caskets were interred at
night, without seeking the consent of the families nor informing them
of the interment. Additionally, at least one family received remains
that were misidentified. Families learned that most of the identifiable
personal effects of their loved ones were destroyed rather than being
returned to them. The cleanup efforts at the crash site lacked coordi-
nation and were incomplete. Families and friends who visited the site
months after the clean- up was completed retrieved human remains,
personal effects, and plane parts.
After much pressure from support groups and individu-
als, President Bill Clinton in 1996 signed the Disaster Family
Assistance Act describing family assistance in detail. The next
year, The Foreign Air Carrier Family Support Act became law,
requiring foreign air carriers to transmit to the Secretary of
Transportation and the Chairman of the NTSB a plan ‘for
addressing the needs of the families of passengers involved in an
aircraft accident that involves an aircraft under the control of the
foreign air carrier and results in a major loss of life’ (Congress,
1997). The plan submitted by the foreign air carrier must include
• A plan for publicizing a reliable toll- free number for the pas-
• A process for notifying, in person if practicable, the families of
passengers involved in an aircraft accident
• An assurance that such notice will be provided to the families
as soon as possible after the identity of a passenger has been
• An assurance that such carrier will provide and update a list of
the best available information regarding the names of the pas-
sengers aboard the aircraft
• Assurance that the family of each passenger will be consulted
about the disposition of any remains and personal effects of
• If requested, return to the family of any possessions of the
Airline Crisis Communication 125
• Assistance to the family to ensure that they are able to travel to
and stay at the location
The United Nations also focuses on family support, and in 2013
its organization ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization)
published ‘Policy on Assistance to Aircraft Accident Victims and
WHAT TO SAY
With so many laws, regulations and ‘players’ involved, communi-
cating about an aviation disaster requires cooperation and a clear
understanding about who says what. There are strict rules about
who can release investigative information, and instead of getting
involved in detailed discussions about cause and effect (which can
also have an impact on law suits and compensation requests), the
airline should therefore focus on other topics:
• Arrangements for survivors
• Care for employees
• Actions for customers not involved, for example rerouting
• Cooperation with authorities such as NTSB
• Effect on operations
• Actions taken
• Information about safety protocols and processes
Airport Cooperative Research Program
In 2017, the National Academies Press published a research
report titled ‘Establishing a Coordinated Local Family
Assistance Program for Airports.’ The report’s 144 pages
cover a variety of advice for airports regarding how to assist
families after an airline accident and include sections such
as ‘Roles and responsibilities,’ ‘Information management,’
‘Communicating with affected families’ and ‘Recovery.’ In
addition to the report, the authors have published check lists
and training material on their website.
126 Airline Crisis Communication
SOCIAL MEDIA IN AVIATION
Not having routines in place for monitoring social media on a 24/
7 basis can have a negative impact on reputation, management and
stock prices. One example is an engine failure on board a Qantas
flight in 2010, when – according to a report by SimpliFlying –
speculations ran amok on social media as a result of no authorita-
tive voice from the airline:
On 4 November 2010, QF32 had an engine failure after taking off.
Qantas senior management, however, became aware of this only
when its share price ‘started to collapse’ as a result of rumors of a
plane crash on Twitter. These were all happening while the aircraft
was still flying back to safety.
A more serious event took place in January 2014, when a
flight to Singapore experienced technical problems and started
an emergency descent. With gas masks hanging from the ceiling
and frightened passengers everywhere, several people on board
took pictures of each other and posted them on social media.
One of them was a U.K. citizen named Nathan Phelps, who took
a picture of other frightened passengers and then also took a
selfie, which became an immediate ‘hit’ on social media. Many
people commented that the situation could not have been that
bad if passengers had time to take pictures of each other. Phelps
The truth is that when that photo was taken we knew that we were
going to be OK, the pilot had told us the issue and was just looking
to drop a further 5000 feet and also find a suitable airport at which
to land at.
The public treated it like some kind of joke, but the situation was
far from funny. Phelps said:
If they had seen the other photo I took when the plane was shaking
as it descended unnaturally, they would have seen the terror on the
passengers faces. That photo was also on my time line but people
only chose to comment on the selfie.
Airline Crisis Communication 127
He later explained his reasoning:
I have questioned myself many times afterwards about what drove
me to take a photo when I genuinely thought I was going to die. The
only answer I can come up with was that I thought there may be a
chance that someone may recover my phone and see what we went
through just before we crashed … Fortunately, it never happened.
One airline that has taken ‘online listening’ to a high level is
Southwest Airlines, which has a state- of- the- art ‘listening center’
FIGURE 9.1 With social media connected to wi- fi on board com-
mercial flights, passengers can broadcast live from emergency situ-
ations – or take a selfie.
Source: Nathan Phelps.
128 Airline Crisis Communication
where staff monitor conversations 24 hours a day, seven days a
week. Their goal is to listen and engage in conversation around the
brand and industry, allowing Southwest to be ‘ultra- responsive.’
The center monitors news coverage, social media conversation and
employee response on the airline’s internal intranet website.
RESILIENCE IN AVIATION
Few people in the aviation industry have had more experience in
handling tragedies than Ken Jenkins. For many years he was head
of the American Airlines CARE Team, which consists of volun-
teer employees willing to respond to airline accidents. In ten years,
Jenkins responded to eight fatal events, giving him a unique insight
into next- of- kin support and crisis management. Jenkins has
described his experience from the disasters in his book Resilience,
and he has also published several podcast episodes called ‘The
FIGURE 9.2 Southwest Airlines has established its own ‘listening
Source: Southwest Airlines.
Airline Crisis Communication 129
American Eagle Flight 4184. (n.d.). Aviation Disaster Family
Assistance Act of 1996. Retrieved from www.americaneagle-
flight4184.com/ adfaa- of- 1996.html
Congress. (1997, September 18). Retrieved from www.congress.
gov/ 105/ bills/ s1196/ BILLS- 105s1196is.pdf
Guen, L. (2015, May 19). SimpliFlying. Retrieved from http://
simpliflying.com/ 2015/ airline- crisis- communications-
IATA. (2016, 12). IATA.ORG. Retrieved from www.iata.org/ pub-
lications/ Documents/ crisis- communications- guidelines.pdf
FIGURE 9.3 Ken Jenkins handled eight fatal events for American
Source: Kjell Brataas.
C H A P T E R 10
Family Support and
Supporting families and victims after a tragic event is not only
crucially important, but also one of the most challenging tasks a
responsible company, organization, government agency or minis-
try can face; not only because the need for information is over-
whelming, but also because satisfactory answers might be lacking
or worse, involve news that will devastate those receiving it. A con-
tributing factor is that communications specialists themselves will
be personally involved, even touched, a fact that is natural and
unavoidable, but still puts an extra constraint on the communica-
Victims can comprise anything from one person to several
thousand, first graders or a group of retired people. Nevertheless,
there are certain notions that relate to all, as described in a pam-
phlet from Victim Support Europe, which recommends that every
victim (Victim Support Europe, 2015)
• Is treated with respect and dignity
• Is able to access the information they need
• Is able to access support services
• Is able to make their voice heard throughout the criminal jus-
• Has access to strong rights
• Receives the compensation they deserve
Family Support and Victim Assistance 131
Victims are sometimes portrayed as helpless and destitute, but
even if they are in a desperate situation, victims can be aided to
cope and deal with the situation. To achieve this, it is vital to focus
on resilience, and to tell victims that they will be taken care of and
that someone is looking after them.
There are many reasons for treating victims right, as victim
assistance can sway issues such as
• The crisis itself (and – obviously – the victims themselves)
• Public perception
• Media coverage
• Trust in management
• Local communities
• Affiliate organizations
• Stock prices
• Legal issues
• Compensation schemes
It is a fact that unhappy victims often receive attention from the
media, and with social media, victims now also have a direct, unfil-
tered voice that can get worldwide attention. However, the most
important reason for taking care of families and victims is that it
is the right thing to do.
Communications staff are often asked to advise top manage-
ment and HR personnel about what to say, how to say it and in
general, how to inform victims in a professional and compassion-
ate way. Luckily, most of us have never been in a situation that
requires this type of communication skill, which makes it even
more important to be prepared. This chapter will therefore give
a thorough analysis and best practices for communicating issues
dealing with life, death and uncertainty.
The first advice is to be as prepared as possible. This involves a lot
of ‘what if’ scenarios and a focus on worst case. Recent events – and
132 Family Support and Victim Assistance
many of the case studies in this book – show that a crisis can hap-
pen, and that you have an advantage if you have also planned for
the human side of a crisis. It will never be routine, and not every-
thing can be planned or anticipated, but it will be so much calmer
if you have prepared for the unexpected, including the support of
Communicating with family members and victims is often
challenging. One reason is that the receiver of the information you
are giving might be a traumatized victim feeling emotionally over-
whelmed. Often, they do not ‘take in’ facts given, meaning that
you should repeat messages and distribute them in an oral as well
as a written form.
You also need to prepare for confusion, especially in the early
stages of a tragedy. Facts might be hard to find and confirm, and
in many instances those affected by a disaster have had their lives
changed – forever. Their thoughts are therefore a mixture of hope
and despair, and at the same time they are bombarded with news
flashes and rumors. As time progresses, they also have to handle
totally new concepts and decisions, such as talking to a coroner,
dealing with a claims form, discussing autopsies with the police
and getting notifications of remains. As a 9/ 11 widow said, ‘They
gave me all these forms to fill out, but I couldn’t even remember
While confusion is hard to avoid, being prepared to dissemi-
nate information regularly and as soon as news breaks might
alleviate the situation and in some ways fill the void victims expe-
rience regarding what is happening and the next steps. In the book
Collective Conviction, members of a British organization called
Disaster Action state that the need for information ‘is one of the
most fundamental, urgent and significant needs of those involved
in disasters’ (Dix, 2014). The authors explain that in the imme-
diate and short- term aftermath, information should cover who,
what, where, when and how the disaster happened. They conclude
that ‘In the longer term, information needs tend to focus on finding
out why the disaster happened, whether it might happen again and
Family Support and Victim Assistance 133
“ The expectations of accident survivors and families of
victims is steadily increasing as a result of the activities
of family advocates and associations (particularly those
formed after previous accidents) and plaintiff’s attorneys.
IATA guidelines (IATA, 2016)
Although not always attainable, a good practice is to always
inform victims before you give the same facts to the media. How
this is done should be thought of in advance, of course, and could
involve regular presentations at a Family Assistance Center or in
some cases messages posted in a closed Facebook group.
The Global Counterterrorism Forum suggests following cer-
tain guidelines for making sure that information is handled cor-
rectly (Global Counterterrorism Forum, 2012). They include
• Immediacy – intervening as soon as possible
• Accessibility – making assistance convenient and available
• Simplicity – using quick and simple methods adapted to the
• Unity – identifying an official point of contact for the victims
• Resiliency – helping with victims’ self- esteem and their coping
• Comprehensive assistance – taking into consideration all the
particular needs of the victims
In preparing for victim assistance, a useful approach is to fore-
see questions from next- of- kin and survivors, and to prepare for
answering them. Such questions can include:
• What will medical care be like?
• Who will pay?
• What does my insurance cover?
• Will there be an autopsy?
134 Family Support and Victim Assistance
• Where is the body now?
• What legal actions do I need to take?
• How does compensation work?
• When and how can I retrieve personal effects?
Knowing what is important to victims also helps plan for the right
type of assistance. Often, next- of- kin want to see where their loved
one died, and getting back personal items of the deceased is also
high on their agenda. This may not seem important to others, but
for a family member it can be crucial to salvage the last thing their
family member touched before he or she died.
FBI’s Office of Victim Assistance
The terror on 9/ 11, 2001, prompted the FBI to review the way
it handled victim assistance, and since then the bureau has had
a robust program for victims of a variety of crimes. The Office
of Victim Assistance has about 150 victim specialists in field
offices throughout the U.S. who respond to a variety of crimes,
including cybercrime, domestic abuse, murders and mass fatali-
ties. The specialists are part of an investigation team, but they
also provide information and support to victims. They are
specially trained to respond to mass casualty events, including
death notification, victim lists and the return of personal effects.
Internally, organizations can prepare in a variety of ways.
Depending on the size of the company or government organization
and its operations (local, national, international etc.), some or all
of these questions should be answered in the planning phase, and
before something happens:
• Is our next- of- kin database updated and accessible?
• Who are our internal volunteers for victim assistance?
• Which languages are spoken by employees’ next- of- kin?
• Who will pay for travel?
• Who is in our Go- Team?
Family Support and Victim Assistance 135
• What costs will be incurred?
• Whom do we interact with?
• Who can help us?
• How do we take care of our staff?
The FBI’s categories are one way of dividing
victims into groups:
• Present but not injured
• Business community
The question ‘Who is a victim?’ is not so easy to answer, as we
no longer count only the ‘walking wounded’ in this category. The
wounded and the family members of those who died are easy to
identify, but what about bystanders – who are often first respond-
ers – and witnesses who saw a tragic event unfolding? Adding to
the confusion is the fact that many individuals do not self- identify
as victims or feel they do not deserve attention. In New Zealand,
this was handled by using social media to actively ask victims
of the earthquake in 2014 to come forward and to register with
authorities. On the opposite side of the scale are the few instances
when victims come forward and they are told the government does
not consider them victims, a situation that can mean retraumatiz-
ing them, as the person feels excluded from the rest of the group.
Knowing the status and location of all victims is a challenging
task, especially when a crisis involves a large number of people. One
example is the Asiana plane crash in 2013, which involved 214 patient
transports in 52 ambulances. Eleven different hospitals received a
total of 198 patients, and it took approximately ten days to determine
with certainty where each patient had been admitted (NTSB, n.d.).
There is no doubt that the most important of all victims’ lists
is the one that confirms who died. But chaos, patients at several
136 Family Support and Victim Assistance
hospitals and inadequate list management often contribute to an
unclear overview of who has died. This was the case in several
countries in Scandinavia after the tsunami in Asia in 2004, when
authorities used a mix of spreadsheets and notes on paper to sys-
temize information about casualties. ‘Spreadsheets is a four- letter-
word when it comes to victim accounting,’ says Mary Fetchet, who
is the founding director of the support group Voices of 9/ 11. She
recommends using a more sophisticated database, and fortunately,
several government agencies and private companies in the field of
crisis management offer web- based systems for storing and access-
ing data about victims and their status.
Victims in Nice
Identifying victims can be challenging, as was the case after
the terror in Nice in 2015. Some 30,000 people were on the
open space of the promenade when a truck killed 86 people
and wounded several hundred, but who were the victims?
The Paris prosecutor, responsible for establishing the list of
victims, considered that people had to prove they were on the
truck trajectory to be considered victims – they had to have
been targeted by the assassination attempt. More than 2,000
letters were sent out to potential victims, who had to some-
how prove (by providing copies of SMS messages or pictures
taken at the time) that they were in the area when the attack
took place. By December 2016, 94% of the injured victims
and 88% of the legal successors had received a provision. The
process was helped by the fact that that France has instituted
an Inter- Ministerial Cell for Victim Support (CIAV), in charge
of victims’ information and coordination, which includes a
single database about casualties.
When an individual or a group of people die or become victims
abroad, several additional challenges become apparent. Time zones
Family Support and Victim Assistance 137
and cultural differences must be considered, embassies or consu-
lates need to be involved, and victims’ families will often have a
hard time finding information and getting in touch with their loved
ones. Language is another important barrier, as it can be hard to
get in touch with local hospitals or law enforcement agencies when
the staff there might not speak any foreign languages.
At the same time, those who have experienced a tragic event in
a foreign country might not have access to their usual support net-
work. Care and practical help from the employer, the government
or victim assistance organizations are therefore necessary – and
With a multitude of languages and nationalities among the
victims, communicating after terror attacks becomes especially
challenging. To prepare, several governments and organizations
have produced documentation about what foreigners should do
if they become victims abroad. One example is ‘Where to get help
if becoming victim of a terror attack in Germany?’, issued by the
German nationwide support group Weisser Ring.
Another consideration is the treatment of the dead in a foreign
country. While most countries in the Western world have adequate
facilities for storing bodies, that may not be the case in other parts
of the world. Identification processes also vary widely, and in many
countries pictures of dead bodies are displayed publicly so that rela-
tives may be able to identify their deceased family members. That was
the case in Thailand after the tsunami in 2004, when hundreds of pic-
tures were on display in temples throughout Phuket and Khao Lak.
Soon after an accident or other tragic event, a good practice is
to set up a telephone support system that relatives of those who
might have been involved can call to get information or report
their loved ones as missing. Organizing such a service is not an
easy task, and planning for a telephone hotline must therefore be
done before something happens.
A few of the questions relevant to organizing a hotline are:
• What technical system do we need for handling a large number
of incoming calls?
138 Family Support and Victim Assistance
• Who will be answering?
• Where will the phones be answered?
• How do we save and process messages and information from
• What languages can we expect callers to speak?
• How do we take care of our staff who answer the calls?
(Breaks, food, follow- up etc.)
It might sound trivial, but in the heat of the moment it is of the
utmost importance and help that the staff answering have basic
tools, such as a headset each, so that they can focus on the caller
and register what he or she says in a predefined form that lists
the basic information needed for further processing and assistance.
There could also be some kind of ‘back office’ that handles follow-
up and database registration of the information coming in. If there
are enough staff and funding, a good practice is to have two people
answering each call – one who focuses on the conversation, while
the other registers the essence of what is being said.
No matter who or how many respond, training is needed before
they start receiving calls. As a minimum, each hotline operator
should receive a few hours of training and discussions about what
to expect and how to effectively communicate with the callers –
who might be desperate, in disbelief or crying. Training should
therefore focus on how to respond and what to say.
They should learn that it is OK to give out basic facts about
what has happened and what is being done over the phone, but
it is vital that the hotline staff do not engage in thoughts about
worst- case scenarios or discussions on who is to blame for what
Death notifications should never be carried out over the
phone – and usually involve the police and a minister. Staff should
nevertheless get some basic training in being the first to give a fam-
ily member news about an accident or that someone is missing, as
next- of- kin always prefer to get bad news from someone ‘official’
instead of learning about it on the TV news or as a message on
Facebook. If there has been a fire at the office, or if someone from
the company’s staff is missing after an accident abroad, company
representatives should be the ones informing next- of- kin. To mini-
mize the number of calls coming in, it is of great help if those who
are safe or not seriously wounded can call their relatives themselves
Family Support and Victim Assistance 139
without involving the hotline staff. Such a ‘phone home’ policy
could be part of internal manuals and training, so that employees
react appropriately. If available, other digital tools should be used,
for example Facebook Safety Check or Google Person Finder.
When talking to those who connect through a hotline, the staff
should concentrate on being respectful and accommodating. It is
important to register concrete needs from the person calling, and
to get as many facts as possible about the next- of- kin they are call-
ing about. One example could be facts about where and how they
were last in contact or at which hotel he or she was staying.
Depending on the nature of the event in question, it is usually
never advisable to promise to call back. Demand at the hotline can
quickly escalate, meaning that it can be hard to find time to make
outgoing calls. Instead, next- of- kin should be directed to a Family
Assistance Center, or a closed web page or Facebook group where
more information and news can be released regularly.
Answering incoming calls at a telephone hotline is psy-
chologically challenging and can be physically draining. Staff
should therefore get a break after one to two hours. After six to
eight hours, they should be relieved for the day. As mentioned
in Chapter 2, I have personal experience of staffing a telephone
hotline after the tsunami in Asia. This was poorly organized and
executed, and we learned the hard way about the importance
of planning in advance, having adequate database systems, and
simply feeding your staff and giving them enough breaks during
FAMILY ASSISTANCE CENTERS (FACS)
If a crisis has the potential for many hurt, missing or dead vic-
tims, a Family Assistance Center should be considered. Such a
center has many names; in the U.K. it is often referred to as a
Humanitarian Assistance Centre, and in the U.S. it is sometimes
called a Community Resilience Center. No matter what we call it
(for the rest of this chapter we will use the acronym FAC), such
a center is a gathering place for those who seek information and
comfort after a tragic event. It is often found in a hotel close to
where something has happened, but an FAC can also be organized
in part of an airport or at a corporate head office.
140 Family Support and Victim Assistance
As a one- stop shop for information, an FAC can have many
advantages for victims as well as organizers:
• Information about the incident, including new facts, ongoing
investigation and so on, can be given to many people at once,
and before informing the media and the public.
• An FAC provides a safe, private space to meet with others
affected by the same event.
• Family members can be given facts and advice about what will
• Emotional and practical support can be offered.
• Families can draw support from being with others in similar
• Families can receive advice on legal matters, insurance, com-
pensation and so on.
As with setting up a telephone support system, making an FAC
functional requires planning and a lot of work in advance. A few
items to consider are:
• Location – and alternate location (often hotels)
• Staff and shift planning
• Security and check- in procedures
• Printed signs and arrows
• Circular tables (more inviting to conversation than square ones)
• Communication at the center
• Visits by CEO/ management/ other leaders in charge of operation
• VIP visits (prime minister, president etc.)
• FAC management
• Handling media at the center
• Rules for social media, pictures, video etc.
• Taking care of staff
• Name tags, (blue) vests, cordons etc.
• Invited helpers, e.g. ministers, social workers, psychologists etc.
It is important that the FAC has enough space or is flexible, as
there might be a large number of people coming to the center.
Often, 10 to 15 family members show up for one person dead
or missing, and they come in all ages, ethnicities and religious
Family Support and Victim Assistance 141
Management and staff at the FAC should spend a lot of time
telling families at the center about the process they are now part
of. They need to know what will happen and the order of events
for the next hours and days, and being at the FAC can help navi-
gate the process. Setting expectations early and sharing news regu-
larly also promote confidence in the response.
Personal meetings and one- on- one talks with victims are men-
tally draining, and staff at the FAC should be prepared for family
members being aggressive, accusatory or in denial. Emotional people
often have a hard time processing information they are given, and
it is therefore vital to repeat important messages and to distribute
information also on paper. ‘You heard the press briefing, did it make
sense to you?’ might be a good way of starting a conversation to
check that families at the center have understood what was said. Staff
at the center should be careful about making promises and should be
prepared to give out information that can be hard to accept:
• News about loved ones can take hours, days or weeks to
• Return of belongings can take more than a year (especially if
there is to be a criminal investigation).
• Identification of victims can take days, months or years.
• There might be massive media attention (offer assistance with
• There will be lots of paperwork and forms to fill out (offer
assistance with this task).
There is no ‘formula’ for finding the right words to use when talk-
ing to a family member who has just lost a loved one. Sometimes,
compassionate silence can work too. Leif Hafnor was one of the
psychologists volunteering their services at the Sundvollen Hotel
near Utoya, which functioned as an FAC, in the evening of July 22,
2011. In an interview with NRK TV, he explained his experience:
It was a very chaotic situation. Young people sat in apathy by them-
selves with blankets draped around their shoulders. Some were com-
forting each other, crying. I especially remember one boy who sat
by himself looking drearily out the window. I sat next to him and
thought to myself that is not possible to say anything or to explain in
any way that will lessen his pain. What we can do is to be there, be
one they can hold on to.
142 Family Support and Victim Assistance
Because it involves people’s emotions and tensions run high,
an FAC needs a large number of staff. At the center in Marseille
organized after the Germanwings accident, about 90 Lufthansa
and Germanwings staff worked with next- of- kin, and at the hotel
in Bergen in Norway where Statoil had its FAC after the In Amenas
incident, 100 Statoil employees worked for more than a week. How
they are organized and what their functions are called varies greatly
from incident to incident and from country to country, but a tem-
plate that might be useful can be found in The Family Assistance
Center Plan of Los Angeles County (Los Angeles County, 2014). It
describes organization charts for a minimal level and an expanded
level of service, listing a total of 39 different positions or units at an
FAC. This is obviously an exhaustive list that might be too much,
but it is useful to review the list of positions so that the multitude of
needs at an FAC can be thought of and planned in advance. Many
organizations use internal volunteers with great success, but they
need training and advice before they start dealing with victims.
Being the director of an FAC is especially demanding. There is a
constant need for communicating precisely and making decisions,
and the director has to handle emotions from families as well as
staff. Such a job should therefore be on a rotation basis. Breaks
and debriefs are important for everyone working at an FAC, and
to avoid staff burn- out, no one communicating directly with fami-
lies should work at an FAC for more than eight hours at a time.
“ Early warning of stories before they break in the media,
advice on contact with journalists, accurate and verified
information in the face of rumor and speculation are all
essential elements of next- of- kin support.
Statoil’s In Amenas Investigation Report
Virtual Victim Assistance
In many instances it is not possible to bring all victims’ families to
one physical location. It is therefore a good idea to consider setting
up some kind of virtual center to which next- of- kin can get access.
Family Support and Victim Assistance 143
This means that family care will be more inclusive geographically,
and another benefit is that important information and news can be
spread to a defined group simultaneously.
There are several ways of doing this. The quickest and easi-
est is probably to set up a closed Facebook group and then invite
those who need it to take part in the group. Another option is a
web page, which can have an ‘open’ area and some pages that can
only be accessed by next- of- kin with a (double) password.
An example of such a website is one that the Dutch organi-
zation Slachtofferhulp Nederland organized after the shooting
down of flight MH17 in 2014. With 500 paid staff and 1,100
volunteers, Slachtofferhulp plays an important role in victim
assistance in the Netherlands, and it has templates and empty
web pages ready in case of a tragedy. ‘We call the MH17 incident
‘the Dutch 9/ 11’, and it made a huge impact on society,’ says the
director of Slachtofferhulp Nederland, Victor Jammers. His staff
can have a new website ready at two hours’ notice, and families
of the passengers on MH17 were therefore able to access impor-
tant information about the tragedy within a short while after it
Their website had an open and a closed section. It evolved
gradually, as specific needs for facts and advice became apparent.
As of this writing, the website still exists, with the following infor-
mation available in the open part accessible to everyone:
• National remembrance ceremony
• Grief and loss
• Remembrance and saying goodbye
• Practical information
• Legal matters
• The media
• Children and youth
• Friends, relatives and colleagues
• Members- only section for next- of- kin
The part of the website that can only be accessed by victims offers
more detailed information as well as a forum where members can
share their stories or ask questions.
144 Family Support and Victim Assistance
Template for FAC Hand- Out
Victims of a traumatic event are often in shock and have difficulty
in processing information they are given. It is therefore important
to repeat messages and to distribute information in a variety of
forms. At a Family Assistance Center, organizers should have a
written document to hand out or place on each table that gives
important information to guests. Below is a suggested template:
Welcome to the Family Assistance Center
We hope this center will be of help for victims of the tragic
events (details). We will do everything we can to make your
time here as useful as possible.
We can assist with:
• Updates and news about what has happened
• Someone to talk to
• Answers to practical questions
• Referrals to experts, police, clergy etc.
• A light meal and refreshments
With blue vests, our staff are easily recognizable. Please get
hold of them if you have questions or requests, but bear in
mind that we often lack concrete information or facts about
Everything you tell our staff is confidential.
So that visits to the center will be OK for everyone, we ask
that you comply with our basic rules for staying at the Family
• Taking pictures or videos is not allowed.
• We ask that what happens here and what is said at
the family assistance center is not distributed on
• Families or individuals who want to give interviews to
journalists must do so outside of the Family Assistance
Center (our staff can provide assistance and advice).
Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have questions.
Family Support and Victim Assistance 145
SUPPORT GROUPS – A COLLECTIVE VOICE FOR
Sooner or later after a tragic event, survivors and next- of- kin often
feel the need to come together for a meeting or to organize a sup-
port group that can facilitate the sharing of feelings, discussions
on practicalities, and helping each other to make sense of what
has happened. In addition, participants will find that the group is
useful for discussing available resources, insurance claims, com-
pensation and media attention. Later on, support groups can also
play a role in discussing site visits and memorials, and by being
members of a group, victims can influence decisions. Every victim
wants to see prevention work, and many join a support group in
order to make sure that the same kind of tragedy never happens
again. Meeting with government officials or private companies can
therefore be an important goal of the support group.
One of the First Support Groups – the Aberfan
Young Wives’ Club
In 1966, coal waste slid into a local school in Aberfan, killing
28 adults and 116 children. The women of the community
met up a few months after the disaster to provide mutual
counseling, and their weekly tea- and- chat gatherings at the
Aberfan Hotel continue to this day.
Finding prospective members of a support group can be challeng-
ing. The police are seldom willing to give out lists of victims, but
traditional media and messages on Facebook are useful tools for
reaching out. A government agency, such as a municipality or an
embassy in a foreign country, might also be able to contact victims
and inform them that a support group is being planned or offered.
When it works as planned, a support group can be a collective
voice for victims, but such groups are often prone to discussions
among their members and disagreements between the next- of- kin
of those who died and survivors. A variety of ‘group dynamics’
come into play, depending on the number of members, whether a
company or organization is at fault (such as after a plane crash),
146 Family Support and Victim Assistance
or because members cannot agree on handling the media or what
to ‘demand’ from the government. The type of tragedy the group
has experienced also has an impact; if victims came from the same
company or school, they will have more in common than if they
represent victims who do not have anything in common other
than – probably by chance – being on the same plane, boat or bus.
Jelena Watkins, a psychosynthesis psychotherapist in the
U.K. and a founding member of the U.K. 9/ 11 support group, has
found that support groups often face three major challenges:
• Data protection
• Group members’ disagreements
Another possible downside is the type of information shared in
meetings, as too many traumatic details might upset some mem-
bers, while others want to know as many facts as possible. There
might also be discussions about leadership, media attention and
eventually, for how long the group should exist. However, the most
difficult challenge often has to do with financial matters, as mem-
bers may have different views on topics ranging from the group’s
funding to compensation claims from individual members.
Depending on the type of tragedy, a government agency or a
private company might be heavily involved in discussions and col-
laborations with support groups. The topics mentioned above are
worth bearing in mind when planning how to interact with repre-
sentatives from a group.
To alleviate the challenges connected with support groups, it
is important to know about the pitfalls in advance and to con-
sider having an outside expert take part in some of the meetings.
Discussions about media statements and focus areas should be
held early on. Other steps to take include the following practical
• Create a logo. There might be internal talent within the group
members who can design a simple logo. If not, consider arrang-
ing a competition among those affected by the tragedy, use a
crowdsourcing service or ask a professional design agency for
a pro bono contribution.
Family Support and Victim Assistance 147
• Consider an advisory board. It always helps to have someone
from ‘outside’ who can give advice and view the topics for dis-
cussion from several angles.
• Develop a database. Contact information, facts and special
needs of victims can soon spiral out of hand if you try to use
a paper- based system or a simple spreadsheet. A database has
many advantages and can be of great help in sorting member
lists and cross- referencing information.
• Arrange fundraising events. One of the major challenges of a
support group is to find financial means to pay for meetings,
office supplies, travel and so on. While membership fees are
one solution, a well- organized event – preferably with some
high- profile guests – can mean quite a lot of extra cash. At the
same time, such an event can be a positive focus for victims
and a way for them to get to know each other.
• Communicate professionally. How you communicate with
members and the public can mean a great deal to how it is per-
ceived by the public and its members. Use several tools, such
as group emails, newsletters, the web and social media, to get
your messages across.
Learning from VOICES
An organization worth looking into for learning and advice is the
Voices of September 11th. It began informally in 2001 with a small
group of next- of- kin meeting in the home of Mary Fetchet, who
had lost her son Brad on 9/ 11. The meetings took place weekly for
over a year, and in December 2002 the first VOICES office opened
in Connecticut (Voices of September 11th, 2014).
Voices of September 11th had a clear mission: ‘To serve as
a clearinghouse of information, providing a wide range of sup-
port services for all those impacted by 9/ 11, and promoting public
policy reforms to make the country safer.’ To achieve their goals,
the VOICES organization established several coalitions that advo-
cated on behalf of the families, they launched teleconference sup-
port groups, and social worker staff offered confidential anxiety
and depression screening over the phone.
Membership in VOICES grew to more than 16,000 individuals
from all over the world.
148 Family Support and Victim Assistance
Access to Peer Support
When Heidi Snow lost her fiancé, Michel, in the 1996 TWA 800
crash, her life was forever changed. In her book Surviving sudden
loss: Stories from those who have lived it, she explains that there
were no air disaster support groups, so she located a meeting of
the families of Pan Am 103, which had occurred eight years ear-
lier. She immediately felt a connection with the families of Pan
Am 103, especially with a woman who had also lost her fiancé.
Realizing the importance of long- term emotional support from
someone who had already survived the sudden loss of a loved one,
she formed a non- profit peer- to- peer bereavement support organi-
zation, AirCraft Casualty Emotion Support Services (ACCESS), in
the fall of 1996. ACCESS pair their grief mentors, who have all lost
loved ones in past air disasters, with callers seeking grief support
for more recent losses. What makes ACCESS unique is that they
pair mentors with callers who have lost a similar relationship – for
FIGURE 10.1 Heidi Snow’s organization ACCESS has 250 ‘grief
mentors,’ who provide personal support to victims after airline
accidents and other events involving sudden loss.
Family Support and Victim Assistance 149
example, they pair mothers with mothers, fathers with fathers,
orphans with orphans, siblings with siblings and so on with other
relationships lost. ACCESS arrange for callers to talk with mentors
who have been through a similar loss. ACCESS have received many
testimonials about the significance of conversations with grief
mentors. As word spread about the help they provided, ACCESS
received more and more calls for help
Shortly after TWA 800, Swissair 111 and Egyptair 990 crashed
out of JFK, followed by Alaska Airlines 261, the events of 9/ 11 and
hundreds of other commercial, private and military air disasters.
Resulting from these incidents, the need for ACCESS’s services
grew exponentially. ACCESS now has a team of 250 trained grief
mentors on- call, who answer hundreds of calls for help each year.
In addition, ACCESS focuses on preparations before an accident
and trains first responders and personnel from airlines all over the
world on how to best respond to those affected by air disasters.
ACCESS has applied its model of grief support beyond aviation
disasters to others types of sudden loss – including gun accidents
and train derailments. The common factor is that the losses are
unexpected – victims often leave for work and never return. ‘We
focus on rare things that are not supposed to happen,’ says Snow.
All ACCESS grief mentors have the unenviable credential of
having suffered the tragic loss of a loved one in an air disaster.
ACCESS professionally train their grief mentors. ACCESS trainers
emphasize confidentiality and prepare mentors for the wide range
of emotions that surface from callers experiencing life- altering
losses. Prospective grief mentors are trained to be active listeners
and limit their interactions to emotional support.
MEMORIALS AND RITUALS
One of the many tasks a support group often focuses on is estab-
lishing a memorial that can be a permanent, visual reminder of
the tragedy. A memorial is usually placed close to where the event
happened, such as in the grounds of the World Trade Center in
New York or at the crash site of an airliner. However, in some
instances this is physically or practically impossible, as was the
case after flight AF 447 crashed in the ocean on its way from Rio
de Janeiro to Paris.
150 Family Support and Victim Assistance
It may seem like an easy task, but agreeing on a memorial after a
tragedy can be demanding and time consuming. In many instances
the process takes several years, as was the case with the crash of
American Airlines Flight 191 near Des Planes in May 1979. It took
32 years before the memorial was in place … (Chicago Sun Times,
2011). Finding (and agreeing on) an artist is another challenge,
and getting enough funding is also time consuming. Discussions
about a proposed memorial often involve heated debates among
members of the support group, local authorities and neighbors,
and sometimes the proposal ends up in court. That was the case
in Norway, when neighbors near the island of Utoya rejected the
quite large memorial that was suggested.
The Memorial Garden in London commemorating those who
died in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks is an example of
a memorial created in cooperation with next- of- kin. According to
Jelena Watkins, who represented one of the families, ‘For many
FIGURE 10.2 A memorial can be a sophisticated piece of art or a
simple plaque, like this one on a tree in Khao Lak, Thailand.
Source: Knut- Erik Pedersen.
Family Support and Victim Assistance 151
relatives, this is the only place bearing the name of their loved
ones as most families were left with no remains to bury’ (Watkins,
2012). The web page of the Grosvenor Square Garden explains
that ‘It is a living memorial and a testament to the love and courage
of those who lost family, friends or colleagues’ (Royal Parks, n.d.).
Communication regarding a memorial needs to be handled
with eloquence and dignity. It is important to involve those directly
affected, and to be prepared for varying views and opinions.
Another concrete reminder of a tragic event can be a ritual or
a ceremony. Often arranged on an anniversary day of the incident,
it can bring together survivors, victims’ families, responders and
the public in a communal ritual that represents a concrete way of
remembering what happened and the lives lost. Such rituals take
lots of planning, and again it is important to involve those most
directly affected. The ceremony often involves speeches and songs,
reading the names of the victims and a minute of silence. There are
many examples of the importance of ceremonies, such as the anni-
versary of the tsunami being observed with music and speeches at
a memorial in Oslo in 2014, or the tenth anniversary of 9/ 11 at
Ground Zero, where Paul Simon performed ‘The Sound of Silence.’
“ For me, the beauty of the Memorial Garden and other
similar rituals is their ability to shelter our ongoing pain
and transmute painful memories into remembrance.
Victims’ families often want to see for themselves where their
loved ones died. Such a visit can help them understand what hap-
pened and learn details about the order of events, and can be a
way of expressing grief through rituals and ceremonies. If possi-
ble, next- of- kin often want to be at exactly the spot where death
occurred, but depending on what killed them, this is not always
152 Family Support and Victim Assistance
As described in Chapters 2 and 3, the Norwegian government
has extensive experience in bringing family members ‘back to where
it happened.’ The first collective visit to a site of a tragic event was
in 1986, when 16 soldiers died in an avalanche in Vassdalen in the
northern part of Norway. A few days later, next- of- kin were invited
to visit the area and attend a memorial service, and three months
afterwards, they were given the opportunity to get an aerial view
of the mountain where the avalanche happened. A study 23 years
later proved that the victims’ families found the visits to be useful
because they got an overview of what had happened, they felt they
were close to the deceased and they were able to meet parents in a
similar situation (Kristiensen & Kristiensen, 2011).
A more recent study that was conducted after the terror attack
in Norway in 2011 examined bereaved parents’ and siblings’ expe-
riences of visiting Utoya. The findings suggest that
visiting the site of death can be recommended for bereaved families
after disasters and terror. Although a visit to the site of death can be
stressful, it is our conclusion that the benefits outweigh the burdens.
FIGURE 10.3 After the tsunami, Norwegian next- of- kin made
makeshift memorials at the hotels where their loved ones had died.
Source: Kjell Brataas.
Family Support and Victim Assistance 153
Such visits can be particularly important for persons who struggle
with complicated grief reactions such as avoidance of the reality of
the death, and/ or maladaptive grief- related ruminations. Adequate
preparations are necessary before visits are conducted.
Bringing survivors and next- of- kin to the site of a tragic event
is challenging when it comes to logistics as well as communication.
There are many wishes and personal preferences to consider, and
at the same time, security, local authorities and available resources
are determining factors.
For planning a site visit abroad, these questions should be
• Who will be invited?
• How will costs be covered?
• What support staff are needed?
• How close to the accident site will participants be allowed?
• Is there a multi- cultural audience to consider?
• Which faiths are represented?
• Where can a ceremony be arranged?
• How will we handle media?
• How will we communicate to participants during the visit?
From my own experience with organizing site visits to Phuket in
Thailand and Utoya in Norway, I have found that certain parts
should always be included in a site visit or a ceremony:
• Being able to put down flowers and candles near the place
where the person died
• Speeches – by victims, government officials, first responders
and so on
• Songs, music or cultural performances
IDENTIFICATION AND REMAINS
For someone who has lost a family member or a friend, it is imper-
ative that the loved one is identified so that a funeral can take
place. However, this may be a difficult or impossible task, as the
154 Family Support and Victim Assistance
body might have been washed out to sea (as during the tsunami)
or otherwise be impossible to locate. In a typical plane crash of a
two- seater, authorities can expect to recover somewhere between
700 and 1200 body parts (Teahen, 2012), and finding and identify-
ing them can take months or years.
From 2001 to 2005, almost 20,000 remains were collected
at the former site of the World Trade Center. So far, 1,640 of the
2,753 victims have been identified, and the work continues to
this day. Notification of remains is still ongoing, meaning that
so many years after the terror attack on 9/ 11 2001, relatives are
still receiving news about identification. In many instances, iden-
tification has taken many years, which means that some funerals
had empty caskets or few body parts and that families have been
notified several times about remains being found from the same
Identification in Difficult Surroundings
Ideally, police experts and coroners work on identifying
remains in a sterile environment with modern equipment.
That was not the case after the tsunami in Asia, where up
to 1,000 bodies were stored on the ground outside the Bang
Muang Temple. In the tropical climate there was no cooling
available, and for the first days the identification team had no
running water or electricity. Eight days after the disaster, dry
ice became available for cooling down the bodies, and the
next day large containers with cooling inside were available
for storing. (Rognum, 2005)
In a very few, special instances, communications experts might be
asked to advise or take part in informing family members that
their loved one has died. Such a conversation will probably be one
of the most challenging tasks in a communicator’s career, and it
obviously requires the right people and preparation.
Family Support and Victim Assistance 155
Before going to the door, the person(s) giving the death notifi-
cation should check and verify facts regarding the person in ques-
tion and be prepared to provide details about where the body is
and the state of belongings. Wording is important, and direct and
plain language – such as ‘dead,’ ‘died’ or ‘killed’ – should be used
instead of ‘softer’ expressions such as ‘gone to heaven’ or ‘has left
us.’ Do not be afraid to use the name of the deceased.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation and Penn State University
have developed a comprehensive guide that includes a video course
and a two- page document on death notification called ‘We regret
to inform you’ (FBIPennState). It includes suggested delivery state-
ments that might be useful to have on hand in an emotional and
often stressful situation:
• I am so sorry.
• This is harder than most people think.
• Most people who have gone through this react similarly to you.
• People can experience many different feelings at the same time.
• This is one of the most difficult times in your life.
And a few statements to avoid:
• I know how you feel.
• Time heals all wounds.
• You need to be strong.
• You will get over this some day.
• You will find closure.
• He didn’t know what hit him.
• You don’t need to know that.
• Think of all your memories.
Updating the Next- of- Kin Database
All organizations and employers should have an updated
and accessible list of their employees’ next- of- kin. It should
include the names, telephone numbers and addresses of the
family members – or ‘significant others’ – the employee wants
to be notified if something happens.
156 Family Support and Victim Assistance
Many organizations struggle with keeping their next- of-
kin list updated, and in some instances a form is only filled
out when a person starts working in a company. However,
life situations and family relationships change, so it is impor-
tant – for the employee as well as his or her next- of- kin –
that the list is always up to date. One way of doing this is to
dedicate five minutes during an annual job review session to
update the form.
It doesn’t help to have updated forms if they are only acces-
sible in a binder in the office. In the case of evacuation or fire,
there needs to be a way that HR personnel can find next-
of- kin information in a hurry, so additional storage options
should be considered – including saving information on a
USB or in a cloud service such as Dropbox or Google Drive.
The Roselawn 20th Anniversary
Support groups and memorial services often come about as a
result of a person’s commitment and dedication. One exam-
ple is the 20th anniversary of the crash of American Eagle
Flight 4184. Jennifer Stansberry Miller was instrumental in
organizing the memorial; here is her description of the event:
The 20th stemmed from a simple gesture from a for-
mer National Transportation Safety Board investi-
gator who responded to our accident. He offered to
speak to families at our anniversary, sparking the idea
for a larger service for our twentieth year. We (myself,
along with other families and interested community
members) spent nearly two years planning this two
day event. We created a community based project team
which worked on: an informational public forum;
designed, raised funds, and created a stone monu-
ment near the crash site; held a roadside memorial
service to dedicate the new monument; hosted a fam-
ily/ fellowship dinner following the service; arranged
Family Support and Victim Assistance 157
all logistics and comfort provisions (hotel, food, road
closures, mental health support) and lastly, worked
with American Airlines to obtain financial support
of our monument and discounted tickets for families
returning to Roselawn, Indiana. It was a meaningful
experience to be able to bring our families, respond-
ers, airline employees, and local community together
again to hear about the changes prompted by the
crash, death of our loved ones, and the legacy created
by the family advocacy work, and above all, honor
our bonds and friendship which have developed over
Typically, our anniversary is marked by private moments
by our families either at their home or crash site/ common
burial site at Calumet Cemetery in Merrillville, Indiana;
for those wanting to come together with others, a small
roadside services has been held at the time of impact each
year, with larger services being held at the 10 year, 15 year
and 20th. Personally, the 20th signified a milestone for
me; completing my personal chapter with Flight 4184
and beginning to write a new one. I will always remain
connected to Roselawn, our families, stories, and history
will always be with me. Our 20th commemoration was a
special event, and I am grateful we were able to have that
Jennifer Stansberry Miller lost her brother, Brad Stansberry,
in the accident near Roselawn, Indiana on October 31,
1994. She was part of the aviation disaster victims’ fam-
ily association that advocated for the Aviation Disaster
Family Assistance Act of 1996 and has provided education
to federal, international and state agencies, air carriers, and
emergency response personnel on the significance of family
assistance. She is a clinical social worker working as a crisis
consultant and was recently a subject matter expert for the
Transportation Research Board Airport Cooperative Research
Program Report 171, ‘Establishing a Local Coordinated
Family Assistance Program.’
158 Family Support and Victim Assistance
Chicago Sun Times. (2011, October 15). Retrieved from www.
dpparks.org/ parks- facilities/ lake- park/ flight- 191- memorial
Dix, A. E. (2014). Collective Conviction. Liverpool: Liverpool
FBIPennState. (n.d.). We regret to inform you … Deathnotification.
Retrieved from http:// deathnotification.psu.edu/ assets/ pdf/
DeathNotification_ PocketGuide_ 9- 15.pdf
Global Counterterrorism Forum. (2012). Madrid Memorandum.
Retrieved from www.thegctf.org/ Portals/ 1/ Documents/ Frame
work%20Documents/ A/ GCTF- Madrid- Memorandum- ENG.
IATA. (2016, December). iata.org. Retrieved from www.iata.org/
publications/ Documents/ crisis- communications- guidelines.
Kristensen, D. (2015). Psykologitidsskriftet. Retrieved from www.
psykologtidsskriftet.no/ ?seks_ id=443114&a=2
Kristiensen, P., &. Kristiensen, H.- P. (2011). Bereavement and disas-
ters: Research and clinical intervention. New York: Routledge
Los Angeles County. (2014, January 31). Lacoa.org. Retrieved from
http:// lacoa.org/ PDF/ HazardsandThreats/ Annexes/ LACo_
FAC_ Plan_ May2014_ Web.pdf
NTSB. (n.d.). icao.int. Retrieved from www.icao.int/ Meetings/
HLSC2015/ Documents/ Presentations/ Family%20Assistance-
Rognum, T. O. (2005, March 17). Tidsskriftet. Retrieved from
http:// tidsskriftet.no/ 2005/ 03/ leder/ identifisering- av- lik-
Royal Parks. (n.d.). Retrieved from www.royalparks.org.
uk/ parks/ grosvenor- squaregarden/ things- to- see- and- do/
september- 11- memorial- garden
Teahen, P. R. (2012). Mass fatalities: Managing the community
response. Boca Raton: CRC Press
Victim Support Europe. (2015, October 29). Leaflet on Victim
Support Europe. Retrieved from http:// victimsupport.eu/ active-
app/ wp- content/ files_ mf/ 1446120943WEBVSETrypticLeaf
Family Support and Victim Assistance 159
Voices of September 11th. (2014). Voicesofsept11.org. Retrieved
from http:// voicesofsept11.org/ initiatives/ preparing- after-
Watkins, J. (2012, November 21). Mental Health Today. Retrieved
from www.mentalhealthtoday.co.uk/ the_ value_ of_ disaster_
memorials_ and_ rituals_ 9675.aspx
C H A P T E R 11
Preparing for the Worst
How an organization handles a crisis has a lot to do with plan-
ning. There will, of course, be many uncertainties and occurrences
that no one can foresee, but having thought about what can go
wrong – and how to handle the situation – before something hap-
pens is paramount to maintaining control over a situation. And
with social media used by the public as well as government agen-
cies and customers, crisis communication planning is more impor-
tant than ever.
“ Good risk communication can rally support, calm a nerv-
ous public, provide needed information, encourage coop-
erative behaviors, and potentially help save lives.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (Minamyer, 2007)
THE DISASTER COMMUNICATION CYCLE
Ideally, the steps for planning crisis communication should fol-
low the spiral in the model shown in Figure 11.1. Starting with
‘Business as usual,’ the team would plan for scenarios and even-
tualities, then train and complete exercises, followed by an evalu-
ation process. The result will be an improvement, which leads to
Preparing for the Worst 161
greater readiness and back to business as usual, but at a ‘higher’
level of competence. However, if a crisis occurs, the organization
moves from business as usual into crisis mode, when plans are put
into practice. After the event, smart organizations evaluate their
work in the form of systematic surveys or a large or small After
Action Report. The feedback provides an opportunity to make
improvements, and you achieve a higher level of readiness.
FIGURE 11.1 ‘The disaster communication cycle’ explains how
planning and training elevate the knowledge and readiness of an
organization, so that it constantly evolves and improves.
Source: Kjell Brataas.
162 Preparing for the Worst
Planning should be done in concert, as a ‘joint operation’
with several departments within an organization. Top manage-
ment, communications teams, HR and IT are key players, and
they should meet frequently to go through the organization’s
preparedness and to evaluate – based on recent events and
lessons learned – the existing plans and procedures. Planning
for crisis communication should focus on practical questions,
• Who speaks on the company’s behalf when the CEO is
• Who can change the top banner of the organization’s
• How do we print something if we need to operate from an
• Who can help us?
• How do we find out whether our employees are safe?
• How do we warn staff if they are in danger?
• Do we have protocols in place for alerting decision- makers?
• Where do we direct employees in the case of a physical threat,
and who makes that decision?
• How do we handle a ‘dynamic lockdown’ situation?
• How do we communicate with employees during and after an
• How do we coordinate with our most important stakeholders
According to crisis management expert Ken Jenkins, ‘Nothing
fails faster than a plan no one knew anything about.’ How the
plan is distributed and its ‘location’ therefore need to be thought
of, and all members of the crisis management team should
know the contents of the plan and where to find it in the case
of an emergency. Paper binders are still useful, especially if digi-
tal means are unavailable or if you need to grab a document
and run, but an updated digital version of the plan should also
be available on company intranets, as a document in a closed
Facebook group, or stored in a cloud service such as Dropbox
or Google Drive.
Preparing for the Worst 163
A beneficial approach is to consider what can happen. To do
this, you need to be a historian as well as a meteorologist: You
must look at previous events in combination with a weatherman’s
foresight into what tomorrow will bring. Many scenarios will be
specific to an organization’s products or location, but there are
several, more common, events that should be included in a list of
what to prepare for:
• Weather- related events (hurricanes, tornadoes etc.)
• Other natural events (flooding, earthquake etc.)
• Traffic accidents involving employee(s)
• Workplace violence
There will be numerous communication challenges with each of
these scenarios, and as mentioned earlier, the challenges will multi-
ply if the crisis takes place in a foreign country or involves several
Employees will react better, and lives can possibly be saved, if
scenarios and their consequences are known to staff. Informing
employees about possible threats and how they will be handled
can be accomplished in a variety of ways, such as during an all-
employee meeting, at department staff meetings, through internal
news channels such as newsletters or intranets, or through digi-
tal platforms such as e- learning programs and closed Facebook
groups. Emergency plans and crisis communication plans should
be revised annually (or ideally more frequently), and there should
be routines in place for making sure everyone who needs it has
access to – and has read – the latest version.
Based on scenarios and internal discussions, several crisis com-
munication tasks can be planned for and described in advance:
• Personnel and extra personnel
• Information flow from situation room to communications staff
• Premade black or grey headings for social media platforms
• Templates for invitations to press briefings
164 Preparing for the Worst
• Generic messages for Twitter
• Contact lists for important stakeholders
• A primary and a secondary spokesperson
• Tools for cooperation and sharing information (digital white-
boards, team discussion forums, conference calls, closed
Facebook groups etc.)
• Social media accounts, alternate email systems (e.g. Google
Mail, Hotmail etc.), and services for file sharing (Dropbox,
Google Drive etc.)
• Contact list for journalists
Although mostly a positive part of handling a crisis, volunteer and
donation management can become a challenge. Virtual volunteers
(described in Chapter 6 on social media) can be a valuable asset,
but more concrete forms of volunteering might require another
kind of attention. There are many examples of communities or
companies receiving hundreds of flowers, candles or teddy bears
shortly after a tragedy, and all such items need to be handled
FIGURE 11.2 Even if ‘cash is king,’ when donations are needed
after a disaster, many people will send clothes, teddy bears and so
on. All these items need to be sorted and organized, as was the case
in Texas after Hurricane Harvey. The picture shows the Aransas
County Donation Center in Rockport in September 2017.
Source: Sarah K. Miller, Field Innovation Team.
Preparing for the Worst 165
properly. Communicating about such volunteerism can therefore
become an extra task to handle, and one that can and should be
prepared for in advance of a tragic event.
The donation achievements of the Boston Marathon bombings
and the Pulse mass shooting are examples of excellent contribu-
tion management. Their success had a lot to do with an early start,
and to be as effective as possible, a fund should be initiated within
one to two days. Although its initiation is usually handled by oth-
ers, informing people about such a fund and spreading the word
definitely need the assistance of communications experts.
Choosing the Right Words
Not everything can be planned or agreed on in advance,
but when a crisis situation occurs, it helps to have thought
about what words to use when communicating with vari-
ous stakeholders. To this end, the Australian Government in
2008 published a document called Emergency warnings –
choosing your words (Australian Government, 2008). The
guide describes specific words that according to research
best convey the relevant concepts for warning messages. The
document also points out that most crisis communication
situations should be looked on as a dialogue, and not a com-
mand situation: ‘Your role is not that of a “King” to issue
orders – a better analogy is to be a marketer who is selling
the product of “appropriate action” and needs to convince
the audience to accept the advice.’
THE CRISIS COMMUNICATION PLAN
A crisis communication plan should be short and to the point,
but it needs to include enough information so that people who
do not work in the field of communications (such as colleagues
in HR or IT) can read and understand it. A good start is a
brief description of the organization’s goals and principles for
communicating in a crisis, followed by a list of scenarios that
166 Preparing for the Worst
might necessitate the use of the document. Other parts of the plan
• Notification and alerting protocols
• Quick response list
• Crisis communications team
• Key audiences
• Location for communication operations center
• Communication channels
• Crisis coverage review (traditional and social media), story
trends and key stakeholder issues
• Contact lists (employees, media, police, government agencies,
subject matter experts etc.)
• Technical issues (log- in procedures, wi- fi access etc.)
The first few hours after a crisis has occurred are usually hectic,
and it is therefore of great help if the crisis communication plan
includes an easy- to- read quick response list of what to do during
the first few hours. Such a list could look like this:
• Notify CEO, colleagues and others who will be handling the
• Call in extra staff.
• Start social media monitoring.
• Gather facts.
• Delete or delay scheduled posts.
• Inform the reception and/ or switchboard.
• Develop a ‘who answers what’ with outside partners or
• Consider making preparations for a press conference.
• Develop FAQs.
Preparing a ‘Grab Bag’
Several organizations, private corporations and government
offices have preplanned who will travel in case of emergencies
and what equipment they need to bring. A typical ‘grab bag’
can include items such as chargers, pens, USBs, headsets, an
extra phone and a variety of batteries.
Preparing for the Worst 167
SAVING LIVES THROUGH BLEEDING CONTROL
Informing employees about what to do if a colleague or a bystander
gets hurt is vital in saving lives. Too often, people near a bleeding
victim will hesitate to do something, either because they want to
wait for professional doctors or because they are afraid of mak-
ing matters worse. The Hartford Consensus Group (a collabo-
rative committee with members from law enforcement, trauma
surgeons and emergency responders) has addressed this reluc-
tance and coined the phrase ‘If you see something – do something’
(Bleedingcontrol.org, n.d.). Their goal is to improve the chance
for survival of gunshot and mass casualty victims. ‘Most shoot-
ing events are over in 15 minutes, and people can bleed to death
within five minutes from severe injuries,’ explains Dr Lenworth
M. Jacobs, MD, Chairman of The Hartford Consensus. He points
out that after a mass shooting or a terror attack, survival for many
will pivot on the ability of trained civilians to tend to people’s
wounds while first responders are en route. There are several tech-
niques for stopping bleeding. Ideally, a tourniquet kit should be
used, but if such equipment is lacking, belts, shirts or other articles
of clothing can be used effectively.
The Hartford Consensus addresses bleeding from any cause,
not just gun shots or mass casualty events. Chainsaw injuries,
knives or falling on sharp objects can cause severe bleeding, which
should be stopped by immediate responders with the techniques
advocated by the group.
TRAINING AND EXERCISES
There are many ways to train for the communication aspect of a
crisis, ranging from discussions and ‘table- top’ exercises to full-
scale drills with real actions. One type of exercise can focus on
notification systems and alert- escalation, while another can test
how various parts of an organization work together in a complex
or destabilizing situation.
Conducting exercises has many merits:
• Preparing for an exercise often involves updating plans and
168 Preparing for the Worst
• An exercise is a ‘safe’ way of testing various parts of an organi-
zation in decision making in an unusual context.
• Taking part in an exercise creates a better understanding of
the responsibilities and capabilities of various parts of an
• An exercise strengthens personal relationships, which can
prove valuable in the event of a real crisis.
• An exercise creates awareness that a crisis can occur.
• An exercise will reveal which resources are desired (and pos-
sibly need reinforcement).
• An exercise, especially if it includes social media, can test the
handling of a deluge of information from a variety of sources.
• An exercise can highlight the need for adequate systems for
virtual discussion boards, such as Slack, Trello, Facebook
groups and so on.
• If the scenario is an internal event such as an active shooter
or an accident within the office, an exercise can reveal who
among the staff will be the first true responders.
For an exercise to work, the team behind it needs to come up with
a scenario that participants find relevant and challenging. Typical
scenarios deal with a fire in the building or a group of employees
being involved in a traffic accident abroad. Other set- ups worth
considering are a cyber- attack with massive loss of data, kidnap-
ping of a senior manager or a social media scandal.
An exercise can last for only a couple of hours and take place
in a regular meeting room with no special equipment or prepara-
tion and still be effective and produce actionable learning points.
I call this the ‘Germanwings approach.’ It involves the CEO, the
communications team and people from HR who meet for a cou-
ple of hours to discuss the following scenario: How would we
react if four of our employees were on a business trip aboard
a flight that recently crashed? Participants would then, as a
table- top exercise, talk among themselves about responsibilities,
messages, victim support, and internal and external communica-
tion. A few questions to start the discourse could be: ‘Who calls
Preparing for the Worst 169
family members of the employees?’ ‘What do we say internally?’
‘Who should travel to the scene of the accident?’ and ‘What is
the role of the CEO during the first hours of the crisis?’
There are several ways of making an exercise feel ‘real.’
Having ‘fake’ journalists bombard participants with challenging
questions is a typical approach, possibly combined with an actor
or actress pretending to be a distraught next- of- kin desperate for
An easy and effective way of moving an exercise forward is to
show participants made- up news stories about the crisis they are
handling. Such stories can be presented as an update distributed
on paper or a text message, or exercise staff can produce made- up
news presented via PowerPoint.
Social media should always be a part of a crisis communica-
tion exercise, not only because they play such a prevalent role in
today’s handling of a crisis, but also because an exercise can focus
on aligning internal and external messages. Having a ‘flood’ of
questions and comments appear on social media during an exer-
cise definitely increases realism and tests an organization’s abil-
ity to answer appropriately. Social media surveillance, approval
processes and virtual collaboration are all aspects of crisis com-
munication that can be tested during an exercise that includes
In a document titled ‘Best Practices for Incorporating Social
Media into Exercises,’ the U.S. Department of Homeland Security
describes reasons for incorporating social media in an exercise,
including ‘enhanced communications and engagement, enhanced
situational awareness, and decision- making’ (Department of
Homeland Security, 2017). The report states that this kind of
exercise ‘allows an agency to replicate real- world actions in a
safe, no- consequence environment to test responses to difficult
Simulation, Board Games and Role Plays
To achieve realism, several web services are available that can
mimic social media messages and allow participants to take part in
conversations on platforms similar to Facebook and Twitter. There
170 Preparing for the Worst
are many advantages to this approach; perhaps the most impor-
tant is that it enables realism and challenges on a closed platform
that only participants can access. Using real Twitter or Facebook,
or the company web page for crisis communication exercises, is
never a good idea.
In addition to social media simulation, playing a board game
can also function as an effective tool for training and exercises.
Brooks Hogya, who has developed several games for disaster exer-
cises, explains that
Innovative approaches, like serious board games, can be used to
bridge the gap between education and practice and give partici-
pants a space in which to explore complex academic ideas. The seri-
ous games, which offer players competition and cooperation, can
also inform players about disaster risk reduction and community
Yet another approach to handling a crisis and making exer-
cises more engaging is through think play. Calling herself a ‘Chief
Wrangler,’ Desiree Matel- Anderson is the head of a non- profit
called Field Innovation Team (FIT), which utilizes a three- step
design process to decide how to expedite response and recovery
after a crisis. Matel- Anderson explains:
Whether the team is in the Syrian Refugee Crisis collaborating on
an artificial intelligent chat- bot to provide psycho- social services in
the Beqaa Valley of Lebanon, in the Northeast United States dur-
ing Hurricane Sandy making decisive decisions to redesign survivor-
centric recover centers, or curating a robotics petting zoo for Latin
American youth in a border crisis, the team utilizes a three- step
design process to decide how to expedite response and recovery uti-
lizing games and design thinking.
The FIT team is also involved with climate change and disaster
risk reduction, which includes working with global communities
through games and design thinking.
Preparing for the Worst 171
Patrice Cloutier, a Canadian crisis communications expert, has
suggested the following goals of crisis communication, which
could be part of a crisis drill:
1. Notify and alert. Get the ball rolling immediately. Start occu-
pying the public space.
2. Put in motion your response plan, but understand that scru-
tiny (from media and public) will be greater than ever before.
3. Operationalize your social listening. Get sound intel from
social media to help decision makers understand public per-
ception and how the crisis is evolving.
4. Engage. Keep communicating throughout the crisis after initial
notification. And don’t forget any internal audience.
A crisis communication exercise usually uncovers several points
for improvement. They often shine light on borderline areas of
responsibility, which can lead to productive discussions about who
answers for what – internally as well as externally. Another com-
mon finding is the duration of meetings in the crisis management
group – and how information about their decisions and discus-
sions trickles down to the people responsible for taking action.
An evaluation of the exercise should also include discussions
about the status of written plans and procedures, and whether they
need updates or shortening. From a communication standpoint,
other parts of an evaluation include the approval flow for issu-
ing messages on Twitter and routines for designating a second- in-
command who can function as a media spokesperson in case the
CEO is not available or needs a break.
Situation reports are often challenging, especially if the crisis
involves several entities providing intelligence. It can be quite chal-
lenging for an internal team to be on top of the situation, especially
when reports from the police or government agencies contradict
what is being reported by CNN or through social media.
Other findings can include:
• Not prioritizing victims
• Not setting aside enough financial resources
172 Preparing for the Worst
• The need for alternate locations and technical systems (if head-
quarters and email systems are unavailable)
• Change in top management during the crisis
• Unwillingness to have an honest evaluation
An exercise should also focus on the more practical side of han-
dling a crisis, including adequate systems for logging and time-
keeping, clean- up of meeting rooms and kitchens, and enough
breaks, refreshments and sleep for participants.
“ The inconvenience and disruption created by full- scale
drills is well recognized, but this can be ameliorated by
having frequent, smaller, drills so that disruptions are kept
at a minimum.
‘Worksite emergency preparedness: Lessons from the
World Trade Center Evacuation Study’
(Burke & Cooper, 2008)
ACTIVE SHOOTER SCENARIOS
Active shooter scenarios or other mass casualty events are espe-
cially hard from a communication standpoint. One reason is that
the situation is often extremely unclear, making it almost impos-
sible to give concrete advice about where to go or how to avoid
becoming a victim. Another factor is that such incidents usually
are over before police arrive, putting an extra toll on crisis man-
agement and preparedness. According to trauma specialist Steven
M. Crimando, the reality regarding mass shootings is that ‘there
are more events, involving great numbers of casualties, demanding
a higher level of readiness’ (Crimando, 2016).
The concept of one or more criminals or terrorists wanting
to harm a large number of victims has many descriptions. ‘Active
shooter’ is a term often used in the U.S., but ‘Active threat’ might
be a better description. ‘Workplace violence’ often describes a dis-
gruntled employee, while terrorist attacks in Nice and London
Preparing for the Worst 173
show that ‘vehicle ramming’ is another threat to consider – and
Run, Hide …
In addition to naming it differently, various countries and law
enforcement organizations use diverse sets of advice for what to
do if you get involved in an active shooter event. For a long time,
law enforcement agencies in the U.S. have used three concrete
verbs to instruct people what to do:
In the U.K., the police have used a similar approach, but they
have changed the last word from ‘fight’ to ‘tell.’ In an article in
Mailonline, Detective Superintendent Scott Wilson explained what
these three words mean in practice (Wilson, 2016):
Run means don’t hide under a table or play dead. Run out of the
building. Don’t try to negotiate.
Hide means that if you can’t get out of the building, barricade
yourself behind a steel door, stay quiet and turn your phone
Tell – phone the police as soon as you can, give exact locations,
what kind of weapon the terrorist might have had, are there
any casualties, etc.
Although less confronting than its U.S. counterpart, the advice
from the U.K. law enforcement does include an extra sentence
explaining that ‘if someone is in immediate danger and their life is
being threatened we would never criticize their actions if instinct
takes over and they feel the need to fight back’ (City of London
While three unpretentious words might seem easy to under-
stand, communications experts and law enforcement person-
nel must realize that individuals caught up in an active shooter
174 Preparing for the Worst
scenario might have problems following these simple rules for
survival. Many victims will instead freeze, momentarily or for a
longer period of time, which might make running or hiding impos-
sible. Even worse, a short freeze might be followed by paralysis
induced by panic. Lieutenant Colonel (Ret.) Mike Wood therefore
suggests that the linear model should be changed:
A proper model would make it clear that either running or hiding
or fighting could be an appropriate initial response, depending on
the circumstances. Teaching the public that violence can never be
the first option fails to mentally prepare them for the times when
it should be.
Yet another approach comes from the Advanced Law
Enforcement Rapid Response Training (ALERRT)™ Program at
Texas State University. Their advice is to ‘Avoid, Deny, Defend,’
which includes having an exit plan, creating barriers or defending
yourself by not fighting fairly (Avoiddenydefend.org, n.d.).
First Step: Hinder Active Shooter Events from Happening
The most effective advice for active shooter events is, of course,
to make sure they don’t happen. This is obviously easier said than
done, but several safety measures should be taken at government
and corporate offices. Peter Power, head of Visor Consultants, sug-
gests the following precautions (Power, 2016):
• Restrict access to building areas.
• Immediately ground all lifts – without resorting to setting off
• Ensure you are able to quickly communicate with everyone in
the building. This includes prerecorded (or at least prepared)
• Reduce people becoming greater targets for an active shooter
in the reception and/ or ground floor where an attacker might
use a previously seen tactic of breaking the fire alarm glass
and thereby triggering an unnecessary evacuation. This means
putting ground floor break glass on ‘double- knock’ where an
Preparing for the Worst 175
initial alarm is effectively silent for a brief while, allowing a
double check and cancelling a false call if confirmed.
• Organize a rapid assessment and decision making.
If you can’t avoid an active shooter event taking place, the next
best step is to make sure that employees, students and the general
public know what to do in case they are caught in the middle.
Law enforcement agencies in many countries have therefore made
various information materials about active shooter response avail-
able online and in print. The Department of Homeland Security
funded a video about the ‘Run, Hide, Fight’ survival skills that
received worldwide distribution, and several local agencies, corpo-
rations and police departments have produced posters and graph-
ics that teach survival skills. In France, for example, large posters
are on display at major tourist destinations advising individuals
‘Vigilance attentat: les bons comportements’ – ’How to behave in
case of a violent attack.’
‘Invacuation’ through Dynamic Lockdown
If victims of an active shooter event cannot escape out of the
building, one alternative is to ‘invacuate’ – to hide in a locked
part of the building. This kind of ‘dynamic lockdown’ might
avert people from moving into a dangerous area where the
shooter is, and at the same time prevent an attacker from getting
further into a building. According to the U.K. National Counter
Terrorism Security Office, ‘the ability to frustrate and delay the
attacker(s) during the course of the attack and reduce the number
of potential casualties can be greatly increased through dynamic
lockdown’ (NaCTSO, 2015). Such a procedure involves many
challenges, including how to inform the people in the building
where to go and how to physically lock down the area. Important
messages can be broadcast through a PA system, via text mes-
sages or as a predefined signal coming from alarm clocks in the
building. The people who are hiding need to be told not to open
any doors before police arrive and to constantly look for safe
Planning for a dynamic lockdown obviously involves several
departments of an organization, including HR, security and the
176 Preparing for the Worst
building owners (who can assist with disabling elevators without
returning them to the ground floor).
Instant, Global News
Even though it, sadly, happens regularly, an active shooter event
becomes headline news as soon as it happens. This is not surpris-
ing, as it has all the ingredients of a thought- provoking story; a
dramatic event, an unknown number of casualties, heroes and vil-
lains, questions regarding how it unfolded and whether it should
or could have been avoided. Media attention spirals quickly, and
staff as well as bystanders and witnesses need to know they do not
have to speak to journalists. The shooting at the Sandy Hook High
School in December 2012 is a telling example of what media inter-
est can be like. According to Michael Cech, whose wife Yvonne
was responsible for saving 21 people that day, media insensitivity
became an issue because (Firestorm, 2015)
• Journalists began interviewing children without parental
• The media were at every church and funeral following the
• Over 50 media outlets contacted Cech’s family and arrived at
his home within 48 hours.
It is not only the media that show up in large numbers after a
mass shooting; government agencies will also play a role in its
aftermath. Planning for handling such an event should therefore
include a list of possible agencies that one will have to cooperate
with when it comes to handling the crisis as well as communicat-
ing with media and the citizens. As an example, here is a list of the
responding agencies after the Pulse shooting in Orlando in 2016:
• Orlando Police Department, Orange County Sheriff and mul-
tiple police agencies
• Orlando and Orange County Fire Departments
• Orlando Fire Dept. Arson/ Bomb Squad
• Rural Metro (transport for Orlando)
Preparing for the Worst 177
• OPD SWAT
• Multiple hospitals
• Orange County Medical Examiner
• Florida Department of Law Enforcement
• Florida Highway Patrol
• Central Florida Intelligence Exchange
• Federal Bureau of Investigation
• Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives
• Drug Enforcement Administration
• Department of Homeland Security
OLTV in Norway
The Norwegian police have decided not to use any words con-
nected with a weapon when describing a possible mass casu-
alty event with a perpetrator. Instead, they use the description
‘ongoing, life- threatening violence’ – shortened to OLTV (or
PLIVO in Norwegian).
Many companies and organizations have a plan for business con-
tinuity, which describes how they will function in the case of a
major breakdown or crisis. Minimizing problems caused by inad-
equate communication and increasing the timeliness of messages
are important factors in crisis management, and those who deal
with business continuity therefore need to cooperate closely with
those responsible for crisis communication. Working together,
these professions can make sure critical communication solutions
are in place so that crisis managers can be rapidly aware of an
incident and how it unfolds.
Social media provide tools that are important also from a busi-
ness continuity standpoint. A closed Facebook group can function
as an internal discussion forum, while a Facebook page can be
the company’s main information hub in case the normal website
178 Preparing for the Worst
Australian Government. (2008). Emergency warnings – choosing
your words. Attorney- General’s Department
Avoiddenydefend.org. (n.d.). Retrieved from www.avoiddenyde-
Bleedingcontrol.org. (n.d.). Retrieved from www.bleedingcontrol.
Burke, R. J. and Cooper, C. L. (2008). International terrorism and
threats to security. Cheltenham, U.K. and Northampton, MA,
U.S.: Edward Elgar Publishing. Full report available at www.
researchgate.net/ publication/ 286706062_ Worksite_ emer-
gency_ preparedness_ Lessons_ from_ the_ world_ trade_ center_
City of London Police (2015). Retrieved from www.cityoflondon.
police.uk/ news- and- appeals/ Pages/ Public- given- advice- on-
what- to- do- in- the- event- of- a- terrorist- attack- .aspx
Crimando, S. (2016). Retrieved from www.disaster- resource.com/
Department of Homeland Security. (2017, March). Homeland
Security. Retrieved from www.dhs.gov/ sites/ default/ files/
publications/ Best- Practices- Incorporating- Social- Media- Into-
Firestorm (2015). Retrieved from www.firestorm.com/ resource/
form- download- brief- sandy- hook- follow- up
Hogya, B. (2016). Disaster risk reduction through play: A seri-
ous game based on research, comprised of research, for the
purposes of research. Retrieved from http:// resiliencebydesign.
com/ portfolio_ page/ resilienceville
Minamyer, S. K. (2007). Effective risk and crisis communication
during water security emergencies: Report of EPA sponsored
message mapping workshops. U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency. Washington, DC: U.S. Environmental Protection
NaCTSO. (2015). gov.uk. Retrieved from www.gov.uk/ gov-
ernment/ uploads/ system/ uploads/ attachment_ data/ file/
478003/ NaCTSO_ Guidance_ Note_ 1_ – _ 2015_ – _ Dynamic_
Lockdown_ v1_ 0.pdf
Preparing for the Worst 179
Power, P. (2016). thebci.org. Retrieved from www.bcifiles.com/
Wilson, S. (2016). Retrieved from www.dailymail.co.uk/ news/
article- 3798690/ They- trying- kill- know- survive- terrorist-
attack- anti- terror- cop- reveals- tactics- adopt- escape- hiding-
desk- really- bad- idea.html
C H A P T E R 12
There are hundreds of books that explain psychological behavior
in times of crisis. This chapter will therefore touch on a few general
topics that crisis managers and communicators should be aware of
and that hopefully will make it easier to understand why people
respond in sometimes unexpected ways in the midst of a tragedy.
Survivors of a tragedy – and family members of those who died –
display a variety of psychological emotions, from crying and anger
to no noticeable responses at all. These can take a long time to sur-
face, and it is not uncommon for next- of- kin to have a first major
reaction on the fifth or tenth anniversary of the tragedy. It is also
a fact that large- scale traumas can take a lifetime to heal, and that
certain events will make the tragedy resurface. The first anniver-
sary, birthdays or Christmas celebrations can bring back memo-
ries of loved ones, and Mother’s or Father’s Day easily becomes a
reminder of what could have been. Certain words can also prompt
a psychological reaction, for example when survivors of a mass
shooting hear everyday conversations about ‘bullet points’ or
In addition to ‘expected’ behavior like crying and anger, vic-
tims sometimes have other reactions or fall- out from what they
have experienced. Relationship issues are not uncommon, and the
incidence of substance abuse and suicide also escalates for victims.
Psychological Reactions 181
A study in Norway in 2012 showed that half the survivors from
the island of Utoya (77 people died in the attack on Oslo and
the island) had depressive reactions or post- traumatic stress. As
one of them said in an interview, ‘On Monday I will be admitted
to a psychiatric hospital, so that I will not become number 78’
Fortunately, there are several ‘best practices’ for taking care
of victims or bereaved family members. In Norway, several stud-
ies have been conducted on the reactions and follow- up after the
Utoya mass shooting. A study by Dr Atle Dyregrov and his team
at the Center for Crisis Psychology in Bergen describes how pro-
active follow- up consisting of several weekend gatherings for
bereaved family members proved helpful (Dyregrov, 2016). They
gathered over four weekends to process and learn about grief,
including group sessions, plenary lectures, workshops and social
activities. The same structure was used in each gathering.
According to Dyregrov, the weekend gatherings had several
• To signal society’s (and public authority’s) care and concern
for those involved
• To help many at the same time
• To mobilize mutual support and help within and between
• To normalize and validate people’s experiences and reactions
(a psychoeducative component)
• To provide access to important information related to the
event and its consequences
• To help integrate the loss into their future lives by supporting
family members’ own coping mechanisms, and inform/ teach
them self- help methods
• To secure early identification and referral of those in need of
The four weekends had different themes, including subjects such
as grief over time, the court case and family interaction. Resilience
was a major emphasis:
In addition to leaving ample time to talk about grief, sorrow and
longing, the focus through all four gatherings was very much on how
182 Psychological Reactions
they could develop and learn coping methods to have the best foun-
dation to handle their daily function.
Right after a tragedy, people and communities often come
together, and there is an enormous sense of care. We have seen
this after 9/ 11 and after the Manchester bombing, when strangers
helped each other and neighbors spoke for the first time. However,
this sense of togetherness seldom lasts. Sooner or later reality sets
in, as individuals and groups compete for resources and next- of-
kin and survivors fight for attention. The latter group might have
their own psychological challenges after having been through a
traumatic event, but they are sometimes told they do not have the
right to react or get help, as ‘At least your person is still alive.’
THE PSYCHOLOGY OF EVACUATIONS
Psychological reactions to life- threatening situations vary greatly.
Some (but usually only a few) people panic, while others take the
lead and provide assistance. Unfortunately, many fail to do enough
to save their own lives. According to Dr John Leach, a psychologist
in the Extreme Environmental Medicine & Science Group at the
University of Portsmouth, human behavior in a stressful environ-
ment can be summed up with the numbers 75, 15 and 10 (Leach,
1994). According to Dr Leach’s research, 75% of people will carry
on as though nothing has happened or will do nothing and wait
for orders, 15% will do the right thing immediately and 10% will
act in a way that is contrary to survival. Giving clear and direct
orders is therefore of utmost importance in a crisis situation, as
lives can be saved by immediately instructing possible victims in
what to do.
Quite often, though, the first stages of a tragedy are chaotic
and bewildering, and people in harm’s way sometimes believe that
the ‘bangs’ they are hearing come from fireworks or are part of a
show, when it’s actually bullets that are making the sounds.
A study from 2008 that looked at the evacuation of the World
Trade Center on 9/ 11, 2001 found that a few employees in the
buildings delayed their evacuation (Burke & Cooper, 2008). There
were several contributing factors, for example lack of information
Psychological Reactions 183
about what was going on and the severity of the situation. According
to the study, ‘another factor that led to delays in initiation was the
performance of tasks.’ Employees took time to make phone calls,
collect personal items, save computer files or complete last- minute
work activities before evacuating. When they did start the climb
down the many flights of stairs to safety, some people were also
hindered by their footwear, as high heels and slip- ons made descent
slow and difficult. However, the report states: ‘By far the most
important factor, at the organizational level, that affected both the
initiation and the progression of evacuation, was leadership.’ Lack
of trained leadership led to delays, and in some instances staff did
not know the location of emergency exits.
NEXT- OF- KIN PRIORITIES
Lessons learned from a number of tragedies show that some aspects
of a crisis are more important than others. Naturally, identifying
the dead is at the top of the list, but unfortunately this cannot
always be accomplished. Next- of- kin also value personal belong-
ings, and those handling a crisis should therefore be aware of how
important it is to return an item that belonged to the deceased.
A third factor is recognition, as it is more important than people
from the ‘outside’ realize for victims to be acknowledged.
In her book Surviving sudden loss, Heidi Snow presents com-
mon threads from victims from a number of tragedies (Snow,
2012). They are worth bearing in mind from a communications as
well as a human relations standpoint:
• Vivid memory of their last interaction with loved ones
• Notification: Suddenly life stops
• Hope for reappearance
• Open questions
• Immediate plans change
• ‘The vanishing future’
• Loneliness and isolation
• Self- doubt – grief can last a long time
• A life- long journey
184 Psychological Reactions
• Changed relationships and new friends
• Survival is possible
‘AREN’T THEY OVER IT YET?’
Many victims experience a social norm expecting them to get
on with their lives sooner rather than later after a tragedy has
occurred. However, most victims find that closure is a concept that
is unobtainable following a death, and that neither a funeral nor a
first anniversary will end the suffering or the memories of someone
they loved. According to Michelle Steinke- Baumgard, founder of
One Fit Widow, the West has the concept of grieving all wrong. In
an article in Huffington Post, she explains that ‘Western society has
created a neat little “grief box” where we place the grieving and
wait for them to emerge fixed and whole again’ (Steinke, 2016).
Steinke- Baumgard describes the grief box as small and compact,
and continues to offer these truths behind life after loss (reprinted
Expectation: Grief looks a certain way in the early days. Tears,
intense sadness, and hopelessness.
Reality: Grief looks different for every single person. Some peo-
ple cry intensely, and some don’t cry at all. Some people break
down, and others stand firm. There is no way to label what
raw grief looks like as we all handle our loss in different ways
due to different circumstances and various life backgrounds
that shape who we are.
Expectation: The grieving need about a year to heal.
Reality: Sometimes grief does not even get started till after the
first year. I’ve heard countless grieving people say year two is
harder than year one. There is the shock, end of life arrange-
ments and other business matters that often consume the first
year and the grieving do not have the time actually to sit back
and take the time to grieve. The reality is there is no accept-
able time frame associated with grief.
Expectation: The grieving will need you most the first few weeks.
Reality: The grieving are flooded with offers of help the first few
weeks. In many cases, helping the grieving six months or a
year down the line can be far more helpful because everyone
Psychological Reactions 185
has returned to their lives and the grief stricken are left to
figure it out alone.
Expectation: The grieving should bury the dead forever. After a
year, it is uncomfortable for the grieving to speak of their lost
loved one. If they continue to talk about them, they are stuck
in their grief and need to ‘move on.’
Reality: The grieving should speak of the dead forever if that’s
what they wish to do. When someone dies, that does not erase
the memories you made, the love you shared and their place
in your heart. It is not only okay to speak of the dead after
they are gone, but it’s also a healthy and peaceful way to move
Expectation: For the widowed – If you remarry you shouldn’t
speak of your lost loved one otherwise you take away from
your new spouse.
Reality: You never stop loving what came before, and that
does not in any way lessen the love you have for what comes
after. When you lose a friend – you don’t stop having friends,
and you love them all uniquely. If you lose a child and have
another, the next child does not replace or diminish the love
you had for the first. If you lose a spouse, you are capable of
loving what was and loving what is … one does not cancel out
or minimize the next. Love expands the heart, and it’s okay to
honor the past and embrace the future.
Expectation: Time heals all wounds.
Reality: Time softens the impact of the pain, but you are never
completely healed. Rather than setting up false expectations
of healing let’s talk about realistic expectations of growth and
forward movement. Grief changes who you are at the deepest
levels and while you may not forever be in an active mode of
grief you will forever be shaped by the loss you have endured.
Expectation: If you reflect on loss beyond a year you are ‘stuck.’
Reality: Not a day goes by where I am not personally affected
by my loss. Seeing my children play sports, looking at my son
who is the carbon copy of his Dad or hearing a song on the
radio or smell in the air. Loss becomes part of who you are
and even though I don’t choose to dwell on grief it has a way
of sneaking in now and again even when I’m most in love with
life at the current moment. It’s not because we dwell or focus,
and it’s not because we don’t make daily choices to move
186 Psychological Reactions
forward. It’s because we loved and we lost, and it touches us
for the remainder of our days in the most profound ways.
Expectation: When you speak of the dead you make the griever
sad, so it’s best not to bring them up.
Reality: When we talk about our lost loved one we are often
happy and filled with joy. My loss was six and a half years ago
and to this day, my late husband is one of my favorite people
to talk and hear about. Hearing his name makes me smile
and floods my mind with happy memories of a life well lived.
It makes the grieving sadder when everyone around them
refuses to say their name. Forgetting they existed is cruel and
a perfect example of our stifled need to fix the unfixable.
Expectation: If you move forward you never loved them or con-
versely if you don’t move forward you never loved them.
Reality: The grieving need to do what is right for them, and
nobody knows what that is except the person going through it.
Expectation: It’s time to ‘move on.’
Reality: There is no moving on – there is only moving forward.
From the time death touches our lives we move forward, in
fact, we are not given a choice but to move forward. However,
we never get to a place where the words move on resonate.
The words ‘move on’ have a negative connotation to the griev-
ing. They suggest a closure that is nonexistent and a fictitious
door we pass through.
Expectation: Grief is a linear process and a series of steps to be
taken. Each level is neatly defined and the order predetermined.
Reality: Grief is an ugly mess full of pitfalls, missteps, sinking, and
swimming. Like a game of shoots and ladders, you never know
when the board might pull you back and send you down the
ladder screaming at the top of your lungs. Just when you think
you’ve arrived at the finish, you draw a card that sends you
back to start and just when it appears you’ve lost the game you
jump ahead and come one step closer to the front of the line.
Expectation: The grieving should seek professional forms of
Reality: The grieving should seek professional forms of coun-
seling but also the grieving should look strongly towards alter-
native modes of therapy like fitness, art, music, meditation,
journaling and animal therapy. The grieving should take an
‘active’ part in their grief process and understand that coping
Psychological Reactions 187
comes in many different forms for all the different people who
walk this earth.
Expectation: The grieving either live in the past or the present. It
is not possible to have a multitude of emotions.
Reality: The grieving live their lives with intense moments of dual-
ity. Moments of incredible happiness mixed with feelings of deep
sadness. There is a depth of emotion that forever accompanies
those who have lived with a loss. That duality can cause constant
reflection, and a deeper appreciation of all life has to offer.
Expectation: The grieving should be able to handle business as
usual within a few weeks.
Reality: The brain of a grieving person can be in a thick fog,
especially for those who have experienced extreme shock, for
more than a year. Expect forgetfulness, a reduced ability to
handle stress and grayness to be commonplace after a loss.
Burke, R. J. and Cooper, C. L. (2008). International terrorism and
threats to security. Cheltenham, U.K. and Northampton, MA,
U.S.: Edward Elgar Publishing. Full report available at www.
researchgate.net/ publication/ 286706062_ Worksite_ emer-
gency_ preparedness_ Lessons_ from_ the_ world_ trade_ center_
Dyregrov (2016). Weekend gatherings for bereaved family mem-
bers after the terror killings in Norway in 2011. Bereavement
Care, 35(1), 22– 30
Fuglehaug, W. (2013, January 7). Aftenposten. Retrieved from
www.aftenposten.no/ norge/ Jeg- er- sliten_ – og- trenger- hjelp_ –
men- jeg- skal- ha- mitt- liv- tilbake- 132164b.html
Leach, J. (1994). Survival psychology. Basingstoke: Palgrave
Snow, H. (2012). Surviving sudden loss. Self- published
Steinke, M. E. (2016, March 6). Stifled grief: How the West has
it wrong. Retrieved from www.huffingtonpost.com/ michelle- e-
steinke/ stifled- grief- how- the- wes_ b_ 10243026.html
C H A P T E R 13
and Further Reading
Below is suggested reading on subjects covered in this book:
The unthinkable: who survives when disaster strikes – and why
by Amanda Ripley (Three Rivers Press).
Resilience by Ken Jenkins (SEGR Publishing).
Surviving sudden loss by Heidi Snow (self- published by the
On crisis communication by James E. Lukaszewski (Rothstein
Collective conviction – the story of disaster action by Anne Eyre
and Pam Dix (Liverpool University Press).
The crash detectives by Christine Negroni (Penguin Books).
Disaster heroes by Suzanne Bernier (Faith Books & MORE).
Aberfan Young Wives’ Club 145
ACCESS (AirCraft Casualty
Services) 148– 9
acknowledgment of victims 183
‘active shooter’ situations 172– 6;
precautions against 174– 5
adaptation of crisis procedures xix
Agnes, Melissa 11
AirAsia crash (2014) 101, 115
airline industry 120– 9; legal
responsibilities of 123, 131;
social media in 126– 8; special
challenges for 122
airports, advice for 125
Alberta Emergency Management
Agency (AEMA) 105
ALERRT (Advanced Law
Enforcement Rapid Response
Training) program 174
all- employee meetings 55, 65, 112
Amena gas facility attack (2013)
52– 6, 142
American Airlines 128; crash (Des
Planes, 1979) 150
American Eagle crash (1994)
123– 4, 156
Amundsen, Hans Kristian 60– 1
Amundsen, Roald xix
anniversaries of tragedies 180
apologizing 87, 117– 18
Arlanda Airport 33
Asian tsunami (2004) xx, xxii,
29– 42, 154, 137, 152
Asiana Airlines crash (San
Francisco, 2013) 1– 5, 135
Bangor Police 95– 6
‘banks’ of instructions 101
Bartels, Andreas 8
bereaved family members,
gatherings of 181– 2
Bledsoe, Cheryl 104– 6
bleeding control 167
blogs and blogging 26, 115
board games for purposes of
Bondevik, Kjell Magne 32
books of condolence 8, 54
Boston Marathon bombings
(2013) 44– 52, 95, 165
Boston University 51
Botkin, Joan 27
Bradley, Karen 88
Breivik, Anders Behring 58, 61
Brundtland, Gro Harlem 61
Burkhardt, Ed 9– 11, 117
business continuity 177
Calgary floods (2013) 21– 9, 94,
camera phones 102
Cech, Michael and Yvonne 176
cellular phones 102– 3
chief executive officers (CEOs)
xxiii, 1, 4– 8, 55– 6, 79, 83,
85– 6, 89, 97, 114– 18, 151,
168– 71; on social media 115– 16;
as spokespersons 116– 17
City of London Police 173
Clinton, Bill 124
‘closure’, concept of 184
Cloutier, Patrice 105, 171
Colorado floods (2012) 99
Colorado Virtual Operations
Support Team (COVOST) 107
communication, internal 55, 64– 5
loops 79– 80
contribution management 164– 5
Cox, Josh 46
Crimando, Steven M. 172
crisis communication: focus on
people hurt 78, 83; goals of 78,
171; models of collaboration in
78– 80; vital nature of 77– 8
crowdsourcing 48, 103
Crudele, Lindsay 45
databases: choice of 32– 6, 135; of
employees’ next- of- kin 155– 6;
for support groups 147
Davies, Ed 46
Deepwater Horizon disaster
depressive reactions 181
Disaster Action (organization) 132
cycle 160– 1
Disaster Family Assistance Act
(1996) 123– 4
‘double- knock’ fire alarm
glass 174– 5
Drtina, Tore 68
Dyer, Buddy 72
‘dynamic lockdown’ 175– 6
Dyregrov, Atle 181– 2
early warning of newsworthy
emergency operations centers
(EOCs) 22– 4, 27
e- newsletters 28– 9
Estonia sinking (1994) xxi
evacuation procedures 33,
175, 182– 3
exercises to prepare for crisis
management 167– 9
expectations about grief as distinct
from the reality 184– 7
Facebook 4– 7, 13– 20, 45, 65– 6,
70– 1, 77, 81– 4, 92– 100, 115,
138, 170; ‘closed groups’ on
49, 111, 133, 143, 162– 3, 177;
Community Help feature
103– 4; disaster response
making use of 103– 4; Safety
Check feature 73, 103– 4
fake news 98, 100, 112
family assistance centers (FACs)
78, 133, 139– 44; benefits
gained from 140; directors of
142; hand- outs for use at 144
family support xxiii, 4, 6– 8, 35,
53– 4, 64, 69, 122– 5, 130
Federal Bureau of Investigation
(FBI); guide on notifications of
death 155; and victim assistance
49, 134– 5
Fernandes, Tony 101, 115
Fetchet, Mary 136, 147
Fiandaca, Cheryl 46
Field Innovation Team (FIT) 170
financial compensation 8, 146
Finnair 108– 9
Finnish Accident Investigation
flight tracker websites 121
Flightradar24 108, 121– 2
Foreign Air Carrier Family
Support Act (1997) 123– 4
Fort McMurray forest fire
4C model of ‘circles of crisis
France 136, 175
‘freezing’ in response to threat
funding initiatives 50– 1
Gabrielsen, Ansgar 40
Germanwings air crash (Massif
des TroisEveches, 2015)
5– 8, 142
‘Germanwings approach’ 168
Forum 133– 4
‘golden hour’ after an
Google 49, 74, 82, 99, 106
‘grab bags’ 166
Grenfell Tower 101
grief mentors 148– 9
grieving, concept of 184– 7
Grogan, Cory 107
Grosvenor Square Memorial
Garden, London 150– 1
Haakon, Crown Prince of
Hafnor, Leif 141
Haiti earthquake (2010) 91
Hanomansing, Ian 27
Hansen, Erik 66
Harald, King of Norway 64
Hartford Consensus Group 167
hashtags, use of 7, 15, 24– 5,
72, 101– 2
help, requests for 17– 18
hiding from a threat 173– 4
High River (town) 27– 8
Hogya, Brook 170
Hootsuite (media management
tool) 47, 70
hotlines 3, 137– 9
human aspect of crisis situations
xx– xxii, 132
human remains: disposition
of 124; identification of,
153– 4, 183
human resource (HR) function 79
Hurricane Harvey (2017) 164
Hurricane Katrina (2005) 92
Hurricane Sandy (2012) 91– 2, 98
identification of disaster victims
136, 153– 4, 183
Incident Command System (ICS)
model 27– 8
information: for employees
111– 13; for those involved in a
Ingvarsson, Thorir 96
internal preparedness for a
crisis 134– 5
International Air Transport
Association (IATA) 115, 120– 1;
guidelines from 133
International Civil Aviation
Organization (ICAO) 125
interviews 83– 4; preparing for
86– 7; ‘steering’ of 86
intranets 111– 12
‘invacuation’ 175– 6
Irons, Melanie 16– 21
Jacobs, Lenworth M. 167
Jammers, Victor 143
Japanese earthquake and tsunami
Jefferson County Sheriff’s
Jenkins, Ken 128– 9, 162
John Hancock (company) 51
journalists: dealing with 54– 5, 72,
81– 3, 85, 164, 176; facilities
for 23– 4
Joyce, Dot 50
Khao Lak 29, 37– 40, 137, 150
KTVU (television station) 5
Las Vegas mass shooting
Lac- Mégantic train derailment
(Quebec, 2013) 8– 11
language barriers 137
laws on airlines’
Leach, John 182
leadership: in a crisis xxiii;
lack of 183; within an
logos for support groups 146
London bombings (2005) 102
Lufthansa 5– 8, 142
Lukaszewski, James E. 117
Lund, Helge 53– 6
McDonald’s restaurants 34
McLeod, Jonathan 10
mass casualty incident (MCIs)
172; training for 71
Matel- Anderson, Desiree 170
Mayors, role of 21– 3, 26,
72, 115– 16
media presence at the center of
operations 23– 4
media pressure 59
media surveillance reports 89
media training 86, 116
memorial ceremonies 35– 42,
52, 54, 66
memorials 149– 51
Menino, Thomas M. 47
MH17 flight, shooting down of
Milligan, Caroline 104– 7
misinformation 15, 47– 8,
98– 9, 105
Montreal Maine & Atlantic
(MMA) (corporation) 9– 10
Morgan, Piers 88
natural disasters 13– 42
Nenshi, Naheed 21– 3, 26, 116
New York City 92
New York Post 47– 8
New Zealand earthquake
next- of- kin: of company
employees 155– 6; of disaster
victims 8, 34, 37, 49, 53– 4, 63,
67, 72– 4, 85, 123, 134, 138– 9,
142– 3, 183
Nextdoor social network 74
Nice truck attack (2015) 136, 173
Nigam, Shashank 3
‘9/ 11’ see September 11th 2001
Norway: Directorate for Civil
Protect- ion 67– 9; Ministry of
Foreign Affairs 30– 2, 34– 6;
Ministry of Health 33– 4; Royal
Family 64, 66
Norwegian Church Abroad 33– 9
notifications of death 154– 5
Obama, Barack 50, 78
Obama, Michelle 50
One Fund Boston 50– 2
‘ongoing, life- threatening violence’
operations centers see emergency
Oregon school shooting
Orlando nightclub shooting
(2016) 70– 5, 176– 7
Oslo bombing (2011) xx, xxii,
57– 8, 61, 82, 115, 118, 181
paper- based communication 28,
40, 111, 144
Patrick, Deval 50
personal items belonging to the
deceased 134, 141
Phelps, Andrew 107
Phelps, Nathan 126– 7
Philips, Jeff 104– 5
‘phone home’ policy 138– 9
photo banks 89
policing 13– 18, 23– 6, 38, 46– 9,
62– 3, 68– 9, 72– 5, 116
post- traumatic stress 181
Power, Peter 174– 5
praising staff 26, 118
press conferences 55, 72, 79,
84– 5; benefits from
84; moderators for 85;
nonjournalists at 85;
structure of 84
press releases 55, 83– 4, 123;
distribution of 83
printed material for information
28, 40, 111, 144
psychological aftermath to crisis
situations 19, 118, 180– 1
public’s reporting of information
to the authorities and the media
15, 62, 102
Pulse nightclub, Orlando 70– 3,
Qantas QF32 engine failure
Queensland floods (2011) 13– 16, 98
quick response lists 166
responding agencies, listing
of 176– 7
return of victims’ personal
belongings 134, 141
Reuter, Scott 104– 5
Richards, Doug 71, 75
risk analysis 69, 163
Roselawn accident (1994) 156
rumors 15, 105, 112
Safe Communities Alert Network
St Denis, 98
Salvin, Bill 115
Samenow, Jason 92
San Francisco see Asiana
Sandy Hook High School shooting
SAS (airline) 34
scenarios 131, 163– 8
September 11th 2001 (‘9/ 11’) 132,
147, 154, 182
shareable social graphics 47, 72
Shmarak, Michael 117
Sirnes, Hilde 39– 40
situation reports 171
Slachtofferhulp Nederland 143
Snow, Heidi 148– 9, 183– 4
social media xx, xxii, 1– 3, 9– 10,
13– 16, 20– 5, 28, 44– 9, 52,
55, 69– 72, 75, 77, 81, 84,
89, 91– 109, 131, 135, 164,
169– 70, 177; in airline industry
126– 8; benefits from use in
crisis situations 93– 4; chief
executive officers (CEOs) on
115– 16; constant presence of
98; guidelines on use of 97,
112, 120– 1; long form content
in 95; messages on 100– 2;
monitoring of 97– 9; policing
by means of 95– 7; verifying
content on 99
Sonja, Queen of Norway 64
Southwest Airlines 127– 8
Spohr, Karsten 6– 8
staff, care of 118
Stansberry Miller, Jennifer 156
Star Tours (travel agency) 34,
36, 40– 1
Statoil 52– 6, 112, 142
Steinke- Baumgard, Michelle 184
Stoltenberg, Jens 55– 6, 58– 61, 64,
66, 115, 118– 19
Sundvollen Hotel 63– 4, 69, 141
support groups 34, 145– 7, 156;
fundraising by 147
survival skills 167, 175, 182
Sweden 29, 33
Tarantino, Christopher 100
tasks involved in crisis
com- munication 163– 5
Tasmania fires (2013) 16– 20
‘Tassie fires’ (Facebook
page) 16– 20
text messages to employees
top management, role of
114– 15, 119
training needs 71, 138– 9, 142,
167– 8, 183; see also media
tsunamis see Asian tsunami
(2004); Japanese earthquake
and tsunami (2011)
Twitter 3– 6, 14– 15, 18, 24– 6,
45– 6, 48, 50, 62, 70– 1, 77,
81– 6, 91– 5, 98– 102, 108– 9,
115, 121, 123, 164, 170
United Kingdom: National
Audit Office 42; National
Counter- Terrorism Security
United Nations: Office for the
Coordination of Humanitarian
Affairs 102; International Civil
Aviation Organization 125
United States: Department of
Homeland Security 169, 175;
Agency 160; Federal Bureau
of Investigation 49, 134– 5, 155;
National Transportation and
Safety Board 4– 5, 78, 122– 4
Utoya Island mass shooting
(2011) xx, xxii, 57– 70, 97, 115,
118, 150, 181
Vaidhyanathan, Siva 48
Vassdalen avalanche (1986) 152
vehicle ramming 136, 173
Vevle, Kjetil 62
victim accounting 135– 6
victim assistance xxiii, 130– 157;
virtual 142– 3
Victim Support Europe 130
victims: acknowledgment of 183;
common threads from 183– 4;
of crises abroad 136– 7; division
into groups 135; focus on
78, 83; identification of 136,
153– 4, 183
video statements 7, 89, 115
VIP visits 50, 64, 140
virtual assistance for
victims 142– 3
virtual operations support team
(VOST) system 19, 99, 104– 7
visits to locations of crisis events
35– 42, 67– 70, 125, 134,
151– 3, 156
‘Voices of September 11th’
(support group) 147
volunteering 18– 20, 104– 7,
Watkins, Jelena 146, 150– 1
websites and web pages 55,
72, 78, 83– 4, 89, 94,
Weisser Ring 137
WestJet (airline) 100
Westlie, Espen 36
‘what if’ scenarios 131, 162
Wilson, Scott 173
Wood, Mike 174
words, choice of 118, 165, 180
workplace violence 172
Young- doo, Yoon 3– 4
YouTube 5– 7, 84, 89, 115
Zuckerberg, Mark 103
- Half Title
- Title Page
- Copyright Page
- Table of contents
- About the Author
- Chapter 1 Disasters in the Transportation Sector
- Asiana Airlines: The Speed of Social Media
- A Late and Silent CEO
- News from Authorities
- Germanwings: No Survivors, Many Questions
- The CEO Steps In
- A Logo in Mourning
- Family Support and Visits to the Crash Site
- Lac-Mégantic: Crisis Communication Underachievement
- Chapter 2 Natural Disasters
- Flood in Queensland
- The Use of Facebook – a Success Story
- Twitter: More than Short Messages
- Extra Eyes and Ears through Social Media
- Tassie Fire: One Person Could Help
- An Impressive Reach
- Facebook vs. Twitter
- Advice and Lessons Learned
- Calgary Flood: Crisis Communication at Its Best
- The EOC
- Social Media and ‘Twitter Jail’
- The Role of the Mayor
- High River – Lessons Learned from an Appropriately Named Town …
- The Tsunami: A Wave of Challenges
- Coordination and Communication Challenges
- Telephone Support, with Not Much Support …
- Airport Support
- Direct Communication
- Back to where It Happened
- Communication Challenges
- Chapter 3 Terror
- Boston Marathon Bombings
- Social Media Ready
- An Official and Visible Voice
- Misinformation and Rumors
- Police Radio Open to the Public
- Taking Care of Survivors
- Funding Initiative
- One Boston
- In Amenas Attack on Gas Facility
- Family Support
- Communicating with Media and Staff
- An Official Report
- Terror in the Capital of Norway and on the Island of Utoya
- The Office of the Prime Minister
- Handling the Media
- Norway’s Response to Violence: More Democracy, More Openness …
- Communicating from Utoya
- Taking Care of Survivors and Next-of-Kin
- Internal Communication
- Memorials and a Sea of Roses
- Back to Where It Happened (II)
- From Nightclub to Nightmare in Orlando
- Social Media for Crisis Communication
- Handling the Media
- Facebook Safety Check
- Lessons Learned
- Chapter 4 Introduction and Models for Crisis Communication
- Models for Crisis Communication Collaboration
- Chapter 5 Working with the Media
- Accepting and Answering Media Calls
- The Press Release
- Press Conferences
- Preparing for an Interview
- When the Red Light Flashes – the Interview Situation
- Other Crisis Communication Products
- Media Surveillance Reports
- Photo Bank
- Video Statements
- Chapter 6 Social Media in Crisis Communication
- A Brief History
- Establishing a Presence
- Policing through Social Media
- Rules of Engagement
- Social Media Monitoring for Facts, Rumors and Fake News
- Social Media Messages
- Live Reporting through Pictures and Video
- Disaster Response through Facebook
- Digital Volunteers and the Concept of VOST
- It’s Hard to Lie …
- Chapter 7 Internal Communication – Don’t Forget Your Employees
- Chapter 8 Top-Level Communication and Management Priorities
- The CEO on Social Media
- The CEO as a Spokesperson
- The Difficult Task of Apologizing
- Staff Care
- Choosing Your Words
- Chapter 9 High-Flying Crisis Communication (the Special Case of Airlines)
- Challenges to Consider
- The Role of NTSB
- Laws and Regulations
- What to Say
- Social Media in Aviation
- Resilience in Aviation
- Chapter 10 Family Support and Victim Assistance
- Victims First
- Internal Preparations
- Victim Accounting
- Victims Abroad
- Telephone Hotline
- Family Assistance Centers (FACs)
- Virtual Victim Assistance
- Template for FAC Hand-Out
- Support Groups – a Collective Voice for Victims
- Learning from VOICES
- Access to Peer Support
- Memorials and Rituals
- Site Visits
- Identification and Remains
- Death Notifications
- Chapter 11 Preparing for the Worst
- The Disaster Communication Cycle
- The Crisis Communication Plan
- Saving Lives through Bleeding Control
- Training and Exercises
- Exercise Scenarios
- Simulation, Board Games and Role Plays
- Active Shooter Scenarios
- Run, Hide …
- First Step: Hinder Active Shooter Events from Happening
- ‘Invacuation’ through Dynamic Lockdown
- Instant, Global News
- Business Continuity
- Chapter 12 Psychological Reactions
- Natural Reactions
- The Psychology of Evacuations
- Next-of-Kin Priorities
- ‘Aren’t They Over It Yet?’
- Chapter 13 Additional Information and Further Reading