Does your local have a crisis communication plan? Many IAFF affiliates say they don’t.

An effective crisis communication plan puts you in control of what may be a volatile and confusing situation. When faced with a crisis that’s either self-inflicted or is due to external forces, it’s important for affiliates to do all they can to prepare themselves.

Scott Treibitz, public relations consultant to the IAFF, has worked with a number of labor unions on crisis management. He says IAFF members must know how to sell themselves and the situation during a crisis.

“People don’t judge others by their mistakes, but they won’t forget how you fix the issue,” he told IAFF affiliate leaders who attended a crisis communications workshop at the Vincent J. Bollon IAFF Affiliate Leadership Training Summit last week in Phoenix, Arizona.

Reputations are made on first impressions – be prepared to take ownership in a crisis situation.

A crisis plan protects your local and members. A good crisis communications plan brings a team of local leaders together to help with a rapid response. Treibitz recommends that IAFF affiliates assign roles to help in situations.

Treibitz offered several other useful advice for dealing with a crisis situation:
•    Always tell the truth, and tell the facts as fast as you can.
•    Only release information when it is accurate and confirmed – knowing all the facts will help you build your message during a crisis.
•    If a mistake is made, say it up front. Do whatever you can to re-establish credibility because people want to hear the truth.
•    Be transparent in a crisis and be available to meet with the news media.
•    You can never over communicate.
•    Use different mediums, including newspapers, television, radio, email blasts, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube videos, etc. to help with messaging.
•    Have a current database of media and local leaders, as well as a complete membership roster with email and cell phone numbers.
•    Make friends who care about your issue because they will serve as good advocates in a crisis.

IAFF affiliates also should have a legal understanding and know the implications of the crisis to help frame a message because there will be things that you can and cannot say.

Building a reputation takes time – don’t let one incident to tear it down.

“When you don’t manage a crisis well, it will affect how you move forward,” says Treibitz. “You don’t get a second chance… be prepared and have a plan.”

Crisis Communications Rules
•    Define the real problem
•    Know the facts
•    Identify and isolate a communication team
•    Centralized control of information
•    Resist combative instincts
•    Understand what the media wants
•    Consider your audiences
•    Be honest/don’t lie
•    Write all statements
•    Do not ad-lib/do not wing it
•    Only release information once all facts are accurate and confirmed