Averting crisis through effective communication
We are living witnesses to various crises in the country, especially those triggered by ethnoreligious conflicts and socio-political sentiments which could have been prevented.
According to a communication scholar, Timothy Coombs, a crisis is the perception of an unpredictable event that threatens important expectancies of stakeholders and can seriously impact on an organization’s performance and generate a negative outcome. Therefore, crisis communication is the collection, processing, and dissemination of information that is required to address crisis situations.
A crisis can occur as a result of an unpredictable event or as an unforeseeable consequence of some event what had been considered a potential risk.
Some naturally-induced disasters like the Tsunami flood that ravaged homes and properties in Indonesia and Hurricane Katrina in the United States were tackled and managed by crisis managers and communicators.
Similarly, Nigeria to some extent has experienced and managed floods in many states. Through the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) and relevant stakeholders, the federal government has continued to address the recurrent heavy flooding, especially in riverine areas of Kogi, Anambra, Rivers, Bayelsa among others.
A lot of relief materials were sent to the affected states to cushion the effect or damage caused by the flood. The federal government employed the services of public relations officers, media experts, information officers, etc, to sensitize the affected communities within the states to move from flood-prone areas to higher ground areas in order to be safe.
The farmers and herders attacks has posed a threat to our national security, a lot of people have also been displaced from their homes and livelihood. This also brought the attention of the government to institute committees involving public relations officers, media experts, relevant stakeholders, security agencies among others to bring the crisis to a halt.
Recently a communal crisis erupted in Kaduna State that shocked the nation, a lot of people lost their lives, houses were burnt, even a community chief and his followers were killed.
The governor in a rapid response directed all relevant security agencies, media experts, public relations officers, etc, to calm the situation in order to avert any reprisal.
In addressing crisis management, public relations practitioners played a variable key function in crisis communication in the affected area which include organizing press briefings, promoting and maintaining good relations, arranging media tours and visitations to affected communities, issues press release and articles, engage in social media activities and monitors media content on related issues amongst others.
Likewise, credit should be given to the role of media in addressing crisis management which promotes the public awareness on the subject matter to the knowledge of the public, they shape public opinion on crisis management through their medium and equally set agenda for further discussion to address the matter, thereby influencing decision makers for rapid respond to relevant stakeholders to cushion the crisis as well as support for the mobilization of resources and other relief material for the affected victims.
It would be wise setting up a team of senior executive officers of the public relation personnel. They should be identified to serve as the organization or institution’s crisis management team. Ideally, the organization chief executive officer will lead the team with the institutions to public relations executive, security agencies and other relevant stakeholders that manage the crisis.
Also, the public relations officer will be in the lead of intelligent gathering of reports which is an essential component of both crisis prevention and crisis response.
In conclusion, every organization, society, Nation or even country is vulnerable to the crisis at any point in time, therefore the need for effective and efficient crisis communication and crisis management team should be very proactive to address the situation before its get escalated or snowball into an unimaginable proportion.
In view of the above, therefore, government at all levels should devise and sustain crisis communication strategies by training its information officers on required skills to manage crisis through intelligence gathering, proactive approaches, and information management.
As a teamwork, crisis communication is effective through synergy and collaboration of relevant stakeholders. Since crisis can happen at any point in time, concerted efforts should be made by organizations in funding, equipping and empowering information officers and public relations officers to think ahead and carry out research in order to avert unforeseen circumstances or crisis.
Hasiya and Agurue wrote from Abuja