August 11, 2022

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What The Pentagon Can Teach Business Leaders About Crisis Communication

Corporate executives can learn a thing or two about crisis communication in a disciplined, organized and trained manner from the U.S. military which is known, after all, for the emphasis it places on discipline, organization and training.

The armed forces have lots of experience communicating about crisis situations. Recent examples include a Navy training jet that crashed into a residential neighborhood, the use of hazardous and toxic chemicals in firefighting foam at a Marine Corps base and an active shooter on an Army installation.

Full disclosure: In 2019, I had an opportunity to observe a crisis communication training exercise for public affairs officers at the Pentagon’Defense Information School. And this summer I served as a subject matter expert for the U.S. Department of Defense when it revised the crisis communication portion of its PAVILION website. The updated site went live in August. 

PAVILION is a portal to a searchable knowledge base of resources that are curated, developed and pulled from training courses, fleet, field, and industry, and crowd sourced from the Department of Defense community. It supplements the U.S. military’s in-person communication training for members of the armed services, select Department of Defense civilians and international military personnel.

PAVILION launched in April 2020 and is updated with an average of 15 new resources 10 times a year, according to Peter Robertson, the public affairs officer for the Defense Information School.

Better Equipped To Handle Threats

Jarad Denton is a master sergeant and public affairs advisor to the chief master sergeant of the U.S. Air Force. He said, “The assets and resources I referenced in PAVILION helped me augment a training I held with the Department of State that spanned the East-Asia and Pacific regions. Thanks to [the Defense Information School] and their platform, 31 embassies are better equipped to handle disinformation and threats across the information environment.”

PAVILION is not a military secret and has been scrubbed clean of any sensitive or classified information. Not surprisingly, the website has its share of military abbreviations, buzzwords and jargon.

“Keep in mind that it is written for service members so if you’re not [with the Department of Defense] or in the military, some things might differ from your organization,” Robertson advised.

The good news is that anyone can profit from the advice and insights from this online learning resource. And it is free to use, paid for by U.S. taxpayers.

The Pentagon’s Perspective

The crisis communication section of PAVILION provides a unique perspective and resources for corporate executives about important aspects of connecting with the public and stakeholders in emergency situations.

Business leaders and their staffs may find the following resources on the site particularly helpful in preparing and communicating about a crisis. Click on the blue links to access and explore each resource.

Crisis Communication Portal

The crisis communication section features dozens of checklists, exercises, tests and simulations on topics that will be familiar to business leaders and crisis managers such as using social media, crisis response teams, communicating about accidents, news conferences and preparing for a crisis.

The following descriptions are excerpted from the PAVILION website.

5 Tips For Crisis Communication

When a crisis occurs, and your reputation is on the line, it is vitally important to be prepared to communicate effectively. These five tips will help you manage a crisis and facilitate a more positive response from your audience.

Prepare For Any Crisis

When the worst happens, it’s natural to be overwhelmed in the moment, so it’s important to rehearse your response in advance. Establishing a plan will help you and your team regain control as quickly as possible after the crisis occurs. Being prepared in case of an emergency is critical. When you plan ahead of time, you can do your part in the moment without panicking.

To be more confident during a crisis, practice and prepare by starting with these checklists, templates and planning documents before a crisis occurs. They will provide you with structure and guidance, so you are ready before the pressure is applied during and after a crisis. Do your part, and remember: you’ve got this.

Simulation: Keep Your Cool When Things Heat Up—Plane Crashes During Air Show

Your mission is to communicate vital information about the aircraft crash to the public and internal audiences while still protecting the privacy of victims during this crisis situation. Resources and other information regarding the mission will be provided to help you along the way.

Using Social Media During A Crisis

In a crisis, you may be looking at social media to get information out quickly to your publics, but this is not always the right thinking. Even if you have a well-established social media space, you cannot count on your [audiences] going there for information.

Advice For Business Leaders

Resources

Online resources can supplement in-person crisis training and exercises.

Learn From Others

Business leaders and their staff can pick up important tips about managing and communicating about a crisis from how companies and organizations in different industries and professions prepare and train for crisis situations.

Practice

The more often you practice and prepare for different crisis scenarios, the more likely it is you will be ready when a crisis hits.

Simulations

As I wrote in February, “When practicing responses to different crisis scenarios, it helps to make the training sessions as authentic as possible… some business executives are using computer simulations so their companies and organizations will be as prepared as possible for a variety of worst-case crisis scenarios.

“From cyber-attacks to mass casualty events, the simulations can provide the kinds of experiences, insights, and lessons that tabletop and other in-person exercises can’t match. Underscoring the value of computer-based simulations is the irony that one crisis— the pandemic—makes it challenging for companies to conduct in-person exercises to help ensure they are ready for the next crisis.”