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Wednesday, June 2, 2010

War Rooms and Crisis Communications

Establishing a communications "war room" in a crisis is one of the first tactical steps to get on top of a fast breaking situation.

It’s essential to have a central place for a crisis team. Nowadays from a technology standpoint it doesn't matter whether it's a physical location or a virtual room, or a hybrid. The important aspect is that the location is for full and candid discussion of all aspects of the crisis as well as information sharing either on white boards, flip charts or computer screens. All parties involved should have access to the information in real time. The sharing aspect often helps people see patterns and connect threads of data to make informed decisions, and create messages and communications plans.

Toyota, BP and others with big crises this year have both operations and communications war rooms. On the government side, the US Materials Management Service has a war room in Robert, LA http://www.mms.gov/ . MMS is calling its overall facility the Deepwater Horizon Response Area Command, which is in line with other federal agencies and the White House that activate what they call a "Command and Control Center" in a crisis.

A good war room runs 24/7. It has all the necessary monitoring and communicating devices. And communicators must be in close proximity to executive leadership and operations and security personnel.

Even if experts are scattered in different locations, I'm a big fan of at least one physical room, where key crisis team members and senior executives can come in, get a quick snapshot of the information that is known, and talk face-to-face while gauging the temperature of the situation and the effectiveness of the response. On the other hand, don't allow access to too many people; much of the information during a crisis is sensitive and can easily spread or be misinterpreted, and unnecessary voices can lead to a lack of decisiveness

We're seeking information on any successful war room efforts you know about - as well as any that haven't worked too well. Add comments as to what you have seen in other crises.

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