Communicating through chaos: What could a pandemic flu teach us

Very happy to be able to break the story about a pandemic flu exercise we conducted here at the Decision Theater at ASU.

It was an exercise that worked on several levels:

  • Strategic Planning
  • Testing Scenarios
  • Communicating with multiple groups
  • Testing a plan through systems dynamic model

I am in the Communications business, so I was keenly observing how different players interacted, assumed leadership positions, and communicated from within the ‘crisis.’

I was lucky to be the fly on the wall (the camera-toting fly, that is) so it got me thinking of the parallels there were for businesses. How do organizations communicate and act in a crisis? As in any marketing campaign or business crisis, the war room is staffed by team members who are are suddenly confronted with the need to operate without the usual props. They may have Blackberries, but the information is coming at them fast and furious through other channels. They may have strong opinions, but so too do the people across the table.

Then there was the interesting irony of some having too much information (mock TV news updates, threat levels, a web cam feed, fact sheets etc) on one side of the room, and others deprived of the usual sources of information (CNN, RSS feeds, radio etc) –all this according to plan. We hosted this event in two areas. Emergency Ops was situated in the ‘drum’ -the high-tech room with a 260-degree panoramic screen, laptops etc. Incident Command and the Executive Policy Group were situated in an adjacent conference room, tethered to the drum via a live camera feed and a land line. No cell phone communication was allowed between the rooms.

Communicators often face situations like this, albeit not in the same life-threatening context. How does a team of those representing PR, Marketing, Advertising, Web Design, HR, IT and Legal Affairs work in crisis mode, in a compressed time frame, when they barely talk to each other in normal life? We seldom act out scenarios, assuming bad things won’t happen to us. History tells us otherwise.

Unless we plan for these hypothetical ‘pandemic’ events we won’t really know. That’s the deeper meaning of strategic planning, isn’t it?

3 thoughts on “Communicating through chaos: What could a pandemic flu teach us

  1. Pingback: Social media extends our reach «

  2. Pingback: Pandemic flu hits blogosphere «

  3. Pingback: COMMUNICATION WORLD » Blog Archive » Social media flu tracking needs some work

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