Crisis costs lots of energy, money, and time and somehow it would put us in difficult deliberation on how to make such decision when dealing with crisis. The question that might come to mind is how prepare you are when the crisis is right upon you and the reputation of the company is beneath your control and communication management skills, there are several things which regularly can be pinned down to stretch out the necessity of crisis management and most of us would think it is aimed for the benefit of the company itself. Through this summary of the handbook Crisis Communication from W. Timothy Coombs, I would like to give brief correlation and cohesion of the public relation and communication management on particular and specific area which rather considered beyond our business framework at the office but unfortunately it is not far from our daily lives.
Crisis communication might occur everywhere and anytime without us to realize what truly is going on, but as we can understand failure in communication can bring serious damage to the stakeholders and the management team and at last, it would affect the public’s trust and participation. Before we move further we should first understand the concept and definition of crisis and how it works out that turn the circumstances into many possibilities which include threat, opportunity, and damage. Crisis can be defined as the condition that threatens the public safety and reputation loss, those two elements would turn the table of the stakeholders and the company into financial loss. But now let’s we see at the definition of crisis from Kathleen Fearn – Banks (2011) as the book stated that, “a crisis is a major occurrence with a potentially negative outcome affecting the organization, company, or industry, as well as its publics, products, services, or good name”, well at least we have the basic foundation for our deliberation about the definition.
Embarked from the definition of crisis above, we can correlate with the issue of crisis communication on disaster management, what we can highlight in this case is that the notion and strength of crisis communication management is to lessen the damage of the environment and avoid the casualty loss. According to Rudianto (2015) as he published an article journal Komunikasi dalam Penanggulan Bencana, he pointed the essence of communication role on disaster management is crucially needed because communication urged to spread the information about disaster – loss prevention to the targeted audiences. The information here is about conducting training and several safety procedure and also to provide the psychological preparedness for the community when the disaster strikes, this can be seen as the statement says below.
Communication on disaster is not only needed in disaster emergency condition, but also important before the disaster attacks. Preparing people in disaster critical areas must be done. Beside provide enough information about disaster potency, it also need sustainable training and behavior internalization to deal with disaster situation. (p. abstract)
Disaster management aimed to be controlled and managed properly through the relationship of communication and action, managed communication can contribute to the positive outcome and income. This can be called with crisis communications as it is defined with the following citation.
Crisis communications is the dialog between the organization and its public(s) prior to, during, and after the negative occurrence. The dialog details strategies and tactics designed to minimalize damage to the image of the organization. (p. 2)
Citing from Banks (2011) above, the disaster management and crisis communications is to enroll the essence of relationship between the organization and the community to be strategic and mutual engagement. So, how do we measure and calculate the effectiveness of this mutual or strategic engagement? It’s simple we can identify that the public whether understand or not about the message that we are going to imply in every communication we conducted. According to Rudianto (2015) the message is enough to deal with, as he saying, “but information is not enough to increase people awareness on disaster risk. The method to deliver information must be accurate also. Inaccuracy on delivering information causes uncertainty that make worse situation”. Communication can be delivered through several media occasion but we miss something important about the essence of crisis communication here, that’s our targeted audiences, it is true that we have already delivered the message and campaign through several occasions but the questions come to our mind again once we discovered and recognized that the public did not abide the advises within the implied message.
The books of Crisis Communication from W. Timothy Coombs is summarized below, in order to give the best practice and example on how we should have used the crisis communications effectively on the targeted audiences, with the sample of disaster management.
Local Emergency Managers in US.
In 1977, a high school forensic coach traveled home after driving three hours in “zero visibility” (p. 245) on the road of upper Midwest, he finally checked in the nearby motel to settle the things up before he can continue his journey. Seeing the traffic can walk onto the road and the snow was cleared, he regularly set up his journey again but without proper provisions such as telephone, water or food and only normal clothing, covered up his body. Within 12 miles from the checkpoint his Datsun B210 stopped at the moment because its engine has been broken and the coach began roaming the FM frequency on the radio to seek further assistance. At the end of the story and after 18 long hours of waiting, another passer – by or driver rescued him.
This simple case has put us into deep thought and extended our perspectives on how the communication’s role can give better contribution for the development of crisis management center. To alter the bad luck of crisis, each community needs to be informed and well – trained about the current and incoming circumstances that might develop without knowing the essence of time, this as stressed, “to avert and survive crisis, community members need both mindfulness of the challenges they may face and community support to face them” (p. 245), that’s what exactly of the communication’s role should establish. The communication is built by each elements in the community and each of them dispatch the signal point to disseminate the reliable information that other elements can use to face the crisis, in the other side of the community, Ems which stands for Local Emergency Managers is charged to be in the command center of developing and maintaining the efforts as stressed, “support comes most directly from local emergency managers (Ems) who are situated at the center of efforts to help individuals preparae for extreme requiring self – sufficiency”.
It has become the major role EMs to establish the term of what so called sustainability communication in the community; the first one is how to communicate the procurement of several emergency equipment and the second is how to encourage the community to make themselves understood about the complexity and urgency matters of the crisis, as stated below.
Local EMs are asked by the federal government to increase community members’ preparedness for emergencies. Specifficall, EMs are expected to encourage community residents to develop emergency plans and stock emergency kits. (p. 246)
Local managers have been urged to demonstrate how well the preparation is, which varies from the supporting tools or infrastructures and human resources, both of them are claimed to be the integrated part when the community is put together to face the “storm” or crisis. In the term of public relation here, “EMs are expected to encourage community residents to develop emergency plans and stock emergency kits”, the local managers are expected to derive the findings or research based on the condition and situation and therefore, understand the circumstances and visualize the crisis into singular perspective of concept which later can be used to ignite and the strengths over local in- sufficient preparedness as stated down below.
Specifically, we discuss the novice public relations theories implied by Ems in conceptualizing this task, the strengths and inadequacies of these notions, and the implications of our findings for local emergency preparedness. (p. 246)
Before we move to the analysis and its explanation, we should consider another option of related case study which hopefully can deepen our understanding of crisis communications role in the disaster management.
Review of Related Study.
Crisis Communication as Appeared in Hawaii Tsunami Disaster Management.
Jeanne Branch (1960) published an article Personal Account From Survivor of the Hilo Tsunamis 1946 and 1960: Toward A Disaster Communication Models has disclosed the critical situation where the crisis communication conducted by Hawaii government failed to act and lessen the damage. Most of the witnesses or survivors were interviewed and in fact admitted that the government did minimum efforts when the tsunamis hit the shore and caused the citizen to be late at responding the disaster.
Throughout the analysis, it is concluded that the Hawaii’s authority such as Department of Civil Defense, police department, and mass media had contributed the misleading information about the exact time of tsunami’s ETA when it should hit the Hawaii’s shore. This concluded that such event had contributed the amount of loss and damage as stated by Johnston (2013).
Throughout the analysis within this book it is concluded that the essence of preparedness in the term of communication is essential task and crucial that costs the most of our concerns. Society’s readiness in the face of ‘war’ must be trained and educated to increase their potential awareness so that we can reduce the damage and loss, henceforth the coordination among each department and stakeholders must be maintained with proper communication because by conducting proper communication in the way of such two way symmetrical communication can increase the potential of information flow to the targeted audience and reduce the spread of hoax or misleading information that might cause damage in the future.
Tapi harus diingat, informasi berlimpah saja tidak cukup untuk menyadarkan warga atas bahaya bencana yang mengancam. Cara menyampaikan informasi juga harus dilakukan dengan tepat. (p. 59)
The quotation above has highlighted the core message which implied on the information that delivered to the public, we have to make sure and re assure that the targeted public has received and understood the message.
Identifying Stakeholders in Disaster Management.
The handbook Crisis Communication from W. Timothy Coombs invited us to understand of essence of PR practice in the aspect of their preparation when they are asked to deal with the crisis. In order to understand the concept, this book took the illustration of local emergency managers in the US, the role of local emergency managers (EMS) has become crucial tasks and important jobs on how they carefully manage the pre – emptive action and post – related action handling the crisis, the quotation such as, “support comes most directly from local emergency managers (EHMs) who are situated at the center of efforts to help individuals prepare for extreme situations requiring self – sufficiency” (p. 246).
Before we move further about the summary and analysis, let’s strengthen our idea and perspective on why EMs are considered to be the stakeholders – well of course besides the public itself. Let’s take a look at this direct quotation, “an EM is anyone who has principal responsibility for a community or organization’s response to emergency situations. EMs work at all levels of government, and in the public and private sectors”, it’s a bit confusing and ambiguity binds our mind to which identity that represents Emergency Manager here – in this case, but what can be pinned down here is that those managers are working with the community which urged them to interact and engage with the community so that the public readiness in the term of emergency situation can be alerted, as quoted, “in addition, local EMs are responsible for communication – intensive tasks to supplement their budgets and augment their resources”. They are given huge role but 57% are high school education and less than 10% hold either a bachelor or postgraduate in many fields. I wouldn’t say that the effectiveness in crisis communication depends on the history of emergency managers’ education but it’s rather about the intense training developed by each element on the government and public itself.
On the other hand, they may lack this awareness for serious reasons. Or, they may be vividly aware of the need for household, car, and worksite preparedness, but lack the knowledge and skill to design and implement public relations efforts to move community members from states of high vulnerability to self – sufficiency. (p. 247)
It is assumed that EMs in the other side have lack of awareness toward the preparedness of the public facing the crisis, or it might be they lack of knowledge and skill to engage and design the corrective public relations efforts so that the community is encouraged and motivated to fill the hole of their own provision when the public are forced to face the crisis.
Crisis and Public Relation Theory.
Crisis management and crisis communication are assume to be in discourse when they are put together facing the crisis as it occurred in the natural disaster because both of them must connect and work together so that the positive outcome might come as it becomes an effective crisis management as stressed down below.
Effective crisis management includes crisis communications that not only can alleviate or eliminate the crisis but also can sometimes bring the organization a more positive than it had before the crisis. (p. 2)
The effective in crisis communication often conducted with mindfulness as it encourages the people to have a better and improvement of their preparedness when facing the crisis or disaster and it must be conducted through sustainability flow of information to the targeted audiences as pinned down by this statement, “crisis communication research has shown that people and organization routinely view emergency preparedness through the lens of their past crisis experiences” (p. 247) which meant that the cycle of crisis by Robert Littlefield, Katherine Rowan, and Shari R. Veil which included pre – crisis, crisis, and post – crisis. Based on the work of Fink and Mitrof on the emergency of preparedness research, Coomb (2007) would like to elaborate the cycle of the crisis into this following form, prevention; which suggests the warning signals and urged to take immediate action to tackle the crisis, preparation; explore the fragile circumstances which could possibly happen and hence encourages us to design the crisis plan, response; implementing the designed plan which attempt to accommodate the normal plan, revision; to develop the evaluation and advice which determine either wrong or right, this is necessary to support better and active – effective crisis communication.
However there is a cycle of crisis that is commonly used to disseminate and separate the events of crisis, according to Guth (1995), he stated that there is pre – crisis, crisis, and post – crisis. The cycle of crisis mentioned on this paragraph are basically the elaboration of each theory but they are all incorporated and make the essence of the cycle of the crisis, which is; the preparation of the community to set themselves on readiness state and immersed in the survival state, even if the crisis might come again, the community therefore will be survive once again as implied on this statement below.
If a community survives the stages of pre – crisis, crisis, and post – crisis, it will once again find itself in the stage of pre – crisis, ideally better equipped to prepare for another crisis or possibly more fatalistic about its capacity to manage the next crisis. (p. 248)
Crisis communications as it appeared in natural disaster basically used the concept of a sender supplies the message to the receivers and the communication is considered to succeed as the sender recognizes that the receivers have understood the concept of the message, as it delivered on this quotation, “and communication succeeds according to the extent to which the intended message was received” (p. 248), meaning to say that information must be delivered as the extension or tool to disseminate the information to the specified and desired audiences.
Emergency local managers is quite different than common Public Relation practitioners, the public relation mostly concern about building reputation and sustain it, EMs concern about building public’s awareness toward the incoming or possibility of crisis or we can say natural disaster which is hard to predict and merely beyond human logic but we can calculate to reduce the damage which cost harm to the environment and society. The essence of public relation can assist the EMs role on building relationships with the local community, engage and interact with them as the notion of crisis communication in disaster management is about the readiness or preparedness of the public, the point of building mutual relationship is an intimate engagement between EMs or part of government’s body and the public as it considered as the act of prevention, this as supported with this following quotation.
Proactive public relations programs can be used to build relationships with certain publics. They can prevent crisis; they can also make these publics supportive when there is a crisis. (p. 3)
The essence of preparedness has become fundamental action and regulations that forced people to understand the role concept of proper crisis communication, it enhanced the community to educate themselves to be alert mode whenever is necessary.
The Findings of Crisis Communication Obscurance in Disaster Management by Local US Emergency Managers.
In order to understand and how to measure the effectiveness of crisis communication in disaster management which administered by EMs or emergency managers, we would like to highlight three research questions which will be regarded as the turning point for the EMs to effectively use the role of public relations or communication in the community.
- What barriers and challenges that local EMs have to face when dealing with crisis communication’s effectiveness – as in accordance with intentional objectives?
- How do the local EMs engage with the community to promote the preparedness, such as emergency kits and emergency actions?
- Do the local EMs realize and understand that the community whether they prepare the emergency kits or not?
Those three research questions will be delivered to the local participants in US with the occupancy of local emergency managers (EMs) however the title of the jobs will include emergency management director, assistant emergency manager, public affairs director and public health director, as stressed within this quotation, “we conducted interviews with individuals who worked in towns, cities, or countries near the project authors”. The place of interview will be conducted at several federal states in US such as Connecticut, Virginia, Minnesota, North Dakota, and so forth.
The first answer of the research question about the barrier that prevent the effectiveness of crisis communication is that public lack of interest and seemed to be ignorant on such preparation whey the public forced to deal with natural disaster, as one Oklahoma participant remarked with quotation below.
The public in general, not just here, has a lack of information or a lack of attention to the information they receive. We work hard to get information out on severe weather safety, and we put in on TV, and we put in on our website. But invariably when something happens, people call, and they decide then is when they need to something. (p. 252)
The local managers even put their message of to several occasion on TV and related mainstream media, but the people seemed to be ignorant and put aside the information on media but when the crisis comes, the people immediately call for help and the information of first – aid is abandoned which can be said that the information has just become the cycle of wasting – product. Prior to the lack of interest hence, another one is financial problem as stated below.
Most of the office equipment is scrounged from other departments. Town’s entire budget is 10.000 USD, so grant money is essential. Equipment is difficult to obtain because it’s expensive. (p. 252)
The resourceful of information which been delivered by the authority encourage public to set themselves on readiness state when facing the crisis and one of the preparation is to to buy/obtain also sustain several supporting tools or emergency equipment from the nearby store however this comes up with great cost of money and most the people find themselves hard to accommodate such financial demands.
The next research question is answered by distributing brochures, posting information on their websites, partnering with the Red Cross, and urging preparedness when the EMs interact with the local community. However, those activities only concern about the dissemination process of information, only by using media to have in touch with the community, they forgot how to make a real program where it can encourage the people to do exactly what the EMs have always wanted, “I have no real program in effect to do that (increase the likelihood that each household has an emergency kit)” (p. 253).
Among the 47 interviewess, there are many who said they did not know anyone who had emergency kit. One or two individuals admitted they did not have a kit in their own home. (p. 254)
The quotation above embarked on the thought that none of the EMs exactly know that each household whether has an emergency kits or not. This shall create uncertainty of their dissemination process of information, this uncertainty is dangerous and can cost serious damage when the public forced to engage with the crisis.
Crisis Communication and Public Relation Analysis.
By knowing that the EMs disseminated the information through the available media it is assumed that they believed that the job was done, as stated in, “through various media channels, disseminating information was considered a measure of success for the EMs” (p. 256), in addition, they provide multilingual languages despite English language. However they still lack of core of the information which is basically aimed for the people’s willingness on the preparedness as cited from this quotation.
They did not think that promoting emergency preparedness included listening to key publics, researching barriers to having emergency kits, developing campaigns to address these barriers, and then assessing quantitavely the outcomes of their efforts, as seasoned public relations practitioners would. (p. 256)
If the information is considered to be lack of resourceful references from the public leader, but on the other side they know that the public understood the circumstances of the people also lack of household emergency kits, despite the lack of public opinion leader they also seen as they lack “empathy” because they just sit around and do nothing and pretending that everything is just fine. EMs already acquired the information the public has insufficient funds to provide themselves with emergency kits. Actually this can be endured through partnership, because “because many examples were provided of how EMs were cooperating among other agencies and across jurisdictions” (p. 256), by conducting relationship among other stakeholders it can give positive outcome as it is necessary to provide and sustain financial aid.
Effective public relations efforts can build community support through collaborative, community based decisions regarding the kinds of risks that exists and the emergency response measures that can be initiated as needed for public safety. Collaborative planning can prevent risk events or mitigate their impact if they occur. (p. 256)
The argumentation from Heath and Palenchar (2000) above has supported that the essence of building an engagement and intimate relationship by EMs and other institutions can bring the preparedness and prevention to the better effective communication. The lack of awareness toward the public’s concerns has neglected that spheres of ethnocentricity – as it developed by Littlefield (2006).
If the publics do not believe that the emergency will directly affect them in their sphere, they will not comply. Only when the emergency happens to them might they respond. (p. 256)
Perhaps that quotation is much and more suitable to the audiences and EMs relationships, it resulted when the public is concerned about the effect, then they will respond – however this shall create the effectiveness of communication become ambiguous, as stated in this quotation, “an acknowledgement of the fatalistic or existential orientation of some cultures, which could contribute to the low compliance rate, was missing” (p. 256 – 257)
The proactive strategy must be evoked within the concept of emergency manager’s crisis communication as it tends to generate the more of openness from the government and related institution when the authorized body engages with the public, because skepticism always come first as it has become the psychological preferences to disregard any information which not related the public’s affection. The ability to maintain the relationship is a must because it is believed by Heath and Palenchar (2000) that relationship is the process of communication process that will indulge the understanding between each party and keeping them on “learning what to do during such events”. (p. 257)
Implications for Action.
As mentioned earlier on the first and second chapter, the aspect of preparation is the most fundamental and crucial task to be done, pre – crisis event must be kept on the line with providing two – way symmetric communication – listening, discussing, and action, building partnership with local community and related organizations would sustain the culture of preparedness as the first ‘aid’ to tackle the crisis. By giving our concerns to listening the public, we would indulge the self – behavior and awareness toward the sufficiency and self – provision during disaster or crisis as stressed by Rogers (2005) in below quotation.
Attention to the public concerns about the emergency kits and their implications could benefit from the work of Rogers (2005), as he identifies the attributes of relative advantage, compatibility, complexity, trialibility, and observability. (p. 258)
The measurable success of this action would result on the individuals preparing their self – defense with the available of emergency kits, even if during the pre – crisis.
Building relationship with related university also ignites the basic education for EMs – self and the public about the disaster management crisis – “in addition, scholars and consultants offer emergency managers numerous short webinars, seminars, and other training options.” (p. 258).
Through this chapter, this book would explore and investigate discipline theory of Public Relation, theory of crisis and risk for the benefit and influence local managers in “conceptualizing” (p. 246) the circumstances of the crisis and therefore embrace it into the strengths and emergency response to the tactical preparedness. In order to give brief explanation on how the role of communication or public relation in the aspect of disaster management, I would like to give another example of how the establishment and flow of communication is well – performed by another institutions, by creating and continuing such training and education the public would of course be more ready on controlling the threat and evoke the opportunity during the crisis.
Building community partnerships and being involved in community based participatory efforts can help EMs be mindful of the best practices and enhance strategic planning, proactive strategies, and strategic response. (p. 258).
Once again, the essence of crisis communication in any field including natural disaster is attached in the pre – crisis step, it is the phrase where we have to deepen our research, building community relationship, and situational awareness – which attends to listening the public and adhere every possibility which would drive them to be encouraged with the provided communications, Seeger (2006) stated that this kind of study is set to improve the ‘trained – process’ for the managers to think beyond the academic study for the future crisis management.