“Communication Failure”​ is a perfect example of a communication failure in an emergency management system.

“Communication Failure”​ is a perfect example of a communication failure in an emergency management system.

Image by Ryan McGuire
Image by Ryan McGuire

“Communication Failure”​ is a perfect example of a communication failure in an emergency management system.

Benjamin Morgan

Status is online

Benjamin Morgan

Principal at Centre for Crisis & Risk Communications

I recently had the opportunity to spend some time with Tom Cox. Tom is one of the most passionate Emergency Management professionals that I have had the pleasure of chatting with. His true calling seems to be instructing and advancing the Incident Command System (ICS). Now whether or not, utilize true ICS (or a version of), I think it is safe to state that ICS is a proven model that has a time, a place, and a role. The reality of ICS is that it actually may not be the best fit for organization on a day to day basis, but may be the best fit on the day your organization needs help.

Adopting ICS into your organization’s practice may feel awkward and clunky when working with just your established teams and processes, but sorting it out ahead of any event, will likely save hours or days or weeks of confusion when relying on support from other organization who do work with internationally recognized ICS. During the 2013 Calgary, Alberta floods, City of Calgary’s response to the disaster required the cooperation of dozens of agencies: Emergency Management, Fire Services, Police Services, Mutual Aid services (additional police and fire), multiple utility companies, boards of education, post-secondary institutions, the zoo, multiple municipal services: Waste, Water, ByLaw. The list goes on. Although it would be unrealistic to expect that all of this agencies and services would have adopted an emergency management system, it certainly would have helped if everyone was using the same language.

Tom Cox, Emergency Management Trainer

The conversation with Tom Cox was fascinating to me. We discussed… a lot. We talked about several nuances surrounding the term “common language” and “plain language” – topic for discussion in itself. Did you know that some English dictionaries list over 600 entries for the work “run”. To have effective communications, especially in times of crisis, we must be sure that we understand the context of the words we are using. Misinterpretation can lead to catastrophic errors in even the best response. As our conversation around communication continued, we discussed that fact that in almost every emergency management debrief and lessons learned document, communications is cited simply as a failure – “Communication failure”. The challenge here, is that citing communication failure without the context, ultimately becomes a communication failure in itself. Tom said,

It says nothing about what failed, why it failed, when it failed, where it failed, or how it failed. It is the exact equivalent of simply stating “something went wrong”, Tom Cox

When citing communication failure as an observation or a lessons learned in an after action report, it must contain the the supporting context, Simply stating “communication failure” says nothing about what failed, why it failed, when it failed, where it failed, or how it failed. It is the exact equivalent of simply stating “something went wrong”. With out the context, planners will not know what needs to be addressed or fixed. Additionally, without the supporting context, it can leave Public Information teams feeling like they had a failure, which in my experience, is likely not the case *-)

Does your organization have an incident management system such as ICS? I would encourage you to check out ICS by visiting ICS Canada. If you need help in adopting, training, or applying the ICS model within your organization, check out a leading Canadian Emergency Management Consulting firm Sandhurst Consulting. And, of course, if your organization can use support with your crisis communication planning, training, and execution, have a conversation with the Centre for Crisis & Risk Communications.

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