When Crisis Strikes Close to Home

On Thursday, sadly, a contract employee was shot by an unknown assailant on the Pfizer campus just a few miles down the highway from our office. Fortunately, recent media reports list the victim to be in satisfactory condition.

Standing Partnership works frequently in crisis and issues management, so I couldn’t help but analyze the crisis communications process as I watched the breaking news updates. A few observations:

  • Determine your spokesperson(s) in advance. The first company spokesperson on the news was a gentleman from a corporate office in another city and state. While he did a fine job fielding the reporter’s questions, it may have been more impactful to have a local spokesperson who could have added additional context to the situation.
  • Have a companywide media policy. In the event of a crisis, media will talk to anyone close to the situation. Reporters were interviewing employees in cars as they tried to re-enter the campus after their lunch breaks. While these employees definitely were affected by the situation, they did not have accurate facts or information to share. It is critical in a crisis situation to have only pre-determined spokespersons speak to the media to ensure only confirmed and approved information is released to the public. Consider developing and distributing a companywide media policy that helps employees understand who the company spokesperson is and how to direct media to that approved individual.
  • Don’t speculate. Employees who were interviewed by the media mentioned that the shooter may have been a disgruntled employee. We don’t know at this time if this is true, but reporters immediately picked up on the “disgruntled employee” theory and tried to tie the shooting to the crumbling economy. Again, it is critical in a time of crisis to share only confirmed and approved information to avoid creating rumors and the need to correct misinformation at a later time.

When situations are confusing and scary, misinformation can escalate public concern and anxiety. A coordinated approach ensures the right information is relayed so people can react accordingly. It also is much easier for an organization to protect its reputation when all stakeholders have accurate information rather than a collection of speculative hearsay.

  • Tammy

    These are greate tips to consider. Another thought is to have a ‘code’ phrase that all employees know which indicates a possible ‘lock-down’ or ‘high threat’ situation. Employees should know how to access the company-wide phone speaker system to be able to alert one another if there is an immediate threat.