Four things a Fire District/Fire Department must do in a Public Relations Crisis
Fire Districts/Departments get themselves into trouble all the time and the public backlash can be especially fierce under the harsh glare of social media. While every crisis is different, there are certain important steps that they should take to avoid turning a crisis into a total disaster. All press releases should be developed by the authority having jurisdiction whether that is the Board of Fire Commissioners, Board of Directors or the Administrative Officers. There should be one message from one source by one spokesperson/PIO. The person delivering the message should be involved in developing the press releases and, should be confident and articulate. If the district or department does not have such a person, look to the outside for a credible person who has such qualities.
- Acknowledge and Apologize
Acknowledging the problem and issuing a swift apology is critical. The apology should be immediate and unconditional; that’s an important signal of the character of the organization. Make a statement quickly, have all stakeholders agree to the statement and be sure it does not come across as half hearted, it should be sincere.
- Identify the root cause of the crisis
Districts/departments should immediately work to understand the factors that caused a crisis. In an ideal scenario, the organization would commit to making the findings public. Transparency and a desire to be open and honest about the cause of the crisis is key to restoring trust with the public. It can also help protect against future crises.
- Make the necessary changes
Once the diagnosis of the root cause is clear, organizations need to act — and be seen to act — to make the changes that will prevent similar problems in the future. Make the changes public, not just an internal document, release it to the media. This is what went wrong, this is what we are doing to fix it and we’ll continue to monitor it. Only a full-scale intervention will be seen to be credible and authentic to the public.
- Ongoing evaluation of crisis response
Districts/departments need to understand that rebuilding trust with the public takes time. They should continue to evaluate their actions to ensure they are fully addressing the causes of the crisis. They also need to be transparent in their work and investigations, don’t keep it to yourself.