Preparation

Our crisis plan consists of approximately 150 pages divided into 15 sections. The sections include Hospital Incident Command (HICS) roles and responsibilities, a few prepared statements, guidelines for more than 20 emergency scenarios, media staging-area instructions with photos, sample media alerts and press releases, policies that are relevant to crises situations, and (what would become the most important page that day) the names and cell phone numbers of our crisis communication committee (CCC). At the time, the CCC consisted of approximately 30 individuals with whom the media relations team on a typical work-day has infrequent interactions — people such as our director of patient experience, our director of government relations and our web master.

 

The crisis plan is a “working” document, meaning that it does not sit on a shelf collecting dust. Each media relations team member has an electronic version of the plan as well as a hard copy that is contained in a four-inch, bright red binder. We try to always have the red binder with us -- either in the car, in our computer case, at home or somewhere that makes it easily accessible.

 

We refer to the plan almost on a daily basis for various purposes, but certainly during crisis drills. When drills occur, everyone in the department has a role as either the HICS Public Information Officer (PIO) or media relations support for the PIO.  Following normal Incident Command procedures, the team member who is serving as the PIO will craft and distribute information to the “pretend press.” The rest of the media relations team will serve as 1) members of the “pretend press” pummeling the PIO with questions and requests expected of the news media or 2) follow “pretend” directives given by the PIO, which could be anything from scheduling a press conference to escorting a reporter to a specific location. Once drills are complete and while they’re still fresh in our minds, we return to our office to conduct a debrief specific to media relations to help us identify what went well and areas of opportunities.

 

Other crisis preparation tools in our portfolio include a video studio that is located directly across the street from ORMC’s main entrance and adjacent to the media relations office building. The studio is outfitted with a lighting grid that can illuminate one or all six permanent sets, which include a logoed backdrop for use during press conferences.

 

Another element we had established prior to the Pulse tragedy, and one that would become invaluable during the weeks and months that followed, was a single email address that reaches the entire media relations department — [email protected]. We received hundreds, maybe even thousands, of email inquiries related to Pulse through that address during the weeks and months that followed.

 

In addition to these elements, our social media (SM) channels and website also were critically important. We have several SM channels that were created since 2010, but the most important ones during the Pulse response were Twitter and Facebook. All SM channels are managed by a local vendor with whom we’ve developed extremely close relationships. The vendor works with multiple Orlando Health departments and facilities to create and distribute information, including messages during crises. The morning of Pulse, two vendor representatives were in HICS sitting with me and our internal communication director/co-PIO. This three-legged stool of communication — internal, external and social — is the foundation of all Orlando Health crisis communications.