Six Crisis Communication Lessons to Running Your Business During an Emergency

Ten years ago, when I was in crisis communication for the Indiana State Department of Health, part of my job was to create an emergency contingency plan if we were ever in the field without power or an Internet connection.

Our job was to communicate with the public during an emergency, and we couldn’t let little things like power outages stop us. Our plan involved battery backups, cell phones, a Verizon MiFi, car AC converters, and even hand delivering CDs of videos and releases to local newspapers and TV stations.

I was reminded of all this when I had to send my Mac to the shop to have the logic board replaced, and they said they’re keeping it for 3 – 5 days.

I’ve run my business out of a backpack for the last seven years, and this marks the first time I’ve tried to function without my handy laptop. In just a few agonizing days, I’ve been reminded of those emergency preparedness lessons, and I’ve learned some new ones as well. Here are six ways to function during an emergency or equipment loss.
My iPad and Bluetooth keyboard - a bare bones crisis communications setup

1. Make sure you already know how to use your gear.

I’m going to be working off my iPad and a Bluetooth keyboard for about five days, writing everything on Google Drive and using Google Chrome to update my client blogs. I had an old MacBook, but it bit the dust last month, which means I’m using the ultimate in dumb terminals.

Luckily I’ve used this kind of setup before, so I didn’t waste a few hours trying to figure out how to get everything to work. I fired up Google Drive, connected the keyboard, and I was off and running. But I was able to do it because I’ve already practiced this setup before.

Identify your backup gear, and try to spend a day using it. Find the holes in your knowledge and equipment, and fill them both quickly.

2. Store things in the cloud.

I have two external hard drives, but I also recently started backing up my important documents to my iCloud account, as well as Dropbox. So even if I don’t have access to everything on my hard drives, my important files are easily accessible.

Basically, I’m writing everything on Google Drive, including this article, since that’s how I share my client documents anyway. And while I normally keep my works-in-progress on my laptop, I uploaded everything to Drive before I headed to the Apple Store, just in case I got some bad news. I could also download my current articles from my iCloud and open them with Pages on my iPad.

And if my computer was completely destroyed, I can still restore everything from one of my hard drive backups.

3. Use cross-device apps and services.

I also use other cloud-based services for my business. My bookkeeping is on Freshbooks (they have an app, as well as their website), Todoist is my to-do list (which runs on all my devices, plus online), and I keep track of important information on Evernote (cross-device, cross-platform, as well as web-based). And my email portal is Gmail, which I can access from anywhere. (I could even go to the local library and answer emails if things were especially bad.)

However, the major DDOS attack last week reminded us how vulnerable we are if our access to the Internet goes down. This is why I don’t operate completely in the cloud, and still store things on my laptop. It’s why a cloud-only setup is not ideal. Even if we were cutoff from the rest of the world, anyone who still keeps documents on their laptop can still function. So don’t put all your electronic eggs in one basket. Strike a balance.

4. Keep everything powered up.

One lesson Hurricane Matthew reminded us of is to keep your devices and your batteries powered up at all times. Since my Bluetooth keyboard is cordless, that means I need to have batteries on hand. Since I’m working at home most of the time, I’m fine. But on those days that I’m working in a coffee shop, it’s smart to keep a couple batteries in my bag, just in case.

I also have to keep an eye on my iPad, which is running wifi and a Bluetooth. It slowly loses power over time, even when it’s plugged in, so I try to take a break every couple hours to let it recharge faster.

5. Use a password vault.

Security is also important, which starts with secure, hard-to-remember passwords. The problem with having everything on the cloud means trying to remember every password you ever created. Or worse, you can easily remember the one password you use on all your accounts. (Don’t do that. It’s extremely unsecure).

I use a password vault that syncs my various passwords between my laptop, tablet, phone, and the cloud. I never have to remember my passwords, I can either retrieve them from the vault by hand, or have them fill in directly. So I only remember the master password to get in, and my vault handles the rest.

This means I can even use a backup computer, and still access my various web services without using the Forgot Your Password retrieval function. I recommend a password vault like LastPass or 1Password, which both work on different devices and platforms. Even if you have a Windows laptop and an iPad, they’ll still sync up your passwords.

6. Practice, practice, practice.

When I was in crisis communication, we were always training and preparing for terrorist attacks, as well as natural public health emergencies, like avian flu. But rather than wait for years for one of those things to happen, we decided our best practice was to work on any small emergencies, like an e. Coli or salmonella outbreak.

My staff and I would put together a press release, gather the necessary information, and share it with the appropriate media outlets. We worked to get it out within an hour of our first notification, because we knew that would be our benchmark if we ever had a real emergency. While an emergency never arose, we were even prepared when we participated in full-scale exercises that involved the entire state, and would have been ready for the real thing.

Similarly, I try to spend a few hours every frew months working solely in the cloud or working on this iPad-and-keyboard setup to make sure I can make it all run efficiently when the time arises. I’ve still managed to meet all deadlines and respond to my emails, without any problems.

While this setup isn’t ideal for someone who focuses strongly on high-scale production work, and needs access to a lot of local information — photos, videos, and past work — it’s at least a great way for me to stay productive and give my clients what they need. It’s put a few of my wish-list projects on hold, but I’m still managing the important work.

By keeping backups of everything, and being very familiar with the way my backup equipment and services work, I was able to come home from the Apple store, switch everything on, and get back to work without missing a beat.

Five Things Miley Cyrus’ Tongue Can Teach Us About Business

My friend Casey jokingly challenged me to write this post:

Casey Valiant's Miley Cyrus Tweet

After Miley’s R-rated performance at the MTV Video Music Awards (VMAs), including gratuitous tongue wagging and grinding on singer Robin Thicke, social media was ablaze with shocked reactions and stunned disbelief at what they had seen.

Of course, I’m never one to turn down a good “What _______’s tongue can teach” blog post, so I accepted the challenge.

There are a few business lessons, especially related to crisis communication, we can all learn from Miley Cyrus’ tongue.

Sort of.

1) Transparency and visibility are not always highly valued.

Photo quote about Miley Cyrus - Transparency and authenticity are the two big watchwords the social media hippies like to spout. But there’s such a thing as too much transparency. No one wants to know how sausage is made, and no one wants to see your Gene Simmons-esque tongue flapping in the breeze.

There is such a thing as too much transparency. Don’t air the company’s dirty laundry just because you think you should. Which leads us to. . .

2) Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

We hear about the PR stunts and the corporate jackassery all too often in the business pages, and we read with the appropriate amount of shock and horror. And that should clue you in that PR stunts backfire, and jackassery, well, is not looked kindly upon by most people.

This means that while some things may be legal, that doesn’t mean they’re right — looking at YOU, Wall Street!

3) When your actions get in the way of your message, rethink your plan.

My oldest daughter used to love Hannah Montana, and I will grudgingly admit that she has a modicum of talent (“he mumbled curmudgeonly”). Which, I assume, is why she was invited to the VMAs in the first place. But I couldn’t even tell you whether she sang that night, or what song she did sing. And I’m willing to bet that in 10 years, no one will remember the song, but they’ll remember her performance.

Do I really need to draw this particular analogy out for you? Don’t do stupid stuff.

4) If you’re going to screw up, you’d better have a plan for recovery.

In a recent interview, Miley cited Madonna and Britney Spears as positive role models other singers who have made, um, questionable decisions about performances, and she pointed out that people forgot all about it.

Eventually.

Of course, you have to have a lot of star power to pull off a “screw you, I don’t care” recovery plan successfully. For the rest of us, you need to work on containment and recovery. You need to work on overcoming the issue. Don’t hide from it, don’t deny it, don’t pretend it didn’t happen. The road to business failure is paved with bad PR advice.

Just cop to the problem, admit it, apologize, and move on. Assuming your problem isn’t legal or going to see you in court/jail, just shrug it off and promise to do better.

5) When that’s not even the worst thing people are discussing, you’ve got bigger problems.

All the photos I’ve seen of Miley are of her tongue sticking way out of her head. Not all of them are of her grinding on Beetlejuice, but they are all of her and her tongue. And yet that’s not what people are talking about. When every photo is of your tongue, and yet that’s not even the elephant in the room — though, given its size, it does give the elephant’s trunk a run for its money — then you have a problem.

Don’t lose your small problems in your bigger problems. If you’re going through a crisis with your company, you still have to focus on the smaller problems at the same time: deliveries, customer service, sales, etc. You don’t shut down. You don’t assume that your customers will give you a pass. You take care of business and deal with the crisis at the same time.

Five Things To Stop Putting In Your Press Releases

Press releases are one of those not-dead-yet tools that lazy PR professionals still insist on sending out to hundreds and thousands of journalists and bloggers. I still get press releases for movie releases taking place in L.A., inviting me to attend the red carpet rollout of some indie movie. Clearly they’re not culling their lists.

When I did crisis communication, we got a real sense of pride if one of our releases was published verbatim, or nearly so, by our state newspapers. That’s how we knew the real journalists were taking us seriously. That, and our success rate (it was an outstanding day if you could bat .500 on story placement). To do it, we needed solid, tight news stories, not a marketing puff piece.

Many releases I see are just abysmal. I don’t know if the agencies are teaching young flaks the wrong way, or if they’re teaching it in college, but there are some serious errors that are keeping your stories from getting published at all. Here are five things you need to stop putting in your press releases.

1. Marketing copy, especially in the opening paragraph

“ABC Coffee Stirrers, the leader in the coffee stirring industry since 1978 and the developer of the Turbo-Whoosh titanium stirrer, is pleased to announce the acquisition of Global Stirrings, a Canadian coffee stirrer manufacturer.”

Do you see all that dreck? All that extra crap about ABC’s history? That’s amateur hour. That stuff goes at the end of the press release in the <H2>About ABC Coffee Stirrers</H2> section. You know, the part nobody reads. It’s going to get cut out anyway, because journalists like real openings, not a copy-and-paste of your About Us page. When you write that, you sound like a flak, not a journalist, and the editor may pitch the release out of spite and loathing.

2. Adverbs, adjectives, and competitive language

“ABC Coffee Stirrers have proved to be 33% more effective at mixing a coffee drinker’s cream and sugar into their beloved morning java. And customers have eagerly demonstrated their strong preference for the Turbo-Whoosh by increasing sales by a staggering 12% every year for the last five years!”

Newspapers and TV stations are supposed to present the news in an unbiased, objective manner. That means they don’t get to express their opinion. They don’t get to say whether something is good or bad. They typically don’t talk about products, unless those products killed someone.

That means they’re not going to talk about how much better your product is than anyone else’s. They’re not going to publish the “news” written by your product manager. And they’re not going to talk about increased sales, customer preference, or improved performance.

You may get that kind of coverage in trade and industry journals, but you still need to avoid the adverbs and adjectives. If your press release sounds like a freshman English Comp essay, pitch it and start over.

3. Copyright and Trademark symbols

The company lawyer may have told you to put them in the release, but the ®, ©, and ™ symbols don’t belong in press releases for two simple reasons:

  1. They could interfere with SEO. While we can’t be sure how Google treats these, why risk it? Maybe they ignore those symbols, but maybe they treat it like a regular word. No one is going to search for ABC™ Coffee Stirrers®, so don’t make that a search term.
  2. Those don’t appear in news stories. The editors are going to delete them anyway, so don’t make extra work for them or you.

Unless the company lawyer also has a background as a journalist, ignore anything they tell you about writing press releases.

3. “We’re very excited” quotes

“We’re very excited about the merger between our companies.”

“We’re very excited about our laptop upgrades.

You can’t be equally excited about both things. Saying “we’re very excited” about every damn thing that happens is either lazy writing, or your CEO is off her meds. Find another way to express interest or enthusiasm. Better yet, don’t even bring it up at all. We all know you didn’t interview the CEO for this, and if you did, she probably didn’t say this at all.

Talk about the benefits of the news item. Is the merger going to add jobs? That’s your lead quote. Is it going to improve profitability by $10 million? Then that is. No one cares who’s excited; that’s not news. The jobs and profitability are exciting. Only include things that drive the story.

4. Business jargon quotes

“This new relationship will help us streamline mission-critical functionalities as a way to regenerate impactful niches.”

No one talks that way in real life. If they do, make sure they aren’t having a stroke.

But even if they do, preserve their reputation and avoid marketing words altogether. Make them sound like a real human being since, not a marketing textbook.

(Note: It’s easy to confuse marketers with real human beings, but do your best. Give them the benefit of the doubt, and translate their marketing gobbledygook into real words.)

If you don’t have good quotes, the journalist will either email you or call you for a follow-up quote that uses real words. Save them the time and give them a quote that sounds realistic and not one made up by the Dack.com Bullshit Generator (which is what I used to write that sentence above).

A press release is supposed to sound like a real news story written by a real journalist. Most PR flaks don’t know what that looks like, so they keep putting out the same garbage week after week. Then they complain that their stories aren’t being published and that their clients aren’t getting any traction. Start writing real journalistic stories and send out only newsworthy items. You’ll see your success rate — and self-respect — increase.

How the FDA Lost Our Trust During the Meningitis Outbreak

In the face of the meningitis outbreak, which was caused by tainted drugs, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) should be leading the crisis communication.

But they’re not.

That responsibility has fallen to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).Tweet from the CDC about the meningitis outbreak

Why? Because we, as the public and consumers of media, trust the CDC. We don’t trust the FDA.

The FDA should be embarrassed.

Jim Garrow pointed out on his Face of the Matter blog — Building Trust is an Everyday Job — that the FDA should be in charge of this outbreak, since it was caused by tainted drugs, which fall under the FDA’s purview. The CDC oversees contagious disease outbreaks, which this is not.

Yet, according to a recent Mashable article, “. . .Twitter users searched for the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) more often than the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).” Furthermore, the CDC is regularly updating the media through conference calls about what’s being done about the outbreak, not the FDA.

Why is that?

We Trust the CDC, We Don’t Trust the FDA

Believe me, there is a distinct division between agencies. They usually don’t cooperate or communicate, even when they’re treading some of the same ground. I can only imagine there has been some jockeying for position, for credibility, and for Top Dog-ness between the two three-letter agencies.

So when the CDC, and not the FDA, started holding media conference calls, we should have gotten a clue about the problem, and gotten a good indication about who the media (and the public) trusts and who they don’t. Who has done a good job of earning our trust, and who hasn’t.

Who uses social media well, and who doesn’t.

Tweets from the FDA

Irony, thy name is FDA. (I honestly wish I was making this up.)

We trust the CDC, because we see them on social media more. We trust the CDC because they communicate with the public more. And we trust the CDC, because they tend to talk to us more like people and less like little children.

The CDC has been getting some great press coverage over the last couple of years, thanks to things like the CDC’s Zombie Preparedness campaign, which actually taught people how to prepare for a viral outbreak like pan flu. (Pretty sneaky, CDC.)

While the FDA has tweeted one time — ONCE! — about the meningitis outbreak, in between tweets about Breast Cancer Awareness Month and the Kefauver-Harris Drug Amendments of the 1960s to its 13,875 followers (seriously? I have almost as many followers as the FDA?!), the @CDCemergency account has tweeted updates 6 times to its 1.375 MILLION followers.

(Pro tip: If you’re in the middle of an outbreak of a deadly disease because of tainted drugs, it’s probably not a good idea to commemorate the historical signing of an amendment to make drugs safer. Or to tweet about that more often than you tweet about the contaminated drugs that are currently killing people.)

Any wonder why we trust the CDC more?

The Fight For Credibility and Eyeballs Begins NOW

If you want people to trust you on social media (and other) channels, you have to start using them now. If you want people to know they can turn to you when there’s a real crisis, you have to start sharing information with them before the crisis hits.

The CDC has been doing this by tweeting out important information during small crises, and treating them like practice before a big event. They communicate regularly with people, they use social media to its fullest — complete with Facebook page, Twitter accounts galore, blogs, YouTube videos, and just about anything else (hell, they even have a Google+ page for their National Prevention Information Network!). Meanwhile, the FDA’s website still has a starry night background with a dancing baby animation (okay, not really; but they’re still referring to Twitter as a microblog; it quit being a microblog in 2010.).

The short of it is this: You can’t wait until the day of a crisis to launch your crisis communication plan. That thing had to be in play months in advance. And the FDA has lost all control of this crisis, and abdicated it to the CDC.

Maybe this will be a wake-up call to the FDA that they need to do better, so the next time it happens, they can actually be prepared, and we’ll be more likely to trust them.

And you can read all about their efforts on their new Friendster page.

Crisis Communications Needs Social Media to Be First, Be Right, Be Credible

Crisis communications has one overriding mantra, one foundational principle that drives every emergency they respond to: “Be first. Be right. Be credible.”

If you’re not first, you’ll spend your time playing catch up for hours, days, or even weeks.
If you’re not right, your mistake will be repeated, or worse, cited as the truth.
And if you’re not first or right, you will never, ever be credible.

Crisis communication — also called CERC, or Crisis Emergency and Risk Communication — is what emergency first responders use to communicate with the media and the general public. It’s how the health department communicates warnings and updates during a public health emergency. It’s how Homeland Security communicates with the public during a terrorist attack.

CERC, compared to corporate crisis communications, is all about getting the right information out as soon as possible, and being seen as the source for news and information about an incident.

But it’s not happening anymore.

Five years ago, it was enough to just email a press release — which had been approved by a committee — to the mainstream media. Then you answered media calls and arranged interviews. You didn’t communicate with the public, you communicated with TV and newspapers.

But the definition of “the media” has changed. Today, anyone with a smartphone and YouTube is a TV journalist. Anyone with a smartphone and Facebook is a photojournalist. Anyone with a laptop and a blog is a newspaper reporter. The citizen journalist is the person with news to share and a way to share it. Quickly.

This makes the mainstream media crazy.

Not only are the citizen journalists breaking news before the media, they are becoming the first, right, credible sources of information, not CERC.

These days, news is coming from the people who are on the ground. They’re repeating everything they hear and see, and everyone else is passing it on.

CERC communicators need up-to-date technology if they’re going to stay up to speed. They need access to the various social networks if they want to reach the public. Using 4-year-old Blackberries and laptops is not enough anymore. And letting IT block all access to social media networks only makes the problem worse.

(I’ll save the discussion about why IT should not be involved in communication issues for another time.)

If CERC communicators want to stay on top of a situation, rather than being third in the race, they need to remember their roots. They need to use the technology that will make them first. They need to learn how to be right without committee approval.

Because until that happens, they’re not going to be credible.

Social Media Crisis Communication Lessons Learned from Indiana State Fair Stage Collapse

At least 4 people died and 40 people were injured when a stage collapsed at the Indiana State Fair before a Sugarland concert as part of the State Fair festivities.

As I flip around the three main TV stations (I have forgotten to check out WXIN, Indianapolis’ Fox affiliate), and watch Twitter, I’m amazed by the level of activity I’ve seen on Twitter. I’ve also seen some things happen with social media crisis communications that I never dreamed would happen when I was in that role at the Indiana State Department of Health. Other things I have seen (or not seen) don’t surprise me one bit.

  • The main sources of news are the four main news channels here, WTHR (NBC), WISH (CBS), WRTV (ABC), and WXIN (Fox), and the Indianapolis Star (@IndyStar). Several people are retweeting news they see on TV. Nothing is coming from any of the official channels, and TV stations are left to interview witnesses and replay the same cell phone videos over and over. One station looped the same video at least 14 times in 10 minutes.
  • Officials have been asking people to update their Facebook pages and send tweets to let loved ones know they’re okay. The cell phone towers were jammed, especially as first responders were also using cell phones, and people weren’t able to call in or out. A friend, Elizabeth, was searching for information on one of her friends, Jenn, and finally received word that she was okay, a la her Facebook page.
  • The first response agencies have done or nearly nothing with social media (compared to the London police, which updated people about the status of the riots via Twitter).
    • The Indiana Department of Homeland Security (IDHS)* has a Twitter feed, but has not updated it since August 8th. Their Twitter feed reads more like a list of press release announcements.
    • Mayor Greg Ballard’s Twitter feed has basic announcements every 30 minutes.
    • The Indiana State Police never even mentioned the tragedy, and the Indianapolis Metro Police Department haven’t updated since June 5.
    • The Indianapolis Department of Public Safety (@IndianapolisDPS) was providing basic information via their Twitter feed.
    • Other than @MayorBallard, there was nothing from official channels.

    While I don’t expect these groups to give us a minute-by-minute update via Twitter, if they are involved, they should be communicating with the public, even if it’s to tell people to tune in to local news for more information. If they’re not involved, they should at least refer people to the proper agency.

  • The first rule of crisis communication is to “Be first. Be right. Be credible.” The very agencies that people are depending on for this information were not. And now that social media has become more prevalent, the days of depending on emailed press releases written by committees and regularly rescheduled press conferences are way over (a press conference was originally scheduled for midnight, and then rescheduled to 1:30 am. But they could have kept the news media up to date with occasional tweets and quick blog posts).
  • I’m struck by the irony of the authorities asking people to use social media to give updates while they barely use it themselves. Hopefully this will convince the first response authorities start to use it themselves.
  • When I was in crisis communication, one of our roles was to respond to and squelch rumors and bad information. Not only was there not any of this happening from official sources, like IDHS, Indiana State Police, or even the Indianapolis Police, it was the Twitter users who were correcting information. This represents a major shift from who is the trusted source of news: social media has just shown that it’s the people, not the authorities.
  • The crisis communicators responding to crises like these need to start including social media in their own responses. Not only can they get news out to the public, they can respond to rumors and bad information immediately, squelching it, and getting out good information instead.
  • The news media would be smart to start streaming their news programs on their websites during emergencies like this. I was communicating with people in Chicago, Alabama, and even Toronto about the incident. All I’ve been able to do is send them to stories on sites, but they could watch this live if the stations would stream their emergency news broadcasts.
  • People on Twitter are affecting the news coverage, or at least are being heard. At one point, WTHR had shown the collapse of the stage (via a cell phone video) more than 14 times in 10 minutes. Shawn Plew tweeted this fact, and @WTHRcom responded and said they would mention it to the producers.
  • One of the reporters from WISHTV (the CBS affiliate) downloaded different videos from YouTube to his computer, so he could play them on screen with a double-click, rather than worrying about streaming from YouTube itself. He’s using a large screen TV so we can see the videos more easily.

If you’ve ever had any doubt about the need for a smartphone, or the power that citizen journalists wield, know this: all of the footage and images that all the newscasts are showing, and the ones that the national news outlets will be playing over and over, came from people and their smartphones. Not news cameras recording the aftermath of an event, but real action shot by real people who were on the scene.

Most of the information people were getting via Twitter was coming from anyone who was discussing the event, watching it on TV and passing word along, or even listening to the live stream of the scanner traffic online.

Once again, social media has broken the news, and gotten images out before the news broadcasts could. That’s not an indictment of the mainstream news, it’s a testament to the power of social media and citizen journalism. But it should show government agencies and corporations that they can no longer rely on traditional media to break the news or even discuss the story.

*The IDHS coordinates the efforts of the Indiana Police Department, emergency managers, fire departments, and other first responders. They would sometimes be involved in a large-scale event like this, even in an advisory capacity.

Five Tools Every Crisis Communications Professional Needs

Crisis communications professionals, especially those dealing with environmental and man-made disasters, will often find themselves in a position where they need to relay information to the public fast. The great thing about social media is that it lets us communicate a lot of information immediately. And for the crisis communications pro, speed is often of the essence.

When I was the Risk Communications Director for the Indiana State Department of Health (ISDH), we needed to communicate a lot of our information as quickly as possible. But the technology — at least the technology we had access to — meant being tethered down to a desk or finding a coffee shop that had passable wifi. And in 2006 – 2007, those were harder to find than they are now.

But the technology has caught up with the citizen journalists, surpassed the traditional media, and lets many crisis communicators become the direct source of the news, rather than waiting for the mainstream news people to catch up.

Here are five tools, both online and offline, that crisis communications professionals need to communicate quickly:

1. A smartphone

If you said “duh!” you’ve obviously never worked in government. In 2006, I was handed a Blackberry with the thumbwheel and keyboard. That was five years ago, and most of the agency people I know are still using them. The ones who have upgraded have upgraded to another Blackberry. The problem is, the good communication apps are being developed for the iPhone and Android. The Droid will let you take photos, videos, send tweets, and tap directly into your blog with apps from Posterous or WordPress, and they often cost as much or even less than Blackberry. Yes, the Blackberry will do all of that too, but it has fallen behind in the mobile communication arena, and may soon go the way of the dodo.

Mobile phones are now mini-computers that can make a phone call, not a phone that takes pictures and sends text messages. Sticking your crisis communications pros with flip phones or less-than-current technology hampers your crisis communications efforts severely.

2. Twitter & Facebook accounts

The problem with mainstream media is that you’re bound to their schedule and their filters. Not only do you have to wait until the 5:00 and/or 11:00 news to get your message out, they only spent 60 seconds on your story, and they missed three important points. Meanwhile, people are on Facebook and Twitter talking about the big emergency, and are asking questions that are either going unanswered, or being answered with bad information.

On the other hand, social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook are updated constantly. People ask questions, and you answer them. You provide people links to the most up-to-date news and numbers, shoot down rumors and misinformation, and get news out to the public without waiting until the media airs it several hours later.

3. A Posterous blog

This may not be your “official” blog, but Posterous is a great distribution channel. You can email photos, videos, and critical information to your Posterous blog, and have it automatically create a new blog post from all the content. Plus everything gets distributed to Flickr or Picasa (photos), YouTube or Vimeo (video), and your official blog. It can automatically notify Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn when there’s a new post up (or you can shut that off, and let your regular blog do that for you).

Writing a new blog post is a snap. Just open up Gmail or your smartphone’s email program, type in the subject line (that becomes the headline), attach the photos or videos, type in a few lines of text and you’ve got a blog post. Rather than waiting until you can get to your laptop and spending several minutes getting it up and running, you can do this on your smartphone in five minutes or less.

4. A WordPress blog on an external server

If you’re in a crisis communications position, you need a blog that is never, ever subjected to the whims, downtimes, and issues that a 3rd-party provider like WordPress.com or Blogger.com would face. It’s also important that your blog’s server exist outside your city, or even state. When I was at ISDH, one of the things we trained for was a nuclear attack aimed at the center of downtown Indianapolis, less than 50 yards from my office. If that happened, our subsequent replacements would need a way to continue to share information, since the melted slag of metal that was once our server was not an option. So our emergency backup was somewhere else far, far away.

I recommend a WordPress.org blog on your server because there are so many plugins and add-ons to increase the functionality of your blog — functionality that WordPress.com and Blogger.com just don’t have. Of course, you need someone who knows how to do all this, or at least an IT department who won’t insist that the blog needs to reside on the server in their building, just down the hall from your office (see Attack, Nuclear: Devastating Effects of). If they won’t help you, then go with WordPress.com or Blogger.com (or even your Posterous blog), until you get someone helpful in IT. Don’t let a bottleneck delay you; find a way to work around them until the bottleneck clears.

5. Mi-fi

Mi-fi is the portable wifi hotspot that fits in your pocket. It’s smaller than a deck of cards, and will support up to 5 users. It’s always on, and extremely secure. For crisis communications pros who rely on their laptops, but don’t always have access to a coffee shop or McDonald’s, this is a must. It’s also easy to recharge, and can plug into any wall or car’s cigarette lighter, which means you can communicate while you’re on the road.

A Mi-fi is also useful when combined with a digital camera and an Eye-Fi card, a wifi-equipped photo storage card. Set it up to automatically upload all photos to your agency’s Flickr or Picasa account, and you can keep people up to date with what’s happening via these two photo sharing sites.

There are a lot of other online and offline tools a crisis communications professional should have, but these are the five I wish I’d had when I was in state government. They would have made life so much easier, and we could have gotten information out a lot more quickly.

Now, if someone can only find a cure for bureaucracy, then life would be perfect, and I would even consider going back in to public service.