Crisis Communications Handbook: What, Why, and How?

Anyone who has worked in race day management will tell you that things rarely go as planned. A storm rolls in; the temperature spikes; results are wrong; or for one reason or another, safety is no longer a guarantee. What is guaranteed, however, is that something will go awry. While it’s imperative for race directors to have a plan on how to handle these emergency situations, the plan is only half the equation.

Communicating the situation to your participants, and the public at large, is a whole other beast! We’ve developed The Ten Commandments of Crisis Communication to help out, but we wanted to dive a little deeper into Commandment #5: Thou Shalt Have a Plan (and Follow It).

The Importance of Communication

Beyond your plan to handle the crisis, your race day management team needs to have a communication plan to keep everyone up-to-date and, more importantly, safe! Unexpected situations can easily lead to panic, so you need to know how to talk to your participants and the public so your race can weather the storm and avoid any PR disasters.

What is a Crisis Communication Handbook?

It’s exactly what it sounds like: a detailed set of plans and communication strategies for handling unforeseen circumstances. Following the advice outlined here, race day management teams can be sure that their participants, followers, and fans are all up to speed on what they need to know – or, at the very least, are aware that your team is doing everything in your power to both mitigate the crisis and keep communication flowing.

Be sure to create your crisis communication handbook early on in your race planning so your team has time to learn the procedures inside and out.

What’s in It?

There are some basics all crisis communication handbooks will require: the first being a well-developed directory of anyone in management or coordination positions. Pre-program important numbers into your team’s cellphones and clearly designate who to call first in the event of different crises.

Make sure you also include the contact information for emergency partners around town, such as the police, fire department, and nearby hospitals. In the event of a crisis, your race day management team needs to be able to get a hold of the most relevant individuals immediately.

Your Communication Plan

Beyond who to contact internally, your crisis communication handbook should also cover how to speak to your external audiences, the mediums on which it will be broadcast, and the shutting down of preplanned posts that are no longer relevant (no one wants to read some happy-go-lucky premade post about the race’s mascot when they are worried about loved ones or the race they have spent months preparing for).

The easiest way to do this is to develop pre-made messages for different types of crises, from weather to terrorist attacks. Prepare and stick to a voice that is empathetic, responsive, and natural; even if it’s a copy-and-paste response, you don’t want to sound like a robot or a politician.

Your Communication Team

Once you have your messaging prepared, you need to decide who is going to deliver it. Set up your teams ahead of time so you know exactly who will be communicating with concerned individuals via social media, email, and even on the ground. Organize your plan according to types of crises and the level of danger.

For example, if weather is a concern, runners will want to know what the status of the event is as frequently as possible. This may be handled by a more junior staff member compared to the more high-stress situations like injuries or deaths.

Having a team of individuals who have planned for any number of crises can help to mitigate anxiety and show the public that the event is being well-managed by a staff that is on top of their game. This integral level of human connection can be the difference between disappointed but understanding patrons and a flood of negative feedback.

Stay Flexible

Finally, it’s important to remain flexible at all times. While a plan is imperative to a successful event, there will always be factors changing (like the hypothetical crisis itself)! Be understanding of people’s worries and be ready to adapt as new information comes in from staff, participants, and law enforcement.

As a member of the race day management team, it will be important to be able to rally the troops, maintain and meet realistic expectations, and let go of that which you cannot control. Work with the resources available to you, keep your communications as constant and reliable as possible, and keep the mission in mind: to mitigate the crisis and keep people safe and well informed.

Planning a large-scale endurance event is a massive undertaking and thinking of every little potential problem is not possible. But by crafting a comprehensive crisis communication handbook, tackling unforeseen obstacles can be far less daunting. For a more in-depth look at how to create such a handbook, download The Ten Commandments of Crisis Communication.

To learn more about how ChronoTrack can help you in race day management, contact us!