Communicating in Crisis: The Role of EHS in Managing Communication

In Part Two of the series “Communicating in Crisis,” Scott Gaddis explains the role of the EHS function in gathering information to help the organization make informed decisions as part of crisis management efforts. Read Part One, “Communicating in Crisis: The Role of the EHS Practitioner.”

The EHS function often plays a role in internal and external communication during crisis management.

The EHS practitioner is likely to work along several paths in dealing with and communicating in a crisis.  In an emergency, the practitioner has multiple audiences that will need to be informed including employees, senior management and government agencies. The media and the public also are a consideration, but usually with the idea of supporting that activity with data that will be shared externally by others.    

It is imperative to gather as much information as you can about what happened. Taking for granted that people have been safely removed from the danger, the practitioner will need to learn and understand quickly what has occurred. When and where did the event happen? What are the early indications of loss magnitude and the potential of further loss if the crisis event continues?

When a Crisis Occurs

A few initial steps for EHS practitioners to consider when a crisis occurs:

  • Alert the emergency response team.
  • Determine how significant the exposure is and how it affects the organization, the public or other businesses.
  • Gain an understanding of the loss type(s). Is it a spill, injury, fire,etc.)
  • Call for external emergency services if deemed necessary.
  • Secure the scene and control potential subsequent loss events if possible. 
  • Notice and record present conditions at the scene.
  • Determine who the witnesses are and debrief them as quickly as possible.
  • Preserve as much physical evidence as much as possible. If the event is ongoing, use a camera to record if possible before it changes or is lost.
  • Post personnel at the event site to restrict entry to unauthorized personnel.   
  • Enact the crisis management plan and if needed, establish a command center

EHS Best Understands the Crisis

There are no absolutes in dealing with internal communications, since every organization is different. It’s a safe bet that the EHS practitioner may be called upon to deliver information or will be integral in preparation of any internal communication. Why? Because the practitioner is likely the person on the management team who best understands the crisis and the crisis management plan, has knowledge of the incident command structure and already has begun assembling information that will be used by others. 

Other Articles in the Series “Communicating in Crisis”

Communicating in Crisis: The Role of the EHS Practitioner
Communicating in Crisis: Employees
Communicating in Crisis: Emergency Response Planning, Preparation and Training
Communicating in Crisis: Government Agencies
Communicating in Crisis: Preparing the Public Information Officer

Additional Resources

COVID-19 Resources for EHS & Quality Professionals
Anticipating the Unknown: How Managing Risk Drives Value for Your Organization
Coronavirus: Will It Cause Workplace Distraction?

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