Initial Event

When a crisis emerges, the time to plan has passed. Responders will need to activate existing plans as quickly as possible while still verifying facts about the event. Once a basic understanding of the event is available, the communication plan can be activated and amended to fit the current situation. During the initial stage the public needs to know how current risks will impact them personally, what they should do to protect themselves, where to get more information, which agencies are tasked with responding to the event, and ultimately who will be responsible for fixing the problem. Food events often result in recalls which need to be communicated in a timely manner and designed to reach the target audience. The public will also want to know the basics of who is at fault, what happened, where and when the crisis occurred, and why current procedures or policy failed to protect them.


Crises generally enter the maintenance stage once the immediate danger from the event is contained. Once the shock of the initial event subsides, responders will need to answer questions about fault, the likelihood that the crisis could have been prevented, what will be done to ensure the crisis never happens again, and finally what the organization will do differently in the future. Instead of simply reporting facts, the organization may need to respond to questions and criticism from the media. In some cases, organizations have apologized for the harm caused by a contaminated product. Moreover, although the crisis may seem to be contained, communication surrounding the event could escalate as new details emerge.


There is no clear-cut moment that defines a shift to the resolution phase. The exact amount of time depends on how quickly responsibility is defined (i.e., if an investigation is necessary) and how quickly those affected recover. Be prepared to truly examine what went wrong, improve organizational capabilities to control future risks, engage in communication to bolster public support, and potentially draw attention to systemic failures outside of organizational control that need to be addressed (e.g., a food safety policy that needs to be changed).


It is important to allocate time to revisit the communication plan and make note of what worked well and what failed. Ignoring lessons learned will increase the chances that an organization will repeat a mistake again in the future. Consider archiving communication documents along with a final report which reflects collective understanding of the event for future use.

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