Environment, health, and safety professionals knowledgeable on the powerful dynamics of high-stakes communications and the media will be major contributors to their organizations' success in both protecting their own reputations and enhancing public welfare.
Failure by default to be present in the media means that the organization will likely be misrepresented or simply overtaken by events. Internet ubiquity in the last decade dramatically intensifies the consequences of inaction. In addition to the traditional print and broadcast outlets, media gatekeepers include numerous bloggers and Web sites. Unfortunately, easy Web accessibility does not guarantee factuality. Often the very opposite is true.
Environment, health, and safety professionals are proficient in assessing the facts of a crisis, but there is much opportunity to improve in public response. By studying alternate industries, they learn universal lessons. The response must be timely. It must also accurately and sensitively address the emotional, perceptual aspects of the crisis. Companies that do so significantly reduce the likelihood of litigation. Integral to this response is a rapid Internet presence supported by daily search-engine optimization strategies. Such strategies ensure that accurate information dominates Internet search results.
Healthy, functional teams maximize an organization's ability to navigate crises. If key officers have been given the opportunity to offer professional expertise and assessment, then the team will make the best decisions. Teams lacking such established trust degrade their ability to make the best decisions, often with disastrous consequences.
As the adage says, "90% of life is just showing up." Nothing could be truer in the world of high-stakes communications and the media.
Nature abhors a vacuum. So does crisis. Environment, health, and safety professionalsmust plan ahead for crisis. Once a crisis occurs, they must be proactive in how it is handled. Failing to do this means that the information vacuum created will be filled but not likely in a way the organization would like it filled. It is therefore imperative that professionals understand today's playing field-as opposed to yesterday's.
Just within the last three to four years, the topography has dramatically changed. There was a time when companies had many days to respond to a crisis. In the Internet age, hours is the new expectation. Today, companies must have people trolling the Internet daily to see what the blogs and the Web sites are saying.
Traditional media remains very important, but the problem is that corporate leaders still tend to look at the world as if the gatekeepers were only traditional media. With the rise of the Internet, that gatekeeper function has radically changed. In a recent collection of Washington Post articles, several historians, including such "traditional" scholars as Eric Foner, discussed how the President would be recorded in history and what the White House should do. Their analysis included various bloggers, with rather unseemly consequences for Mr. Bush.