SYS-CON MEDIA Authors: Adine Deford, Cynthia Dunlop, Harry Trott, Xenia von Wedel, Peter Silva

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Disaster Simulations Led by the American Red Cross and Hill+Knowlton Strategies Prepare Organizations to React, Respond and Engage in Times of Crisis

The American Red Cross and Hill+Knowlton Strategies have partnered to provide a comprehensive simulation experience utilizing a sophisticated online dashboard that allows organizations to test and improve their communications response during times of disaster. The announcement was made today in Austin during a SXSW Interactive panel series hosted by Hill+Knowlton Strategies (Nano Size Me: The rise of the micro entrepreneur, the need for nano targeting and the power of one).

“Consequences of an organization’s conduct during a natural or man-made disaster have always lasted far beyond the conclusion of the crisis, but the evolution of digital communications channels makes that more true today than ever before,” said Josh Hendler, chief technology officer at Hill+Knowlton Strategies and architect of the Flight School: Disaster Preparedness platform. “Through social media, organizations have the power to influence public behavior at the level of the individual user, at the speed of light, in a time when every second counts. Communications teams must know how to manage the conversation if they want to play a meaningful role in helping people during a disaster, and protecting the long-term reputation and viability of their organization.”

“Helping individuals, families and communities know what do during an emergency is a key part of our disaster response efforts and a skill we exercise every day at the Red Cross,” said Laura Howe, vice president of public relations for the American Red Cross. “This partnership allows the Red Cross to share its communication knowledge and knowhow with other organizations responsible for keeping the public safe and informed during emergencies. It’s one more way we can work to keep communities safe.”

In a crisis — be it a natural disaster, or a situation where there is a threat to the health and safety of people and their possessions — the public needs meaningful and timely information so they can stay safe or lend a helping hand. This joint offering from the American Red Cross and H+K Strategies will empower local governments, first responders, health providers, financial institutions, utilities and other organizations to provide useful and actionable information to employees, customers and the public in a crisis situation.

“How an organization communicates with the public in these moments is about much more than its reputation or bottom line — it is about helping the individuals, families and communities that are affected,” said Robert Ludke, head of the H+K Strategies corporate advisory practice. “If an organization is committed to being a responsible actor in society, and being character-driven, it must be on the front lines of responding to a crisis.”

The American Red Cross’s communications and social teams work around the clock to facilitate relief efforts around the country. Winning numerous industry awards, ARC has continued breaking new ground on leveraging social and digital media in emergency response situations. H+K Strategies, a global communications consultancy with a long history of advising clients of all types in crisis scenarios, developed its Flight School platform to allow clients to experience, in a controlled setting, a realistic simulation of what happens in the event of a crisis.

Flight School: Disaster Preparedness helps:

  • Test internal social media policies, protocols and/or procedures for maximum effectiveness
  • Highlight strengths and priority areas for improvement
  • Build teams’ confidence in dealing with real issues and responding to likely disaster scenarios
  • Improve teamwork in a high-pressure situation, especially the unique challenges posed in responding to events generated by a natural disaster

How it works

Flight School uses a sophisticated online dashboard that simulates social and traditional media activity, live callers role-playing as reporters and third parties, and mobile integration via SMS alerts — all combining to create a fully immersive experience. Participants become players in a customized scenario that plays out across the news media, Twitter, Facebook, internal company communications channels and other popular platforms. It requires participants to engage and react rapidly in real time. From issuing a press release to responding to information requests via Twitter, H+K Strategies and ARC facilitators can monitor and evaluate participant reactions within a completely secure, private setting.

A team of trained ARC and H+K Strategies facilitators who have experience managing disaster response control the action behind the scenes, simulating public activity in a live setting. This lets the participants rehearse, in a closed environment, how best to respond to audiences on social and traditional media channels.

About the American Red Cross

The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies about 40 percent of the nation’s blood; teaches skills that save lives; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a not-for-profit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit redcross.org or visit us on Twitter at @RedCross.

About Hill+Knowlton Strategies

Hill+Knowlton Strategies, Inc. is a leading international communications consultancy, providing services to local, multinational and global clients. The firm is headquartered in New York, with 88 offices in 49 countries, as well as an extensive associate network. The agency is part of WPP, the world’s largest communications services group. For more information, please visit www.hkstrategies.com.

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