Keeping the media, employees, the public and other stakeholders informed during a crisis can be the toughest challenge that communicators face. One way to keep all parties informed is through a dark site, an emergency site that launches the minute a crisis hits. Filled with the latest information about a crisis, a dark site is an effective way to reduce press calls and control rumors. But it only works, of course, if the site’s set up before crisis strikes.
Warfield’s team brainstormed all possible disasters (environmental and business) and possible audiences to determine what to put on the dark site. But they soon realized it was “a challenge to get approved language for different emergencies. Many didn’t exist, others were just hard to find.”
Take, for example, an ammonia plant leak. In parallel to creating the dark site, Warfield was working with Bayer’s local HES (health, environment, safety) group on an ammonia leak drill. The group had all the data and information on what to do in the event of an ammonia plant leak, plus background information on ammonia, but the information was not all in one place.
“We had chemical data sheets, siren and Berkeley Fire Department response levels, what information the employees need to know depending on the level of the leak, and when and what to notify our neighbors of—all in different manuals,” Warfield explains. “There were no comprehensive write-up or response documents.”
Similarly, Bayer took part in the City of Berkeley‘s planning process for a pandemic plan. “When it came to who the responsible group within Bayer would be, and ultimately who we would need to coordinate regarding messaging, there was internal politics regarding which department should take on the responsibility,” she says.
Tip: Don’t underestimate the time it will take for company executives and community groups to agree on who’s responsible for what information on the dark site.
What’s on the site?
Speed is crucial when crisis strikes; creating pre-filled templates containing approved language is key to handling a crisis successfully.
Warfield has pages built and ready to go live with minimal editing in the event of an emergency. “We have our pandemic content, ammonia leak and shelter information in place, plus content and templates created for letters from the leadership.”
Other content includes leadership statements, facts and figures, as well as contact pages. “Right now, we are focusing on natural and business emergency content for employees, neighbors and press,” adds Warfield.
Additionally, Warfield is taking advantage of free social media tools like YouTube and Flickr to post images of buildings and b-roll of facilities.
Looking back, the biggest surprise, says Warfield, wasn’t in the technological or business hurdles, but in the one place they felt most confident. “While all our plans look good on paper, we would have had to do a lot of legwork doing research on basic background information and getting text through review in the middle of the crisis, when our attention should be elsewhere,” she says.
What’s a placeholder site?
There is a Web site that inhabits the twilight zone between a regular site and a full-blown dark site but is still dedicated solely to crisis management. The placeholder is always active and holds general emergency information or resources.