How Scott & White responded to the Fort Hood shooting

A behind-the-scenes look at the hospital’s crisis response.

A behind-the-scenes look at the hospital’s crisis response

Scott & White Healthcare recently faced one of the worst situations our community and the nation have seen in recent times. Our success with the public and media response was due largely to detailed planning, the thoughtful application of multiple media channels, and practice, practice, practice. When tragedy struck the Fort Hood Army base in central Texas on Nov. 5, we were ready.

Here are some of the “rules” we followed in executing a comprehensive communications response to the Fort Hood tragedy.

Golden Rule #1: Be prepared

Scott & White has a comprehensive crisis response plan in place, one that we periodically test by running crisis simulation drills that involve everyone identified as part of the crisis response team—from the most senior leaders on down.

In my nearly two years at Scott & White, the hospital has conducted several such crisis response drills. And we have had actual crises arise to test our emergency response planning. One such time was the evacuation of patients to our hospital from the Houston area during Hurricane Ike.

Another example of our advance planning is ongoing media training, which is conducted for our executive leadership and key clinicians. All of the Scott & White clinicians serving as spokespersons during the Fort Hood tragedy have either received media training or have extensive experience in developing messages.

Attending seminars focusing on crisis communications and social media, such as those conducted by Ragan, are also part of our preparation. A member of the media relations team attended just such a Ragan conference in Phoenix within weeks of the Fort Hood shootings.

Golden Rule #2: Everyone has a role

Members of our media relations team were well-suited for their respective tasks. But the team has only four people. We were able to extend our reach by drawing on the skills and expertise of our colleagues in Web services, marketing, internal communications, government relations and other departments. For example, our marketing colleagues—who all have prior experience in news media—helped with managing the initial news briefing and assisted with fielding media calls

Golden Rule #3: Leverage all media

Under the leadership of Web Services Director Steve Widmann, there have been strides in integrating the Web and social media teams into disaster drills, as well as our ongoing public relations strategy.

There is continuous dialog between the media relations and social media teams. We ask “how could we use technology in the delivery of messages” or “could we better incorporate Twitter?” or “what more could we do with Facebook and linking to our Web site?” Through this routine interaction, we were conscious of the role that the Web and social media would play in a comprehensive crisis response.

During Scott & White’s response to the Fort Hood crisis, we implemented the same process we had for traditional media. Just as we provided updates to reporters by sending e-mails, we sent that same information to the Web team members from the command center. This information was updated immediately, typically with a “tweet” with links to detailed information on our homepage.

During this crisis, we were heartened to confirm that social media can be as essential as traditional tools for getting the word out.

Golden Rule #5: Don’t overlook your staff

We also incorporated our internal audiences into our planning and made sure they were kept in the loop as much as possible during the week of Nov. 5.

Our employees and staff are ambassadors of our brand and because we have such a large presence in the central Texas community, we know that they act as de facto spokespeople. While we asked our employees to refer all media inquiries to the appropriate channels, our colleague in internal communications ensured we were providing them with accurate information so they could do their jobs, and so any information they shared informally with friends, family or neighbors was factual.

Reflections in the aftermath

Even though we felt thoroughly prepared before Fort Hood, we also learned a lot from the experience. Most important, we realized that we had a response plan for a reason, and that we could never have prepared or rehearsed too much. Our success in getting information out in a timely, accurate way relied heavily on the fact that each person on our team knew their role, we partnered with colleagues across a broad spectrum, including the Web and social media team, we trained our spokespeople ahead of time, and kept our staff informed at the same time.

None of us ever wants to confront the sort of unthinkable violence unleashed on central Texas that quiet November day. But I’m proud of how our institution responded in the face of tragedy. And we’re gratified that we could contribute in a small part to the healing that’s necessary during a tragedy like this through effective communication.

Rhona Williams London is the director of Public and Media Relations at Scott & White Healthcare.

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