Subsection 4 Establishing a public communication Group
Provision of public communication advice to the Strategic Co-ordinating Group
Guidance for local responders
1. The Act makes clear the importance of public communication.
2. This guidance provides advice to local responders on the establishment of a Public Communication Group ( PCG), within the multi-agency Strategic Co-ordination Group ( SCG) in the event of a major emergency where there is likely to be a requirement for co-ordinated communication. This guidance invites local responders to consider collectively the implementation of these arrangements in their area.
Purpose of Public Communication Group
3. To ensure timely co-ordinated communication advice during the response to an emergency, local responders are invited to consider collectively through the relevant Strategic Co-ordinating Group, arrangements for establishing advice to the SCG when required. They will also need to identify a designated SCG lead and alternates.
4. The establishment of the PCG is likely to be particularly important where there may be a major emergency. In such cases it is especially important to work jointly to ensure that communication capability is available across all functions as well as ensuring that there is the capacity to deal with the increased level of communication, in particular when managing the media.
5. The PCG must be activated as early as possible in an emergency. The communication of alerts and the publication of information has to be recognised as an important element of the initial response. SCGs should therefore ensure that their wider activation processes includes the communication function as early as possible.
6. The PCG brings together communication practitioners operating under the strategic direction of the SCG. The SCG would agree the high-level objectives guiding the multi-agency response, including the immediate priorities.
7. It must be recognised, however, that in the early stages of an emergency, before an SCG has been convened, PCG members may already have effectively taken strategic decisions on key messages. At an early stage the PCG will develop recommendations for strategy to put to the SCG. Only then will the SCG be in a position to develop a communication strategy for subsequent requirements and direct the work of the PCG.
8. The PCG would be expected to advise at the strategic level on issues such as the levels of public awareness and public opinion, identifying key individuals or groups critical to the success of the strategy. An important element of this would be advising on strategic engagement with the media.
9. In order to deliver that strategic advice, the individual directing the PCG should be a member of any strategic groups established by the SCG.
10. The role of the PCG in response to an emergency would include:
- Prepare strategic advice on public communications
- Identify key groups and individuals affected by emergency, response and recovery
- Develop a co-ordinated communication plan
- Prepare joint messages/statements
- Establish communication facilities
- Manage the media relations process
11. The composition and function of the PCG will be emergency specific and tailored to local requirements.
12. Members should have the necessary knowledge and skills to collectively provide advice in any emergency.
13. To ensure that the PCG operates effectively, it will be necessary to ensure that representatives taking part in discussion at a multi-agency level have the authority to make decisions on behalf of their organisation, including both issues of communication planning ( e.g. message development) and allocation of resource.
14. It is important to ensure that decisions are made to ensure that there is the capacity to carry out planning, including providing advice to strategic managers, as well as delivering the communication function.
15. Traditionally communication teams have been developed in line with functional disciplines. Our recommended format involves a simple structure based around key functions.
- Policy/Strategy Group
- Develops the communication strategy
- Consists of heads of communication from Category 1 responders
Supported by four functional implementation teams
- Media relations
- Web/Online communication
- Direct communication/marketing
- Internal & Stakeholder communication
16. By its nature, the PCG should involve a wider group than might be traditionally involved in emergency communication planning or exercises ( e.g. web teams, marketing and public affairs professionals). It is important to bring in individuals that perform communication in its widest definition so as to ensure there are enough members to staff the various functions of the PCG.
17. Some of the individuals drawn into the PCG might be volunteers or providers of commercial services.
18. It is important this is considered when training and exercise plans are being developed.
19. The Act talks about the need to agree a lead responder.
20. In the initial stages of any emergency the immediate concern is likely to be the risk to human health and any possible mitigation measures required.
21. Where possible we would strongly suggest that lead responders are identified in advance. It might be appropriate to identify the Police as the lead responder.
22. Initial actions for the lead responder should include:
- Contact other lead responders
- Deliver urgent warnings to the public
- Co-ordinate the communication activity
- Assist other responders in communicating
- Provide strategic communication advice in the first instance
23. The development of a joint arrangement does not limit the communication of information by individual responders to protect human life, property and the environment.
24. If the lead responders are designated in advance they should be able to provide that initial warning, even before the joint arrangements have been activated.
25. This does not remove the responsibility for individual agencies to warn the public if they believe that there is imminent danger.