Communication Guide:

Physical Threat to the Organization

Overview & Context

When there is reason to believe that your staff, clients, or facilities are in imminent danger, it is critical to respond and communicate as quickly and accurately as possible. All organizations should have emergency response and crisis communication plans, but this guide provides the critical initial steps to ensure all those in danger remain safe.

The resources provided in this guide should be able to be distributed on platforms that are established by your organization. It is important that these platforms are tested and being used and that all required contact information is constantly kept updated. Message templates should be updated and personalized to best fit your organization and your current situation.

Speed and accuracy are essential during times of crisis so have as much of this content preloaded and ready to send at a moment’s notice. Additionally, messages must be kept brief and to the point as staff and stakeholders may not have time to read large amounts of details. Save that for the after-action message.

Talking Points

Your primary focus should be on people – their safety, well-being, and awareness. Here are the types of talking points you should be using in messaging.

Communication Strategies

Text

During an emergency, speed is of the essence and text is an impactful platform for delivering essential messages to large numbers of staff and any stakeholders. You must have accurate mobile phone numbers for text to reach all intended staff and stakeholders. Here are draft texts to use during an emergency:

Phone

Like text, calling staff and stakeholders can be done quickly as long as you have a service that can automatically place phone calls quickly and to large numbers of recipients. Or, personal calls may be made in the form of a phone tree if only to a few people or if time is less critical. The following phone message scripts may be used:

E-Mail

Email can include more information than texts and phone calls but is not as quick. Additionally, on average less than 50% of emails are opened by stakeholders. However, they are an effective hybrid of speed and content when communicating during times of a threat.

Several email templates may be found in the section below.

Social Media

An established and well-followed social media presence can be a valuable platform to distribute continual information and updates quickly to external stakeholders and from any location where a smartphone receives a signal. This makes it a very powerful tool during emergencies. Many first responder agencies use social media during emergencies for this reason.

Staff messages should not be posted to social media but should be sent by more direct ways such as text, phone and email.

The following social media templates may be updated and used when there are threats to the organization. Use hashtags and tag other agencies (such as first responders) as appropriate.

Email Templates

Use the following email templates to send information during and after the threat. 

  • Make any adjustments and edits required to fit your situation and lend your organization’s unique voice. 
  • You may replace the term “stakeholders” throughout these email templates with specific groups related to your organization such as customers, students, staff, clients, community, etc. 
  • Any emails sent should also be posted to your website.

Use the Initial Acknowledgement Statement to send as early during the threat as possible. This is a statement that can be posted to your website, emailed to stakeholders, and shared on social media as well as distributed to media outlets who are inquiring. It should be short and succinct. Fill in the areas that require specific information related to your threat and send as early as possible.

Update and use the following template.

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Today we became aware of a threat to [Add Stakeholders, Customers, Staff, Clients, Students, etc.] of [Add Organization’s Name]. We are taking this threat extremely seriously and working closely with first responders [Add any Additional Agencies] to navigate the threat and ensure all people remain safe.  We urge all [Add Stakeholders, Customers, Staff, Clients, Students, etc.] to [Provide Instructions]. Additional information will be provided as it becomes available.

Following the sending of the Initial Acknowledgement Statement, your organization will learn additional details that will need to be distributed to staff and stakeholders who may be impacted. Critical information should be sent by text, call and posted to your primary source for threat-related updates. However, it may be appropriate at some point to send an email that provides more comprehensive information than can be shared in a text.

Update and use the following template.

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Today, staff at [Insert Organization’s Name] was made aware of a possible threat of violence directed at [Name Organization or Stakeholders]. The threat is being thoroughly investigated and we are in constant communication with first responders and investigating agencies.  

The safety of our staff and stakeholders is our utmost priority, and we urge everybody to be vigilant in maintaining the safety of our facility. Please know that we take all reports and threats seriously and will continue to work cooperatively with public safety and other agencies to ensure the safety of our [Insert Stakeholders].

Updated information related to the threat is being posted to [Insert Platform Being Used for Updates] and all stakeholders are encouraged to visit that platform often for the most recent updates.

Please report any information that poses a risk to anyone’s physical safety to police now and in the future. The safety of people is our highest priority and we will always take every precaution to protect it.

Sincerely,

[Insert Name]

[Insert Title]

[Insert Organization’s Name]

Once the threat has been eliminated, it is important to follow up with all stakeholders.

Update and use the following template.

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Today, staff at [Insert Organization’s Name] was made aware of a possible threat of violence directed at [Name Organization or Stakeholders]. The threat was thoroughly investigated by first responders and investigating agencies and found [Insert Investigation Results]. Staff at [Insert Organization’s Name] remained in constant communication with investigators and we are grateful for their extraordinary efforts to keep our staff and stakeholders [You may replace “stakeholders” with specific groups] safe.

The safety of our staff and stakeholders will always be our utmost priority. Please know that we take all reports and threats seriously and encourage anybody who learns of threats to report them immediately.

We understand that a threat such as the one we experienced today can be extremely unnerving for anybody involved or affected. Please don’t hesitate to reach out with questions or support and take time to process today’s events. It is important to tend to your well-being just as much as your physical safety.

We are grateful that today’s threat didn’t escalate into an emergency and appreciate those who acted quickly and decisively to take precautionary actions. The safety of people is our highest priority and we will always take every effort to protect it.

Sincerely,

[Insert Name]

[Insert Title]

[Insert Organization’s Name]

Risks & Potential Challenges

Staff and stakeholders may not see your messaging.

  • During an emergency situation, it is important to distribute information on several platforms to ensure it is seen by as many stakeholders as possible. You may post messages on multiple platforms that point to a single platform for the information.

The threat escalates to a crisis causing damage, injury or death.

  • You may need to switch to messaging specific to a crisis rather than a threat.
  • First responders may take lead on primary messaging – at least initially.
  • Media will become more heavily involved – perhaps requiring the organization of a press conference.

Misinformation being spread online or on social media.

  • Monitor social media and make notes of issues and concerns that may need to be addressed on your website, social media platforms, or during media opportunities.
  • Do not engage in a back and forth with users on social media.

Messaging is not clear and stakeholders take the wrong actions or inactions.

  • Create and engage in comprehensive vetting of as much language as possible before a threat ever occurs. Fold this into your Crisis Communications Plan. Then plug the details of your event into the template when it is needed.
  • Consider how people with varying perspectives could perceive your message incorrectly. It’s important to consider how it can go wrong – not just how it should go right.

Additional Resources