For many council comms teams the Coronavirus is no longer something that is happening in other places. While we all hope that a pandemic can be averted, the number of cases that are rising in the UK every day means that we have to be prepared for the worst.
Local public services will be in the frontline when it comes to advice and information, particularly around the impact the virus is having on local communities and services, along with mitigating actions. Therefore, it is vital that local government comms teams are well prepared. This means starting now when it comes to being prepared to implement your emergency communication plan.
Here is my 11-point guide of things that you need to consider:
- If the Coronvirus becomes a pandemic, you and your communications team is just as likely to be affected as anyone else. Ensure that all team members are able to work from home and that there is a central directory of mobile numbers that everyone can access.
- Be as open and transparent as possible about the level of risk locally, linking in with advice from Public Health England and the Chief Medical Officer. Use national advice and guidance in all your communications. The LGA has an excellent resource base here.
- By now your council should have multi-agency Gold (or equivalent) meetings in place to plan and co-ordinate activity and interventions. A Gold meeting is the place to agree your communications plan and key messages. If a Gold meeting is not in place, ask why.
- It is critical that you have processes in place, within the Gold multi-agency structure, to agree and share key message inside and outside of normal working hours.
- Make sure that you have an out of hours rota in place for communications staff with the ability to relay and share pro-active information seven days a week. Talk to your neighbouring councils to see if it is possible to establish a local resilience network to call upon extra resources while at the same time making your resources available to neighbours if need be.
- If you have not already done so, establish information dedicated to the Coronavirus on your council website, clearly signposted from the home page for national and local information which you can link to from social media. You can find a really good example here from Brighton.
- Establish and use your own local communication network. While you will need to be liaising very closely with CCG and hospital acute trust colleagues, extend your group to housing, police, and key voluntary sector communication colleagues.
- Establish contact with your Local Resilience Forum to plug into the regional picture.
- Check and strengthen your email database of local community groups and stakeholder. Use your partnership groups to plug into all available networks, particularly focused around local schools, community groups and charities and resident associations and tenant associations. Establish contact with administrators of your main community groups on Facebook to help share information. Keep key stakeholders, including councillors and MPs, up-to-date regularly.
- Keep local media briefed with regular updates.
- Ensure through the Gold structure that you are fully plugged into potential areas of service resilience that will need to form part of your communications plan, i.e. social care, meals-on-wheels, school transport, bins and recycling, libraries and other community-based services. Check what systems are in place for communicating with service users.
The most important thing to remember is that you are not alone. There are plenty of resources out there for communications teams to help deploy your response.