Triage of Emergency and Crisis Communications

By Thomas Murrell MBA, CSP International Business Speaker

Have you ever been to an emergency ward in a hospital?

It's an interesting experience and one I hope you never have to go through.

I'm not a medico, but I had a first hand experience of the late night workings at an emergency hospital department recently.

What struck me from a management perspective was how different priorities were managed.

This got me thinking about business, and especially if your business is under stress.

Stress, could be cash flow, loss of a key customer, loss of key staff or a major crisis.

How do you deal with a crisis? Especially from a stakeholder communications perspective?

Well, the medical concept of triage can be applied to business during an incident or crisis.

Triage is a French word and system that evolved when treating wounded soldiers during the First World War.

It is a simple concept of prioritizing patients based on the severity of their condition.

So in hospitals in most countries, there is usually a five point scale used to categorise patients:

**Black / Expectant**
They are so severely injured that they will die of their injuries, possibly in hours or days (large-area burns, severe trauma, lethal radiation dose), or in life-threatening medical crisis that they are unlikely to survive given the care available (cardiac arrest, septic shock, severe head or chest wounds); they should be taken to a holding area and given painkillers as required to reduce suffering.

**Red / Immediate**
They require immediate surgery or other life-saving intervention, and have first priority for surgical teams or transport to advanced facilities; they "cannot wait" but are likely to survive with immediate treatment.

**Yellow / Observation**
Their condition is stable for the moment but requires watching by trained persons and frequent re-triage, will need hospital care (and would receive immediate priority care under "normal" circumstances).

**Green / Wait (walking wounded)**
They will require a doctor's care in several hours or days but not immediately, may wait for a number of hours or be told to go home and come back the next day (broken bones without compound fractures, many soft tissue injuries).

**White / Dismiss (walking wounded)**
They have minor injuries; first aid and home care are sufficient, a doctor's care is not required. Injuries are along the lines of cuts and scrapes, or minor burns. (Source: Wikipedia)

So in applying these concepts to emergency and crisis communications, the following system could be followed:

**Level 1: Black**

Expect intense media coverage because of the severity of the incident and possible loss of life. High news value because of the consequence and drama of the event.

Highest priority in implementing a crisis communications plan and action should be taken immediately.

Form crisis management team, set up crisis control centre and plan for controlled release of accurate and timely information to the media.

Deploy significant resources to managing the crisis.

Do not speculate. Show empathy to those affected.

Timing is critical.

Examples include natural disasters (Victorian bushfires for example), terrorism attacks, or military conflict.

**Level 2: Red**

The second highest priority in terms of crisis communications.

Again, a crisis plan should be implemented immediately.

**Level 3: Yellow**

Observe and monitor the situation and be prepared to implement a crisis plan if the situation worsens.

Start forming a crisis team and have everything in order ready to go.

**Level 4: Green**

Wait and consider options. Monitor at least every three hours.

**Level 5: White**

Deal with the situation in normal work activities.

By using the medical triage system, business owners, managers and communications professionals can be better prepared for a major incident, event or crisis.

If you are potentially exposed to any risk, media training your key spokespeople prior to an issue or crisis is essential.

A small investment made now, will pay dividends later on.

It is a way of insuring against potential risk in the future.

Please consider our next media training course on March 24th.

Media Skills Masterclass: Winning The Media Game - Tuesday March 24th 2009, Subiaco Arts Centre, Perth. Places are strictly limited so book here].

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