In March 2016, we joined the international EU-funded Hazard project (2016–2019) which aimed at improving safety and security exercises in the Baltic Sea ports.
With focus on prevention and management of accidents, the project examined extensively the security issues of transports in the Baltic Sea ports. Ports are often located near residential areas, and in case of an accident a large number of people may be exposed to danger. The international project developed safety exercises and facilitated working with frequenly changing and specified safety regulations and requirements.
From a communication point of view, one of the key goals of the project was to develop communication and information services. In addition to developing communication between the authorities and port operators, it is important in communication to reach the public at large in case of a crisis.
The lead partner of the project was Turku School of Economics. Southwest Finland Emergency Services was responsible for the co-ordination and management of rescue exercise activities in which the ports of Turku and Naantali and Neste Oyj’s terminal and port operations also participated.
Other key partners of the project included ports within the European TEN-T transport network and their logistics operators as well as national and regional rescue services. There were a total of 15 project partners from six Baltic Sea countries.
Smooth and effective communication plays an important role as different players prepare for different accident situations, and the importance of communication is emphasised in case of accidents in particular.
Port of Naantali’s crisis communication evolved during the Hazard project
The Port of Naantali had only just started the planning of crisis communication, when we joined the international Hazard project. Just the term crisis communication sometimes makes people wonder, and perhaps worry a little. Where should we start then? At first the most important thing was to update the right contact information for crisis communication (e.g. those operating in the port area) and think of an operating model on what, where and how we should communicate in case of any disturbance. It also adds to the challenge that there are nowadays many personnel changes in organisations, so the contact information of partners should be checked at least every six months.
What if an accident or disturbance occurs at weekend when only Port Control is present in the harbour? Who shall send out information, how and to whom? The important thing is to set up a management group for crisis communication that will gather in the control centre in case of a crisis (where possible) and allocate the responsibilities of each member in advance. If a possible crisis situation has been practised beforehand, it is much easier to act in a real crisis and then you will also know better how to act in case of a disturbance.
During the Hazard project we also participated in a number of exercises (e.g. major accident exercises) in which we had the chance to test our own communication channels and the current operating model.
Advance exercises did indeed turn out to be a very important part in the development of crisis communication work. The exercise provides a good opportunity to test the functioning of the crisis communication chain. At the same time it is possible to develop new operating models that often work better in practice. The operating model instructions for the personnel should be kept brief (one A4), including a list of persons responsible. They determine everyone’s responsibilities, how to act in case of a crisis, who will send out the information, how and to whom.
There can never be too many channels for crisis communication
– Efficient use of social media channels
Communication is always challenging, especially when a disturbance/crisis occurs. In order to distribute the information on a disturbance to a large audience as quickly as possible, it is necessary to use different communication channels. The most important thing is to try to reach quickly a large audience which can also help to share information about the crisis. Social media channels and websites and various WhatsApp groups can be used. Facebook always reaches part of the public at large, while Twitter will quickly reach the media. It is also possible to set up a separate channel for crisis communication on the website.
As the Hazard project proceeded, we had a great opportunity to exchange ideas on crisis communication also with international colleagues at different exercises and seminars: through various workshops and group exercises we looked in more depth into the details of crisis communication and the challenges related thereto.
Just the term crisis communication may cause some confusion. Different organisations often refer to a crisis by a different term; it can be either a deviation, disturbance or crisis.
As the project and the exercises proceeded, we got new tools for the development of crisis communication. In order to enhance our crisis communication we set up new channels for crisis communication to forward messages.
This is just one example on how a project linked to smooth international contacts and exercise meetings (with special focus on the important major accident exercises) can provide a positive push for a company to develop its crisis communication. As the project proceeded, we also initiated a development project for the Port’s ERP system. During the three-year Hazard project we learned a great deal about security practices and prevention of accidents. It was necessary to examine both crisis communication and the crisis management system from different points of view.
Documented A4 sheets just look so good, at least on paper. Whether a disturbance occurs or not (hopefully not), as a result of the project we now have at our disposal a relatively comprehensive crisis communication plan plus a crisis management system which is very satisfactory.
Now is the time to thank all those who participated in the project, both Finnish and international project partners: just wonderful colleagues. It was great to be involved and we learned a lot!
Executive and Communication Assistant
Port of Naantali Ltd.
Read more about the Hazard project at https://blogit.utu.fi/hazard/
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