Crisis management: Handling next of kin during a crisis

Imagine getting to know that your child or spouse s involved in a crisis situation at a local company. You don’t know what has happened, and you can’t get in touch with your loved one. There is no information forthcoming from the company. On the web there are numerous rumours, as is common, during the early critical phase of a crisis.

It is easy to imagine the distress created by not getting reliable information in a situation like that. How can you make sure your company handle next of kin in a decent and professional manner during an emergency?

Next of kin – by law or emotionally?

What rights you have to information from the health services if someone close to you have been in an accident are set down in law and practice. However, people other than the closest next of kin will be seeking information during a crisis and that , I suggest, is your company’s responsibility to provide.

Grand parents, step parents, siblings, half siblings, friends, boyfriends and girlfriends, all will have legitimate reasons to try get information on those who are afflicted. In many cases, colleagues will also seek out information, feeling involvement when one of their own is involved.

Make sure you are prepared for a crisis - book a demo of CIM here.

During the terror attack in Manchester 22 May, 2017, many knew someone who was involved and felt they needed information. You need a plan for taking care of everyone who is connected to those working in your company. First, you will have to consider:

  • What services should be provided to next of kin over the phone?
  • What services to next of kin should be provided on site or in other locations.

Make sure you have clear guidelines for what information should be provided to whom and who should handle next of kin.

All employees should provide information about who to contact if something serious happens to them. Also, they should be trained to contact their closest ones in the event of an unwanted incident that, potentially, could have involved them.

This will help reduce the pressure on the next of kin-service provider. As in all preparedness matters, it will be too late to do this once a crisis occurs.

Who will talk to next of kin?

During a crisis, personnel at all levels in the organisation may be asked to answer questions. Many of them will neither have sufficient information to give an accurate account of the situation, nor the proper training to handle such enquiries. It is crucial that all employees know who has permission to deal with the next of kin, and directs all enquiries to them.

Those who will be speaking with the next of kin must be thoroughly prepared for the task. The job has a lot to do with personality. The ability to perceive and handle one’s own, as well as others, emotions and reaction patterns are essential. An extrovert person may be easy to read, but introvert people have an equal need for information and support. The starting point should be that all kinds of reactions are really quite normal during a crisis.

In some cases, it may be advisable to let someone professional handle this task.

What should you communicate?

It may provoke you that the question even needs to be asked. Surely, everything that is known should be communicated? It’s not that simple. I wrote earlier about who has a right to information, and this must be the basis of the communication strategy. Besides this, notice the following points:

  • The rules and regulations regarding fatalities and missing persons are clear. It is the police’s responsibility to notify of next of kin when someone is hurt, missing or deceased in an accident, as a consequence of criminal action or other serious incidents.
  • Stick to the facts. Do not presume, do not guess and do not speculate. You should only convey verified information. Present facts as plainly as possible.
  • Be honest, yet empathetic. Even if the message may be emotionally distressing both to you and the person you are talking to, don’t try to soften the blow.
  • It is permissible to say «we don’t know». Make the person you are talking to understand that you are working to gather additional information, and that it is neither ill will nor secrecy that prompts you not to reveal more. «Nothing have happened since the last time we spoke» is much better than no answer.

Train you crisis management organisation

Preparedness is about preparations and awareness and the handling of next of kin is no exception. What sets it apart is the emotional pressure.

It is possible to train for this with limited resources. Let a group of would-be next of kin call the phone service and impersonate different reaction patterns. Let the whole group answer the phone and then evaluate the conversations together. It provides valuable insight to assess one’s own reactions to another person’s emotional outbursts.

It is a good idea to record conversations, either on video or just sound. Consider the use of an external instructor / consultant.

> Read also: Crisis management: How to build a solid crisis management organisation?

Discretion

Next of kin in a crisis are in a state that requires your organisation to be aware and prepared – and to use both heart and brain when communicating with them. It is easy to imagine being in a situation like that, and most people will show care and empathy towards people who are hurting. 

Next of kin want information, not comforting and they should have it as swiftly and with as much dignity as possible. An enterprise which is able to take care of next of kin in a considerate and professional way, will strengthen its reputation.

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By Tove Selbekk

Tove works as project manager and KAM in One Voice AS. She has founded support groups for victims of the July 22-terror, working both as vice chairman nationally and as chairman of the support group in Sor-Trondelag county. Prior experience also includes many years in the IT industry, working as a project manager and head of training.

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