Social Media Collaberation: Hypothetical Biological Weapon Crisis

It is important to be prepared for crises. A great deal of communication preparedness has to do with training. Crises require communicators to have dynamic abilities, flexible mentalities, and expertise. You cannot just plan for the possibility of a crisis– you need to practice.

There is a great deal of literature in crisis communication research that argues for the use of social media during crises. This means we need to practice our crisis communication using social media. But, I am critical of this idea. I am not sure how useful social media can be when a crisis is uncertain. I would like to see how well it works.

Here is a hypothetical (i.e. not true) situation: There is a possible chemical leak of a deadly material in a research lab at the university where you work. The lab exploded, and is now on fire.

Your informant told you that it looks serious, and he is generally pretty reliable. He said that it might have been intentional, but this is speculation. He also tells you that the lab with the leak was studying a new and more volatile version of a Novichok biological weapon. You do not want to go to the scene because you might die. This is all the information you know.

Your crisis communication team is dispersed. You are alone with your computer/smartphone in a relatively safe place in the city. You do not know how safe it is to go outside. The media is knocking on your door (in the form of a flood of emails and phone calls) to get information about the explosion, but they do not appear to know about the Novichok yet.

How would you use social media in this situation? What social media would you use? How would you use it to collaborate internally with your crisis team?

For my classmates in our communications class: Using the comment section of this blog, collaborate to create a communications action response. I will post situation developments throughout.

Edit: Having completed this short exercise it is clear that practice really is necessary for good crisis communication. A good social media platform is also key. Finally, having assignments beforehand is very important.


27 thoughts on “Social Media Collaberation: Hypothetical Biological Weapon Crisis

    • So we have to set up an internal place to meet. First we have to start a group email to get everyone on board. BUT we should not disclose any info in the email. Just that we should all be on Skype ASAP to meet. Google hangout? Skype?

    • We should preemptively contact the local media (tv, radio, and newspaper) and let them know that the we are currently investigating this issue, and will release developments as we learn. In the meantime, instruct the media to tell anyone within a certain mile radius to shelter in place until we learn more.

    • Well, before using social media internally or externally, I would call the fire department or other emergency response organization to extinguish the fire and investigate the cause of the fire as well as determine if a leak exists.

      I think the best social media platform to communicate internally would probably be GoogleHangout to have a conference call. The best social media platform to communicate this news would probably be Twitter first because you can update the statuses easily. The first status could say, “Our company has experienced a fire, and we’re working hard to extinguish it and find the cause.”

      • As a nerve agent, Novichok belongs to organophosphate acetylcholinesterase inhibitors. These chemical compounds inhibit the enzyme acetylcholinesterase, preventing the normal breakdown of neurotransmitter acetylcholine. Acetylcholine concentrations then increase at neuromuscular junctions to cause involuntary contraction of all muscles. This then leads to respiratory and cardiac arrest and finally death. The use of a fast-acting peripheral anticholinergic drug such as atropine could block the receptors where acetylcholine acts to prevent poisoning (as is the treatment for poisoning by other acetylcholinesterare inhibitors). This is however quite dangerous in itself.

  1. Step one: Call the fire department for the fire the police department and building manager to evacuate the area, and start the phone tree to communicate the crisis internally.
    Step 2: Call CDC about chemical (ask about procedures)
    Step 3: Contact all local media (website, any blog, social media, phone calls, e-mails) Contact primary stakeholders
    Step 4: Blog handles all updates (mentioned in press release)
    Step 5: Set up call center for incoming questions

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