Would your community be ready for a public demonstration?
In Canada, public demonstrations are protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and are a valid way for people to voice their opinions. However, as a government agency, demonstrations can be a cause for concern and safety. Is your agency prepared for a public demonstration or the media that may surround one? If not, here are some ideas to consider for 2012:

Be prepared

Planning is the first step to mitigating potential media crises or agitated crowd-driven situations. If you haven’t already, ensure your crisis communication plan is updated. Verify that it includes all your social media channels, such as Twitter™ feeds and Facebook™ pages, and that it identifies the parties responsible for posting via those channels.Train internal team members to handle these emotionally-charged situations. Promote calm, active listening skills, as well as direct and fact-filled communication. Give staff first-aid kits to carry onsite for small emergencies. And, hand out inexpensive wristbands to staff, similar to the custom of tying a ribbon around one’s finger, as a reminder to stay safe. Imprint them with these tips: “Stay calm. Listen. Show respect. State the facts.” It will help ingrain the right behaviour when dealing with agitated groups.

Build a positive relationship with the media in advance of a protest movement. While the media will report the facts, if you are prepared and organized in working with them it is far more likely that the public message will shed a positive light on your efforts.

Communication is key
Safety is likely your number one concern. Meet with protest organizers to work together to maintain a safe demonstration. Ask organizers to hand out buttons to help identify protestors and imprint them with “Safety first” as a way to reinforce that gathering as a crowd necessitates extra precautions.

Protestors aren’t always the problem. Often, onlookers or opposing viewpoints can escalate a situation. Those that you may have assisting or guarding the demonstration could hand out flyers to observers that offer guidelines to safely viewing or participating.

Keep all communication avenues open and updated. Those that may not be viewing or participating in the demonstration will likely still seek information about it to better understand the cause, its impact on the community and potential risks affiliated with gathering publicly. Try to hand out magnets or pens with your agency’s website address or the location where citizens can find information relevant to crisis communication in advance of a situation.

Follow up

It’s not enough to be precautionary or maintain the situation during its course, it is important to also follow up after a demonstration’s conclusion.

Recap with staff to review what went well and what could be improved upon. Update your communications plan based on this feedback. Also, touch base with the media to thank them for their coverage of the event and solicit their input on better ways to assist them in their jobs.

Finally, remember that demonstrations can be a positive force for change. Set this example through your actions and communication with your community as a means of supporting our Charter Rights while keeping safety a top priority.

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