In the midst of a critical incident, it is vital that people get clear, concise, and regular communication. People need to know what is going on, what they can do about it, and what will be done for them. A Crisis Management Briefing (Everly 2000), or CMB, is an efficient and effective way to meet this need.
What is a Crisis Management Briefing?
A CMB is a meeting to share information about crisis events that have recently taken place or are ongoing. It can be delivered to a small or large group that include all kinds of participants, from survivors to spectators. The purpose is for the dissemination of information. Therefore, communication is mostly one-sided. Speakers should have discussed their talking points with incident leaders and each other before the CMB begins to ensure consistent and unified content.
A CMB is not a debriefing or a time to process reactions and responses. Question and answer portions (if allowed at all) should be limited. As much as possible, questions that arise should be addressed one-on-one after the CMB concludes. A setup and structure for this dialogue should be given in the Re-Entry Phase.
CMB’s can, and frequently should, be done more than once in the course of a critical incident. Regular and consistent briefing times can help survivors satisfy their craving for information and build trust with leadership.
Who should give the briefing?
The short answer is that anyone can give a CMB. However, for the most impact, it should be someone who has taken a level of responsibility for the incident. It will depend on the circumstances whether that is leadership within an organization, response managers, or others. It is best to have leadership from all parties directly affected by the incident as a part of the CMB, although as much as is possible, the speakers in a CMB should not be directly affected by the incident. A CMB can lose some of its effectiveness if the speakers are overly emotionally invested in the events.
How does a CMB work?
A CMB moves quickly through 4 phases of communication; Introduction, Fact, Teaching, and Re-Entry (Mitchell 2006). Most CMBs will take less than an hour.
The introduction is the part of the briefing where audience members are introduced to the people involved in giving the briefing and the reason for the briefing.
There is no standard requirement for who should be involved in delivering a CMB. Some roles you may consider when available are:
- The response coordinator or leader
- Organizational leadership
- Licensed Mental Health or a Crisis Responder trained in Spiritual and Psychological First Aid
- Governmental or community leader (be careful not to turn a CMB into a press conference or a photo op for political agendas.)
“Hello, my name is John Smith, and I am the response manager. With me are; Doug Ross, who is a Social Worker from the local area. He will be talking to you a little later about what you can expect as your mind and body process the trauma you have gone through, and this is Jack Riley from XYZ organization; I will turn it over to him in a moment to let you know how XYZ will be responding and what available resources they offer.
We are here because of the events of last Thursday. Our goal is to give get everyone on the same page as to where we stand right now and to provide you with information about resources and plans moving forward.”
Keep it simple and straightforward. Do not beat around the bush.
From here, you will move quickly into the Fact Phase.
This phase is about getting everyone on the same page as to what has happened and where the situation stands at the moment. It is beneficial to put the known facts in chronological order. This helps people fill in blanks of missing information from their own experience.
Facts should be delivered in a business tone, with little emotional reaction from the speaker.
Confidentiality should always be a consideration when putting together talking points about the facts of events. Whether something should be shared or not can usually be decided by clearing specific talking points by those it may affect (ex. talk to the affected person before sharing any prognosis or expectation of recovery.) Some things to watch out for when putting information into a CMB are:
- Personal information of any individual should not be shared without express permission.
- Medical and psychological diagnosis and treatment should never be shared unless they are common knowledge.
- Emotional reactions of survivors are their story to process and should not be a part of a CMB.
- Information that may be damaging to a person or organization should not be shared.
“On November the 24th at 8:00 pm a call was made to Dan Bell, the operations director of XYZ from the director of XYZ’s operations in Haiti explaining that there had been an uptick in violence in the region of the field office and that the office compound was vandalized, that the office was damaged and that three staff were missing. Over the next few hours, the decision was made to move the staff and families to a local field to be used as a landing zone for evacuation.
The evacuation was scheduled for Thursday evening. Before taking off from the USA, the plane scheduled for the evacuation experienced engine trouble and could not be used. In-country staff were contacted and told to shelter in place at the home of one of a staff member closest to the landing zone until other arrangements could be made.
As of today, Friday, no suitable vehicle has been identified for the evacuation, and the staff is still sheltering in place. The violence continues but has not come near the house in which the team is residing.”
If you schedule more than one CMB, it is unnecessary to reiterate the entire timeline of events at each one. It is enough to fill in events from the last update.
The teaching phase is often the longest portion of the briefing, where the voice of communication will change from what has happened to what will happen. It should address physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual expectations and resources. It should include:
- Projected responses from periphery entities, governing authorities, and organizational leadership.
- Available resources and points of contact for access.
- Mental health options – contacts and access
- Benefits – organizational policies that are pertinent to survivors of the event.
- Logistical aid – meal providers, transportation access, etc.
- A list of common physical, mental and emotional reactions to trauma.
- Action steps that survivors need to do.
“XYZ organization continues to work to find suitable transportation for staff evacuation. There are several promising options, and we expect to have a solution by the end of the day. I have been in contact with the Hattian government officials to solidify the potential landing site’s security. If all goes as we plan, we should have personnel on the mainland by mid-day tomorrow.
I will turn it over to Doug at this point, and he will go over some of the mental and emotional signs and symptoms that you may experience. Doug…
Doug: Thanks, John. It is important to recognize that we are all going through an abnormal circumstance that adds to our stress load.
Anxiety is normal as we all wait for information. We are giving you a handout that explains some of the signs and symptoms that you may experience over the next few days as your body and mind go through the normal process of trying to define and make sense of abnormal and confusing events. Please take time to look these over when you get a minute to be familiar with what you might recognize in yourself or others as time goes on. Do not hesitate to reach out to talk to someone if you want support in dealing with any of these signs or symptoms.
John: Thanks, Doug. I can’t emphasize enough what a benefit it is to have Doug and his team here and available. I encourage you to take him up on his service. I know I have.
This phase concludes the CMB. Start this phase by normalizing and validating the struggle that the events have caused, and then include:
- A stated time for the next CMB – schedule should be regular (ex. every Monday morning from 9-10am).
- Letting people know whom to contact for questions. Havenames and contact information printed on a list as a handout.
- Affirm the follow-up options for spiritual and emotional care – Connections to Licensed Mental Health, Pastoral Support, Debriefing, etc.
- Summarize action points.
- Normalize experiences and encourage forward, optimistic movement.
“That is all the information that we have for you at the moment. We will do this again tomorrow morning at the same time and place to update you on how the situation develops and hopefully give you information on when and where staff will be landing as they arrive.
I know you may have some questions. As we conclude, you can find anyone with a blue lanyard to ask questions, and they can answer or point you in the right direction.
We know that this is a tough time for each of you. Doug is available, along with a couple of his team members, if you are experiencing effects of stress, have any questions about mental health support, or just need someone to talk to. We also have Pastor Ross of AAA church that you can connect with as well.
Please remember to put your contact information on the list going around if you want to be updated via text message.
Thank you all for coming; we will see you here tomorrow morning at 9:00 am.
The examples given are purely to illustrate how information might be put together to be presented. Communication within the CMB formula should and will vary widely from one event to another. While initially designed for a crisis, the procedure for the CMB has been applied to a variety of circumstances other than critical incidents with great success. Anytime a leader or organization needs to deliver information on a sensitive topic to a group of people, the phases of a CMB are a good starting point for consideration.
Everly G. 2000. Crisis management briefings (CMB): large group crisis intervention in response to terrorism, disasters, and violence. International journal of emergency mental health.
Mitchell, Jeffery T. 2006. Advanced Group Crisis Intervention: Strategies and Tactics for Complex Situations. Ellicot City, MD. International Critical Incident Stress Foundation