A new panel to address the challenges corporate communicators face in crises has been added to the program for the International Humanitarian Assistance Symposium (IHAS). To be held in Miami June 7-8, 2012, IHAS is a meeting to enhance industry response to emergencies and disasters through knowledge-sharing, with the goal of ensuring that those involved in an unforeseen tragedy are provided with the support they need.

The panel, Crisis Communications: How to Survive the OMG Event, will feature corporate communications leaders from Carnival Cruise Lines and WestJet Airlines – both of whom have safely navigated through two separate crises that garnered major international media attention.

Jennifer de la Cruz, Senior Director Public Relations, Carnival Cruise Lines, will discuss how she handled communications following the engine room fire on the Carnival Splendor that left 3,299 passengers and 1, 167 crew members without electricity for two days in November 2010

Richard Bartrem, VP, Communications & Community Relations for WestJet Airlines, will discuss his role in WestJet’s response to an explosion at the Grand Riviera Princess Resort in Playa del Carmen, Mexico,  that killed seven people and injured seventeen others, also in November 2010 

How and when a company responds to a crisis is changing rapidly, says Carnival’s Jennifer de la Cruz.

“The landscape has changed dramatically in terms of how and at what speed a story breaks in a crisis based on today’s communications channels,” says de la Cruz.  “The key audiences a company must effectively engage with are different from even five years ago.  This IHAS panel should provide an excellent, interactive forum for exchanging ideas and sharing best practices.”

“Our best opportunities to learn and grow as crisis communicators come from these opportunities to share stories with those who have had direct experience,” says WestJet’s Richard Bartrem. “IHAS is the major event that allows this dialogue to take place.”

Originally scheduled as a breakout session concurrent with other panels, conference organizers decided to create a dedicated panel on the topic, so that all who expressed an interest could attend without missing other sessions. The panel will be held at 3:30 p.m. on Friday, June 8th and will address:

·         The challenges & opportunities social media channels present to communicators during a crisis

·         Transparency: What’s communicated internally vs. externally and how this is changing

·         Walking the tightrope: Balancing the immediate needs of those impacted by a crisis with the concerns of risk management

·         Preparing executives for the intensity of media coverage during crisis events

·         The importance of ensuring the bond of trust isn’t broken with stakeholders

·         Common pitfalls and how to avoid them

·         Best practices for and lessons learned by communicators in recent high-profile situations

The panel will be moderated by Jeff Braun, president of Crucial Communications Group, LLC. and vice president of communications for the Family Assistance Foundation. Braun is a communications expert and former journalist who has assisted clients in many sectors of industry prepare for and successfully respond to crises. More speakers are expected to be announced.

“I think the interest we’ve had in this topic is a reflection of the acute awareness of the way changes in technology – and pressures on executives and others – are impacting crisis communications and response,” says Dr. Carolyn Coarsey, co-founder of the Family Assistance Foundation and conference organizer. “The speed at which news, photos, and videos from the scene of a crisis can appear online have elevated the importance of having well-prepared, highly-trained communicators ready to respond to any set of challenges.”