As a community centre, disasters were not something that Al Manaar Muslim Heritage Centre was explicitly prepared for. But with the crises of Grenfell, Covid 19, influx of refugees and more, Al Manaar became a place where people turned to in their hour of greatest need.
Al Manaar’s communication strategy ensured that all stakeholders, from those directly affected by the emergencies to the press and the public, were always well informed on Al Manaar’s help and actions. At MCF’s webinar on Communication in UK Emergencies, Abdurahman Sayed, CEO of Al Manaar, as well as Louise Vaughan, Director of Communications of National Emergencies Trust, and Imran Musa, Manager at Al Khair Foundation, shared their advice on how to best communicate during crises drawn from their experiences in responding to emergencies in the UK.
Here are three of their key points on achieving effective communication in crises:
While crises may feel unexpected, in fact it is a matter of ‘when’ rather than ‘if’ they occur. They will touch every organisation at some point, so preparing is something every organisation should do in order to mitigate their impacts. The National Emergencies Trust creates press releases, social media materials, emergency appeals and capacity plans in advance so they are ready for when an emergency hits.
The importance of good preparation is echoed by Abdurahman Sayed from Al Manaar, in the aspect of having a stable organisational structure where roles have already been pre-delegated in preparation for an emergency. Having designated roles including one specific spokesperson for your organisation ensures that there is clarity in terms of communication and responsibility, and it avoids contradictions or duplication of messages or other tasks.
When an emergency does occur, acting within the first 48 hours is crucial. The National Emergencies Trust, for example, find a significant spike in google searches about the emergency within the immediate aftermath of the crisis. Creating an online presence in this period is vital for a message to have the maximum reach. Being visible online immediately enables affected individuals to be aware of the services you are offering as well as encourages donors to donate. Having that profile in the public will also enable your organisation to fill in the gaps in media outlets’ stories.
Having said that, Louise Vaughan from National Emergencies Trust suggests that “more haste may mean mistakes” – make sure your team knows where to go for reliable information, and always be ready to be accountable for what you say.
Putting yourself in the shoes of the people affected by the emergency is key. It is crucial that you understand people’s needs by getting in touch with those on the ground as communication is equally made up of listening, as well as talking.
Sharing stories online raises awareness of the crisis at hand and persuades many to donate. When publishing testimonies, however, one must always prioritise a victim’s right to privacy. This was a particular issue during Grenfell, where Al Manar instituted ‘media-free zones’ to protect the vulnerable from the intense media attention they were experiencing. We have a responsibility towards victims, to protect these people that have suffered from traumatic experiences. Do share personal stories when appropriate, but consider consent and be careful not to invade people’s privacy.
Both Imran Musa from Al Khair Foundation and Abdurahman Sayed from Al Manaar highlight the importance of transparency. There is a need to take pictures and videos for documentation purposes, but this should be done in consultation with those affected. Muslim charities may be face particular hardships, scrutiny or judgement if they are seen as lacking transparency. Being open and transparent is important during communication to tackle unfair judgement, fake news and conspiracy theories that could arise.
Having a communication plan ready for when a crisis happens will ease the burden in the moment of the emergency. When organisations will most want to be focusing on helping those in need, it’s not the moment for them to create an entire communication strategy. Planning in advance will enable charities to act quickly when disaster strikes and ensure that good, sensitive communication decisions are made throughout the crisis.