A Ferry Tragedy, and a Wake-Up Call for Communications Pros

140416102708-04-sk-ship-0416-horizontal-gallery"Stay inside and wait" will likely go down as one of the worst—and most deadly—messages ever communicated in a crisis. This is what, according to a New York Times report, the communications officer repeatedly told the hundreds of high school students on the doomed South Korean ferry Sewol, which sank on Wednesday. It took more than two hours for the ferry to sink, and "only a couple of the 44 life rafts were deployed," according to the Times. Of the 475 people on board, 179 have survived.

The communications officer also said that he couldn't recall any evacuation drills for the Sewol.

Such a lack of crisis preparedness and training in the transportation industry seems so absurd as to be implausible, yet the facts stare us in the face. Before your outrage gets the better of you, ask yourself, how prepared would your own organization be in the face of a life-threatening crisis or disaster?

If you're an experienced PR professional, few people in your organization will have better crisis management training than yourself. This is an area where communications pros can and should take the lead. Take it upon yourselves to get senior leaders involved in crisis preparedness—both the operational aspects and the communications planning. Work with HR to conceive and implement a crisis response plan and make sure all employees are trained in how to respond in the event of a life-threatening crisis, and institute a chain of command.

Communications pros should go beyond developing skills to manage the message and protect a brand in a crisis. They should be leaders in making sure plans that actually save lives are in place, and communicated well.

Follow Steve Goldstein: @SGoldsteinAI