German Police praised in crisis communicationGerman Police praised in crisis communication

Facebook used by German Police in Munich shooting crisis

Communicating in a crisis is difficult – everyone not directly involved wants information. But for those on the front line – well, they have a different concern about saving lives, preventing harm, and protecting property. The two don’t always mix well.
In Munich in late July 2016, a lone 18 year old gunman went on the prowl. He killed nine people, and then himself. O top of other terrorist threats across Europe this attracted huge media attention, in turn satisfying the public demand for information. What was remarkable was the skill, professionalism of the Munich Police, from finding information, to providing spokespeople, and using social media to help manage the demand and have their own authentic voice. One of Crown Media’s colleagues was on a UK newsdesk that night – and her observations include:
1. “First of all, there were people readily available in their press office after hours. Admittedly the phone line was overwhelmed and it took a few attempts to get through each time, but I personally was able to talk to a spokesperson four times at the height of the incident that evening, which gave me all the information I needed to update reports. When you consider how many news organisations were most likely trying to speak to them all at once, that's not bad going.
2. “Each time I reached one of the (at least) three different available spokespeople, I was given a solid, helpful update with new facts. They took time to answer my questions and I never had the feeling I was getting the brush-off. On the contrary, they were careful with facts, yet fully informative.
3. “In addition to this, the Munich Police Twitter account provided updates to both press and public frequently - sometimes as often as as every 15 minutes or so. Once the scale of the incident became apparent as well as the level of international interest, they began tweeting in English, French and sometiimes Turkish, as well as in German (the area where it happened as a large Turkish-German population).
4. “They gave two short press briefings and one full press conference in that one evening.
5. “Given the numerous updates, I then didn't need to call them as much. By the end of the night, not at all.
6. “For me as a journalist their press strategy worked extremely well. I'd imagine it would have done for the pubic too. I hear they've received a lot of praise about how well the comms worked in general.”
The bottom line is this – that’s what the media want. It doesn’t always work, but when it does it’s not just the media. More importantly it is about the wider population, both locally, nationally and internationally who are informed, and most importantly are reassured.
The German police in Munich had a dreadful day. The whole of the Munich area suffered. But it is clear this was one person, a rogue killer, and not part of a terrorist plot. It was managed, and its reputational damage limited through some excellent work, not least for the Police at a time when their colleagues were dealing with the immediate aspects of the incident on the ground at the same time.