Public Affairs Crisis Management  
In A Multi-Service Atmosphere  


     In this project the four-phase crisis management model of Gonzalez-Herrero and  Pratt (1995) serves as a starting point for the crisis management model incorporating the five levels of operationalization outlined in the independent variable.  The four phases of the crisis management process include:  issues management, planning-prevention, the crisis, and post-crisis.  Where appropriate the link to communication theory is explicitly stated.  Major parts of the model (Table 1) are compatible with the theories outlined in the rationale section.  
     Issues management involves scanning the environment for public trends or issues that may affect it in the future. Each military service has its own history of crises or case studies for research that may provide a starting point for future crisis planning.  Studying the history of one’s  service in the public affairs arena is a helpful tool in preparing for the future.   By collecting data on potentially troublesome issues and evaluating them, public affairs professionals  can avert negative actions in the future. Data collection involves research of the files, after-action reports, news clips, and video tapes of key issues. It is helpful to contact sister service professionals to compare trends to better understand the prevailing military environment.  For example, cases of sexual harassment, aircraft crashes, criminal acts by hate groups are recent examples.  Any trend or activity that garners media attention is a potential area to monitor for future developments that may evolve into crisis. 
     Developing a communications strategy and concentrating efforts on preventing an occurrence of a crisis or redirecting its course is key. Knowledge can help the organization plan a strategy that will prevent a crisis.  One example involves the cases of sexual harassment at Fort Meade, Md.  This Army situation sent a message to the other services about an issue with crisis potential.  The opportunity was there for the other services to plan their own strategies, making them better prepared to handle the fallout if a similar case occurred. 
     Theory can play a large role in the issues management phase.  When looking at existing joint plans for crisis management, structural functional theory can be applied.  Since the theory deals with the building of networks and channels within an organization, it follows that setting plans and identifying key players would spring from deciding what issues become important.  The AUM theory is represented in the acculturation level among the services and in the sensitivity level of host country concerns.  In dealing with sister service acculturation, the AUM is used to illustrate the value of reducing anxiety and uncertainty among different branches of the armed forces.  Better understanding, primarily on the part of PA’s, eases the task of making messages correct, clear and, concise.  In the area of sensitivity to host country concerns, the AUM shows the benefit of disclosing information and methods in order to build trust and understanding. Identifying the issues needed to be addressed with the hosts during the issues management phase improves implementation.   While diffusion of innovation theory is better suited to application later in the process, it must be considered in the early formulation of issues. The issues developed that the diffusion machine in the planning prevention phase.  
     Planning-prevention is primarily concerned with setting a proactive policy based on the issues identified in the first phase. If the public affairs office of a specific service perceives that the issue is beyond management, a crisis is imminent, or the intensity is likely to change, it is time to be proactive. Getting your messages out to the press and internal audiences can reap long-term benefits and help preserve the image. 
     Re-analyzing an organization’s links with its multiple constituencies is also a part of the planning-prevention stage. This is the opportunity to consider all possible audiences/organizations that are affected by a crisis.  This step is especially critical in an overseas environment where the host nation cultural sensitivities and practices add another dimension to the planning process. 
     The preparation of general or specific contingency plans occur during this phase.  The plans should follow the five levels of the independent variable to ensure total issue coverage.  The specific plans are applicable to a multi-service environment and therefore have many portions that are flexible. Common to the plans are concrete steps grounded in the theories identified in this project. 
During the planning-prevention stage, potential members of the crisis-management team must be designated.  This step needs to apply to the  multi-service environment in particular because of the service unique features.  However, it may address the key players such as commander, public affairs officer, safety office, and environmental among others. Since the military handles its own media relations, the planning-prevention stage should be used to determine the message, target, and media outlets that would be used once a crisis-management plan is implemented. This is easier following the procedures  for an individual service, however, in a multi-service environment other messages, targets and media outlets are used to cover the needs of all concerned.  It is also necessary to assess the following: the dimension of the problem, the degree of control the organization has over the situation, options the company can choose from in developing a specific crisis plan. 
     All three communication theories used in this project can be applied during the planning-prevention stage. The structural-functional theory comes into play when applying command structure in the initial phases of the a crisis.  Identifying the main players in the crisis response should be done in advance so the initial moments are smooth.  Having the chain identified and dissemination networks ready enhance the job. AUM theory helps make sense of understanding between sister service cultures and differences with their hosts.  During the planning-prevention stage it is recommended that programs or procedures are developed to aquatint PA’s with the culture and operations of the sister services.  The resultant lessening of anxiety and uncertainty eases relationships during a crisis.  Likewise, programs that reach out to local media tear down barriers and enhance trust needed when the crisis occurs. The basic structure of the programs has to be developed by each base.  Cultures have to be evaluated on their own merits and characteristics, and providing "cookie-cutter" plans would lessen cultural awareness and contribute to misunderstanding.  Suffice it to say that what works at Incirlik Air Base Turkey might not work in Vicenza, Italy. The diffusion theory is a large part of planning-prevention because of its emphasis on getting messages to people via opinion leaders.  Plans should be drawn up and acted on that diffuse issues developed in the issues management phase using host opinion leaders, both in the community and media. 
     In the planning-prevention phase the structural functional theory is employable when looking at public affairs involvement in operational planning. Since public affairs is a subsystem of the base it should always be involved in operational planning. Knowledge of the overall operation is the key to information dissemination. 
     The nature of crisis and when it occurs has already been discussed in this document. Plans worked out months and even years in advance may make the crisis time quick and relatively painless. The job during the crisis is to pre-empt negative publicity and to communicate to the organization’s constituencies the actions being taken to solve the problem.  The company’s message must be targeted to the appropriate audiences.  Other necessary steps encompass obtaining third party support from an expert, and implementing an internal communications program to keep the organization informed. 
Communication theory as discussed to this point meets its test in the crisis stage.  The structural functional theory is useful in three of the five level operationalized.  The readiness of existing plans, the application of command structure, and the interpersonal acculturation between the services are all judged during the crisis stage.  They make up subsystems in the whole system and their success depends largely on the planning that has occurred in the other two phases.  Plans have to be implemented, chains of command have to be used to great effect, and the sister services have to enter the crisis confident of everyone’s role and understanding everyone’s differences. 
     The AUM is used to extensively with regards to sensitivity to host nation concerns during the crisis.  It is during the crisis that the good rapport built by diligent planning in the earlier phases pays off.  If anxiety and uncertainty were built by using outreach programs and diffusing information as outlined in the planning-prevention stage, then trust from public and media should be high.  It is important to remember this is the most fragile period in the model; care must be taken to always tell the truth and respect the host culture.  AUM is also acknowledged in the public affairs involvement in operational planning.  It is posited here that having the knowledge gained from planning participation reduces uncertainty with media and the public because messages are communicated clearly, quickly, and concisely. 
     Awareness is the most important duty in the post-crisis phase.  Continue to pay attention to its multiple publics, monitor the issue until its intensity is reduced, and inform the media of its actions, if necessary.  Evaluate the response keeping in mind the five levels of the independent variable.  For the existing plan, review the level of success, and return to the issues management phase for fine tuning, if necessary.  If chains of command break down or do not come together, apply the structural-functional theory and return to the planning-prevention phase.  If service-unique misunderstandings hinder operations, check on the issues addressed and on the effectiveness of acculturation programs instituted in the planning-prevention phase.  The best way to gauge an acceptable level of sensitivity is to ask host nation representatives for feedback on behavior. A rapport should exist for genuine feedback  if outreach and diffusion were conducted properly during the planning-prevention stage.  If the sensitivity was lacking, return to the planning-prevention stage.  In the operational planning area, poor results may indicate a need for public affairs to take a more active role in operational planning. Positive results indicate the level of involvement may be good or possibly can be reduced.   
     Besides the indicators listed above, the operationalization of the dependent variable—to include the speed of command messages, the clarity of those messages, and the ease with which they were formulated and approved in the organization form—a score sheet to determine success or failure.  Successful manipulation of the independent variable and its five levels, as outlined above, should result in positive results on the dependent variable.