Crisis Communications Overview: ACA Communications Toolkit

  1. Preparing for a Crisis
    1. Develop a crisis communications plan. The plan will help guide you through a crisis and help you stay on course during an emergency.
    2. Establish protocol. It's important to identify a list of key personnel to contact in the event of a crisis. Keep phone numbers, pagers, etc. available for the primary contacts.
    3. Know the ACA Camp Crisis Hotline number. Calls to the hotline are confidential. The Hotline staff can help you by talking through your crisis and helping you to identify options. The Hotline is available 24 hours a day, year-round at 800-573-9019.
    4. Identify your target audience(s). During a crisis, it's important to identify to whom you are speaking. Most often you are communicating with staffers, children, and parents. Remember the media serves as a gatekeeper to other external audiences.
  2. Identifying a Crisis
    1. It's important to identify the crisis and understand its origins. Here are some questions you may want to ask yourself:
      • Did the crisis take place at camp?
      • Did the crisis take place outside of camp but involve camp staff, camper(s), or camp families?
      • Is the crisis immediate or ongoing?
      • Is the crisis one that will remain local or will it have national media appeal?
      • Is this something that you can ask your Section Executive to  help resolve for your camp or is it something that requires national office assistance.
      • Does the crisis concern a media hot button issue—an allegation of child abuse, outraged parents, accreditation? If so, is this an issue best handled by a national spokesperson?
  3. Handling a Crisis
    1. When a crisis occurs, it's important to gather the facts immediately. In gathering the facts you should talk with camp staff only. 
    2. Remind the camp to follow these suggestions in handling their crisis. Tell them that they can find on line assistance at ______________________.
    3. If the crisis is at a camp, the camp should designate one spokesperson to speak on behalf of the camp. Ideally this is the camp director, camp owner, or other person of authority. It is best to identify only one spokesperson to ensure a consistency in message. However, the camp may ask you to act as the spokesperson—if you feel comfortable to do this. Or the camp may need help from ACA's national office.
    4. Remind the camp that your help, the assistance of ACA's national office, and the online Communications Toolkit are not a substitute for the help and advise from their own attorney or PR counsel.
    5. If the crisis requires statements from you, control the flow of information. In other words, if the media calls, be courteous, take their information, and ask the deadline to return the call. You do not need to provide an immediate comment to the media but you should not ignore their requests either.
    6. Develop a written statement. You should work with your attorneys and/or your PR counsel to develop a written statement to share with parents and the media. The statement should include the facts only. Do not speculate and do not place blame. ACA local office staff or the ACA national office can provide assistance as well.
    7. Develop key messages. This should be for your internal use only to help you in discussing the matter with parents and the media. 
    8. Communicate the message and the facts. Provide the media with the written statement and be available for comment.  Remember to stick to the facts. Do not try to "hide" bad news as negative media coverage is likely to result and will continue beyond the immediate crisis itself.
    9. Keep track of all calls and requests. Keep a list of reporters with whom you spoke. 
    10. Respond to the media. Remember the media helps to shape public opinion. A "no comment" statement is seen as an admittance of guilt. Be fair and respond quickly to the media. 
    11. If you are not available by phone or cell phone at all times (during normal business hours), please consider leaving a voice message that directs the media to the national office—"If this is a media inquiry and you need immediate assistance or if this is an emergency, please call the American Camp Association national office at 317-342-8456 and ask for the public relations department"
    12. The media may ask to speak with other persons affected by the crisis. It is best to restrict access and to refer all questions to the primary spokesperson. 
    13. Keep track of all media coverage. Review all the media coverage for accuracy. Call the reporter when the information is not accurate

In summary:

  • Designate a crisis communications protocol.
  • Manage the message and the media.
  • Understand and prioritize your audience. 
  • Communicate early and often. 
  • Do not lie.
  • Do not ignore the situation.

Top of page