On Monday, May 26th, just before 7pm, a lady dressed as a nurse walked into Mélissa McMahon’s hospital room in Trois-Rivières, Quebec (a town just outside of Montreal), where she was resting with her one-day old daughter, Victoria. The lady dressed as a nurse took baby Victoria from her mother, walked out of the room, into her car and drove away.
When Victoria’s parents and the hospital realized what had happened, they alerted the authorities. An amber alert was issued at 7pm and the picture of the abductor, taken from the hospital’s security footage, was plastered all of local media and social media.
Four young Quebeckers saw the picture and read about what had happened on Facebook, and decided to go searching for the abductor’s red Toyota Yaris hatchback with a “Bébé à bord” (“Baby on Board”) sticker. Within three hours, baby Victoria was found and returned to her loving and beyond-worried parents.
This, ladies and gentlemen, is a great example of the power of social media in emergency and crisis situations.
How can hospitals and other healthcare facilities protect themselves?
This is a scary and very realistic situation, as Victoria’s parents have learned all too well. So what can hospitals do to protect their patients and their own reputation from this and similar crises?
Step 1: Conduct a vulnerability audit
From disease epidemics, to emergency situations, to hacks, to stolen babies and more, healthcare facilities have an unimaginable set of risks that need to be identified and planned for.
Identifying the risks is the first step in preparing for and managing them. During this risk evaluation phase, here are some important questions for hospitals and other healthcare facilities to assess and answer:
- What puts your hospital at risk?
- What types of incidents put your patients in harms way and threaten your reputation?
- What types of negative situations could occur that your organization is responsible for managing and communicating throughout?
- How does social media and technology in general put you at risk?
- What procedures do you have in place to prevent the preventable and manage the unpreventable, if it were to occur – and how could they be strengthened?
- How have you, or could you, leverage social media and mobile technology as a crisis preparedness strategy?
Step 2: Plan and train your team
Once you’ve identified all of your vulnerabilities (both online and offline) and strengths, it’s time to put a plan together. Today’s risks are far greater than what they once were, for different reasons. At the same time, crisis communications have the opportunity to be more efficient and effective than they ever did. While creating your crisis management plans and procedures, consider the following:
- In what circumstances can social media be leveraged to help communicate important messages to the public, quickly and efficiently?
- Is there a way to incorporate mobile applications as a crisis preparedness and communications strategy (either internally and/or externally)?
- How can you work with authorities now to make sure that you’re both on the same page and able to work together efficiently and effectively in a crisis?
- Who are your organization’s spokespeople, are they trained – and what about everyone else that could be confronted by the media in a crisis? Are they trained?
Every organization has risks and vulnerabilities. Some risks and vulnerabilities are more severe than others and can impact more than just the organization’s reputation and bottom line, as we saw with the hospital in Trois-Rivières. However, there are many strategies, tools and techniques to help you manage these risks. The only catch is that you need to be prepared in advance.
Our hats go off to the hospital and police department in Trois-Rivières for their quick and effective management of this terrible crisis; as well to the four youths who gave their time and energy to bring baby Victoria safely home to her family.
Photo credit: cbc.ca
Author of Crisis Ready: Building an Invincible Brand in an Uncertain World, Melissa Agnes is a leading authority on crisis preparedness, reputation management, and brand protection. Agnes is a coveted keynote speaker, commentator, and advisor to some of today’s leading organizations faced with the greatest risks. Learn more about Melissa and her work here.