Major incidents in a comms role

Working on a major incident or protracted investigation

Working in police comms during a major incident or protracted investigations can be tough...really tough.

Pressure to deliver work increases, people are forced out of their comfort zones and tempers can be short. Long working hours become a regular thing, there's often an inability to ‘switch off’ and the comms office dynamic can very quickly change.

Clearly, no two incidents are the same, but here are some simple principles and a checklist of things to consider the next time you are faced with a major incident. This will help you to ensure the wellbeing of you and your comms colleagues is at the forefront of everyone’s mind.

Making sure you have healthy, well supported staff during a major incident means you'll have a much more efficient communications response, but most importantly, it's the right thing to do.


Overall think about

Open communication
Don’t be afraid to have two-way, open discussions with team members to discuss how they are feeling and what they need.
Staying tuned in
Be aware of your own emotional response to the situation as well as the rest of your colleagues and how you can manage it.
Remembering it will pass
It will be undoubtedly be a time of high levels of stress, but it will pass... eventually. Acknowledge it as a situation to learn from. When it does pass, ensure there is time given to reflect from the incident and to learn from the experience.
This is vital – keeping exploring and reflecting to understand how each individual feeling during the incident. Awareness of the needs of others, by being non-judgemental, resilient and accountable is important.

Practical tips:

Some practical things to consider now and during the incident/investigation:

  • Identify and engage with your occupational and HR professionals early on and ensure that all members in the corporate comms team know how to get more specialist support/signposting if they need it.
  • Managers should explore with each member of the team their own needs and vulnerabilities. The major incident could have a unique meaning (e.g. death of a colleague/prompt a trigger of a previously distressing incident in the life of a member of staff).
  • Managers should ensure senior police officers to visit the team in person to provide an important morale boost – the support and gratitude they show will mean a lot to the team.
  • Commend good work and positive outcomes amongst the team on a regular basis to sustain morale and wellbeing.
  • Messages issued previously, reminding staff about being tuned in to their wellbeing may need to be repeated to the team verbally as well as electronically on a regular basis.
  • Managers should ensure when the PIM (post incident management process)/TRiM (Trauma risk management) process is activated that there is support for the corporate comms staff as well – it is not just there for operational officers. Don’t get left out.
  • Get in early to secure mutual aid in terms of extra press officer/digital/supervisory support. It is better to prepare to stand up extra support that can be called on quickly, rather than leaving it late, meaning a delay in the arrival of extra staff. You can always stand it down if it is not needed.
  • Keep a good supply of healthy food going – people maybe tired, stressed and low in sugar levels so tasty and nutritious food will keep you all going during long days and nights.
  • Remember, if you need help from your Occupational Health team, please do not see it as a sign of weakness. It is OK not to be OK.
  • Find a quiet room away from the press office that can be used as a place to decompress/talk/cry/reflect...whatever you need to do. Try and keep it free at all times – you never know when you might need it.
  • Managers should accept early on that not everything will go well – make this clear to everyone from the outset. In the early stages of an incident there may well be a strong element of chaos until a ‘battle rhythm’ is found. There will be setbacks, frustrations, challenges – managing expectations and reassuring them that managers ‘have their back’ will help the team’s wellbeing.
  • Managers/supervisors should accept that ‘business as usual’ duties will have to wait – the major incident needs to take priority – the team can’t do everything otherwise burn out will occur.
  • Recognise that everyone can contribute to supporting their colleagues – it is not just solely down to a manager/supervisor. All contributions are valuable and should be recognised. If someone sees someone in the team struggling, talk to them and discreetly approach the manager to raise it with them.
  • Remember, some corporate comms staff may have had direct exposure to the incident - the nature of the responses may be upsetting particularly when they include flashbacks, nightmares and a constant sense of threat. People develop their own ways of coping which can be disrupted if inappropriate early interventions are forced on them.
  • This is really difficult to do when in the thick of it but away from work make sure you find something to try and take your mind off the incident – something you enjoy, a hobby, a sport, television, music that you can lose yourself in and help you reconnect with ‘normality’.
  • Related to this, be aware of how much time you are spending looking at media and social media coverage out of hours of the incident - put in place a rota to ensure this is kept tabs on as the incident plays out so it doesn’t just fall on one or two people.
  • Keep a journal of how you are feeling – writing down and articulating your emotions can help you manage how you are feeling - it can also assist with any overall review into the incident and the critical points. It will help the organisation understand the impact the incident had and focus on what is needed to support staff in future.

Major incident exercises

Next time you and your team undertake a major incident exercise, make sure the welfare of your corporate comms teams is considered as part of the overall response to the incident.

Start to factor in all of the above with your planning because without healthy staff, you can’t respond effectively.

While you have the time and headspace now – start thinking what you as an individual and as a team can do to help you prepare to protect the wellbeing of the corporate comms staff should a major incident occur.