An essential part of risk assessment.
Photo: Lefteris Pitarakis (AP)
Why Do I Need a Communications Plan?
A communications plan will quickly alert others if something has happened to you and provide all the necessary information to put into action an appropriate emergency response plan. Fast response time is crucial in a crisis situation, and your communications plan will alert your commissioner or Key Contact, family and others to act as quickly as possible. (Get your communications plan template.)
Choosing a Key Contact
Communications plans are often a weakness among freelancers – especially those working on self-funded trips and assignments. Who do you keep in touch with when you work alone? But it’s freelancers who need a communications plan, more than most – otherwise it’s all too easy to fall into a black hole if something goes wrong.
Creating one is simple: you need to carefully assess who the best person is to keep in touch with while on assignment and plan how you will communicate with them. You also need to agree who they should contact in case of emergency. This person will be your key contact.
Who Should be Included in Your Communications Plan?
These are people who your key contact should speak to if they don’t hear from you. Their contact details need to be clear and easy to find and should also include (where appropriate) contact details of any team members (including satellite numbers).
Here are some suggestions of who to include:
- A local security contact, with whom your key contact can liaise directly and securely.
- Your commissioning editor or main contact for the media organisation/s you’re working for, if applicable.
- Any relevant contacts on the ground working with you who would be able to assist in case of an emergency: fixers, drivers (it’s helpful to include which languages these contacts can communicate in).
- A colleague travelling with you, but not necessarily working with you. Maybe other journalists you know that are also on assignment in the same location, for instance local correspondents for a major broadcaster.
- Your embassy on location: make sure you have a name and an emergency contact number.
- Any other contacts that may be in a position to help in case of an emergency (i.e. lawyers, government officials).
The people in this list should be placed in the order in which they should be contacted, each with primary contact information, time zone and dialling code information.
Next of Kin: discuss and agree in advance with your key contact who you want to name as your next of kin – normally your spouse/partner, or closest relative. This person will be the member of your family who will be contacted in case of emergency. The next of kin of all team members should be included in your risk assessment form. (Your key contact and next of kin may be the same person but it’s not always advisable.)
Your communications plan needs to include the following: how often you will be in touch with your key contact and through what method; who your emergency contacts are on location; what should happen if you do not make contact; how you will make contact while travelling; details of travel, vehicles and departure and arrival times; communications code (if communications are monitored or compromised); details of the use of trackers and emergency beacons. Be as specific as possible.
Personal Details of You and your Team
- Who will be on location? For each person on location who is part of your team write out the following:
- Name, position, cell phone, address, email, Skype, home telephone number, DoB, blood group, personal circumstances and dependents, name of partner (with details), next of kin (with details).
- Brief biography: what are their credentials? Why are they (and you) suitable for this assignment?