Creating a
Communications Plan

An essential part of risk assessment.

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. 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.

Risk assessment communications plan

Photo: Lefteris Pitarakis (AP)

Choosing a key contact

Communications plans are often overlooked in planning an assignment – but they are essential, especially for those working on self-funded trips and assignments. It’s freelancers who need a communications plan more than most – otherwise it can be easy to fall into a black hole if something goes wrong.

So who do you keep in touch with when you work alone? Your key contact. You need to carefully assess who would be the best person to keep in touch with while on assignment and plan how to communicate with them from afar. You also need to agree who they should contact in case of emergency.

Who should be included in a communications plan?

Include any and all people your key contact should speak to if they lose contact with you. Contact details need to be clear, easy to find and should also include (where appropriate) details of any other team members.

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, translators (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 example, 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 to be contacted in case of emergency – normally your spouse/partner or closest relative. 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.

What should be included in a communications plan?

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
  • Details of travel itinerary, departure/arrival times and vehicles you’ll be using
  • Communications code (in case communications are monitored or compromised)
  • Details of the use of trackers and emergency beacons. Be as specific as possible.
  • For each person on location who is part of your team: name, position, mobile number, address, email, Skype, home telephone number, date of birth, blood type, personal circumstances and dependents, name of partner (with details), next of kin (with details)
  • Brief biography of each team member: what are their credentials? Why are they (and you) suitable for this assignment?

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