Handbook for the Crisis Communication Center

by Bolanle A. Olaniran (Author) Juliann C. Scholl (Author)
Textbook 300 Pages


Crisis communication plays an important role in maintaining a community’s safety and security. While governments devote significant attention to national crises, anticipation and preparation specific to local communities is imperative and can assist media outlets, elected officials, and message designers in successfully reaching their intended target audiences. However, local leaders might not possess the communication skills and knowledge needed to prepare a local community for potential crises. Therefore, there is a need for communities to have support systems in place to help them respond and communicate appropriately.
This volume provides a comprehensive resource that provides the knowledge and guidelines that can be used for localized crisis preparation. Focusing on crisis preparedness/readiness, it discusses and extends the anticipatory model of crisis management (AMCM) in the establishment of crisis communication centers (CCCs) within local communities and municipalities across the U.S. The authors advocate for communities to create CCCs that would be comprised of municipal and community members who can fulfill specific functions on a team tasked with preparing for crisis, as well as responding to a crisis aftermath.
Directions for future research such as the comparison of specific crisis prevention strategies across similar local communities, and developing new and innovative ways to collect and warehouse large amounts of crisis data, is provided.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Foreword (H. Dan O’Hair)
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • Part I: Theoretical Underpinnings
  • Chapter 1. The Anticipatory Model of Crisis Management and the Crisis Communication Center (CCC)
  • Chapter 2. CCC and the Multiple Stakeholders
  • Chapter 3. Community Resources for CCCs
  • Chapter 4. New Media Technologies’ Role in the CCC’s Crisis Management
  • Chapter 5. Research Implications for CCCs
  • Part II: Practical Aspects
  • Chapter 6. Health Crises: Epidemics and Biological Impacts
  • Chapter 7. Cultural Issues in Anticipatory Crisis Management
  • Chapter 8. Ethical Considerations in Anticipatory Crisis Management
  • Chapter 9. Putting the CCC Plan into Action
  • Chapter 10. Implications for Practitioners and Community Sectors
  • Index

← vi | vii →



University of Kentucky

Prolonged ice storms, tornadoes, pandemic flu, violence in schools, floods, draughts, high-impact transportation crashes, and wild fires, these are just a few of the poignant reminders that risks and crises are ever ready to impose their presence in our communities. Risks, crises, and disasters are locally situated—they occur in communities. While community members fully expect to be protected against threats, they find themselves more vulnerable today than ever before. Managing information about risks, crises, and disasters poses overwhelming challenges for individuals, for families, and for communities.

Amid many economic and political changes, homeland security strategists have the responsibility and opportunity to chart directions for preparedness and for responses that transcend political challenges and that elevate community safety to new levels. Many organizations stake claim to the onerous task of securing our communities and of promoting the health and well-being of our citizens. The multitude of state, county, municipal, nonprofit, and faith-based organizations deliver invaluable and irreplaceable resources in various forms, ranging from the tangible, such as financial support and volunteerism, to the less easily measured, such as a collaborative spirit and an unrelenting sense of optimism. Intersecting forces of federal and state policy, determined and unwavering support from a diverse set of stakeholders, and widely ← vii | viii → differing perspectives for solving problems present challenges that can only be solved from transparency, from collaboration, and from communication.

In Crisis Communication Centers, Bolanle Olaniran and Juliann Scholl develop very strong arguments for how a diverse body of individuals and organizations can collaborate and coordinate their activities in pursuit of risk and crisis management. These centers are based on the need for a broader, more systemic and interdisciplinary approach for understanding how communities manage risks, crises, and disasters. Properly conceived and operationalized, the centers will serve as the nexuses for the next generation of research and education for promoting community safety and health. In addition to the practical implications discussed by Olaniran and Scholl in Chapter 10, additional opportunities for the crisis communication centers (CCC) could be promoting multidisciplinary programs in risk sciences, translating science into practice, minimizing risks of vulnerable populations, improving evidenced-based decision making under uncertainty, and fostering interdisciplinary risk management communities. According to the authors, “The uniqueness of the CCC rests in the fact that it is a repository of information, evaluation or analysis, and communication training that crisis practitioners in local and surrounding communities can utilize” (Chapter 2). Done well, the CCCs will provide a fundamental infrastructure to facilitate rapid advances in the following vital areas:

An initiative involving multidisciplinary collaboration focusing on society health and safety is an opportunity to elevate research and professional processes, and to ask new questions about risk and crisis dimensions. These problems require large investigative systems, which need expert staff seldom found in single departments. In addition, these collaborative initiatives should represent more than a collection of involved parties in search of funding opportunities. Instead, they should be constituted as places where new ideas are ← viii | ix → incubated and nurtured through collaboration stimulated by bridging various aspects of disciplines that create a critical mass of interdisciplinary activity.

The CCCs’ efforts will be used to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of risk and crisis mitigation, response, and recovery. They will also serve as a mechanism for advancing interdisciplinary exchange on issues related to natural, technological, and man-made threats and adverse events, especially in relation to vulnerable population groups. As envisioned by Olaniran and Scholl, the CCCs are uniquely positioned to develop evidenced-based, predictive science models for preventing, avoiding, mitigating, and recovering from adverse situations of natural, technological, or man-made disasters. In organizing their presentation, Olaniran and Scholl took special steps to emphasize anticipatory models of crisis response and management (Chapter 1); from there, they identified key characteristics inherent in CCCs, such as information and communication technology (Chapter 4), and issues involving culture (Chapter 7) and ethics (Chapter 8). Traditional media and key stakeholders were also given special attention. The book concludes with a plan of action (Chapter 9) and practical implications (Chapter 10), thus coming full circle to the critical points advanced in the Introduction—protecting communities in a collaborative manner.

The notion of CCCs is fostered by previous and existing attempts to bring community organizations together. Whether they be supported by authority-driven organizations, such as Local Emergency Planning Committees, or instigated by more conceptual notions, such as community infrastructure models (O’Hair, Kelley, & Williams, 2011), these CCCs will play a key role in information exchange and lead to appropriate messaging to the public and the coordination of strategies for prevention, response, and recovery efforts.

A communication perspective assumes the roles and responsibilities for engaging in enlightened conversation as people collaborate and compete in the definition and operationalization of crises. The last two decades observed a proliferation of crisis communication research focusing primarily on serious diseases, natural and man-made disasters, and a multitude of hazards. Simultaneously, developments in communication research has reached levels of proliferation unmatched in the history of the discipline (Heath & O’Hair, 2009). A dramatic emphasis on crisis communication events creates unprecedented opportunities to integrate risk and crisis communication practice with new approaches to preparedness and response, thus resulting in innovative models of community crisis communication as purported by this new book. ← ix | x →


Heath, R. L., & O’Hair, H. D. (2009). The significance of risk and crisis communication. In R. L. Heath & H. D. O’Hair (Eds.), Handbook of risk and crisis communication (pp. 5–30). New York: Routledge.

O’Hair, H. D., Kelley, K., & Williams, K. (2011). Managing community risks through a community-communication infrastructure approach. In H. Canary & R. McPhee (Eds.), Communication and organizational knowledge: Contemporary issues for theory and practice (pp. 223–43). New York: Routledge.

← x | xi →


Bolanle Olaniran

First, I want to thank God—without whom this book never would have happened—for seeing me through this process. I am grateful to my co-author, Juliann Scholl, who worked tirelessly to make this book a reality. I am also grateful to my family, Adeline and Esther-Hope, who provided the support and allowed me the necessary time to work on this book. I want to thank my parents, Samuel and Alice Olaniran. I am also appreciative of support from numerous colleagues, who have allowed me to bounce ideas about this book project off of them. I know I am unable to mention them all, but I would like to thank David Williams, who planted the seed of crisis communication center in our collaborations on crisis preparedness.

Juliann Scholl

I extend my sincere thanks and appreciation to my co-author, Bolanle Olaniran, for his partnership in turning an idea into a reality. He not only has grown to be one of my most trusted colleagues, but he is also my “go-to” for anything on crisis communication, a “big brother,” and a dear friend. I also ← xi | xii → thank David “Doc” Williams for sharing his crisis expertise with me and for being a positive source of support during my early career development. I also wish to thank my mom and dad, Dianne and LaVern Scholl, for their support and the work ethic they instilled in me. I owe many thanks to Diane Papes, a mentor and dear friend; she has stood by me through the best and worst times and has inspired me to persevere. Finally, I owe a tremendous debt to the friends, colleagues, and mentors who have inspired me professionally during the course of this project—Tom Cunningham, Rebecca Guerin, Patrick Hughes, Lauralynn McKernan, H. Dan O’Hair, Sandra Ragan, K. David Roach, Paul Schulte, Toby Smith, Robert Stewart, Carol Stephenson, Ravi Vadapalli, Donna Van Bogaert, and Shawn Wahl.

← xii | xiii →


Overview of the Crisis Communication Center

Chapter Highlights

  • The nature of crisis as a premise for a Crisis Communication Center (CCC)
  • Crises at the community level
  • Community preparedness for crises
  • The need for a CCC

The 9/11 attacks, school shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School (Newtown, Connecticut), and the Aurora, Colorado, movie theater shooting in 2012, along with the 2015 church shootings in South Carolina, reminded the American public and the rest of the world that we are at risk and that preparation for crises, disasters, and other inevitabilities is not an option but a necessity. Therefore, if preparation is the key to the continued safety of life (and property) as we know it, then steps must be taken to prevent similar attacks and disasters. Toward this end, the 9/11 attacks led to the creation of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which has since given us the color-coding risk level systems, or what the U.S. media fondly refer to as the “terror alert level,” that is, the dissemination of information regarding the ← xiii | xiv → risk of terrorist acts against federal, state, and local authorities and against the American people.

In spite of such a proactive approach to fighting terrorism abroad and increasing security on the home front, there still exists the fear of future attacks. Evidence also suggests that terror cells and the likes of Al-Qaeda, ISIS, etc. are getting increasingly innovative in trying to beat the security systems in place. For example, the shoe bomber and the underwear bomber remind us that the risk is real, and this risk has since informed our way of life. Public concern appears to escalate when the terror alert level is increased—when significant national holidays or events approach or on the anniversary of 9/11, for example. Similarly, specific areas of the country suffer anxieties stemming from the proximity of potential terrorist targets at the local level.

Furthermore, although not acts of terror, natural disasters, such as hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the Japanese tsunami, the 2010 Brazil flooding, and the earthquake in Haiti, remind us that nations, organizations, and local communities must focus their attention on adequate preparation to prevent or to reduce the impact of crises or disasters. As if terrorism and natural disasters are not rampant enough, organizational mishaps, technology failures, and human errors all contribute to crises of unimaginable proportions. For instance, the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, referred to as the BP blowout, resulted in one of the largest environmental/ecosystem crises of our time, similar to, or greater than, the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster.

When a crisis happens, regardless of the nature or cause, community leaders and members generally want to be informed about the type of crisis event and how to respond appropriately. Attention is drawn to the initial impact of such crisis events, but what often gets overlooked is the anticipation of such events and appropriate communication with the public to ensure that such impacts are minimized. To this end, communities need to have support systems in place to help them respond and communicate appropriately.

Crisis communication plays an important role in maintaining a community’s safety and security. Equal in importance to responding properly to crises is anticipating them and preparing for communication about these events. Even though governments devote significant attention to national crises, anticipation and preparation specific to local communities are imperative and can assist media outlets, elected officials, and message designers in reaching their intended target audiences with the utmost success. However, community leaders and members of the media might not possess the communication skills and knowledge needed to prepare a local community for potential crises. ← xiv | xv → Therefore, there is a need for crisis communication centers (CCC) where community leaders can turn for assistance.

CCC Overview

Crisis communication centers are locally planned and developed agencies that can be staffed according to the size of the community they represent. These centers can be locally governed, but they are still connected to DHS. The purpose of such centers is to regularly monitor the community for vulnerability to terrorist threats, acts, and crisis vulnerabilities, while facilitating communication with the public regarding those concerns. CCCs can be local government agencies, but their success depends greatly on local community and industry support and on the availability of some media, communication, and public relations expertise (Scholl, Olaniran, Williams, & Heuman, 2008; Scholl, Williams, & Olaniran, 2005).

Crisis community centers are needed in local communities throughout the United States and elsewhere around the world (Scholl, Williams, & Olaniran, 2005, Scholl, Olaniran, Williams, & Heuman, 2008). The CCC is grounded in the anticipatory model of crisis management (AMCM) (Olaniran & Williams, 2001), which stipulates that preventing crises and developing crisis messages require preparation, and that crisis communication functions at its best when it is proactive and adequately planned (Benson, 1988; Coombs, 1999; Olaniran & Williams, 2001; Williams & Olaniran, 1994; Williams & Treadaway, 1992). Within an anticipatory framework, crisis managers and practitioners have a strong understanding of their environments and technologies and of the people and procedures involved.

The university setting represents an ideal place for a CCC, which serves not only the community at large but also instructors, research faculty, and students, along with community leaders who can benefit from training in crisis communication. A CCC can function as a knowledge repository with instant credibility among community members and stakeholders who have the need for information gathering and for training about crises and crisis communication. Furthermore, a CCC can, with the aid of information communication technologies (ICTs), allow other researchers and practitioners access to information, and it can promote curriculum development and enhancement through e-learning (Olaniran, 2009). For instance, collaborative learning and training can occur via audio and video conferencing for individuals who are not co-located, allowing them to jointly participate in training and ← xv | xvi → development or distance learning, along with consulting. Training and curricula do not have to be confined to a particular location and thus could be truly global. Finally, the CCC can help provide a unique way to develop both local and nonlocal access to information, either through training or general development about crisis anticipation and preparedness.

CCCs—with their foundations in the anticipatory model of crisis management—ensure that crisis managers optimize their success in responding to crises when they vigilantly anticipate the potential for crises. The process involves a detailed analysis of all of the factors related to specific communities, including (but not limited to) environment, technology risks, human errors, and consequential financial vulnerabilities. Furthermore, the AMCM encourages crisis experts and practitioners to develop and engage in systematic review of all crises concerns, to provide response strategies, and to maintain relationships with stakeholders who can assist with crisis responses. A thorough reconnaissance of each crisis concern is called for in an attempt to develop specific and appropriate crisis responses and management. It is believed that the greater the crisis response, the greater control crisis experts will have in addressing a particular crisis (Olaniran & Williams, 2001, 2004; Scholl, Williams, & Olaniran, 2005).

Staffing CCCs

For CCCs, anticipation is crucial in the signal detection of terrorist threats and acts. CCCs are locally developed and maintained units that function to assess terrorist vulnerabilities and to decide the optimal means of communicating terrorist threats and acts to their specific communities. They are staffed by community members and by municipal employees who have specific knowledge and expertise within the community. The staff can share their expertise about the community in determining what terrorists would most likely target. For example, in a farming community, the CCC would need input from agricultural experts in the area, who could assess how terrorists might attack their industry. Risks such as the destruction to crops in order to attack the economic base of the community, the tampering with livestock to spread illness, or the stealing of crop-dusting planes in order to use them to spread dangerous chemicals would all be possible vulnerabilities that local agricultural experts might address (Scholl, Williams & Olaniran, 2005; Scholl, Olaniran, Williams, & Heuman, 2008). ← xvi | xvii →

Choosing appropriate staff for CCCs is crucial. It is important that experts be selected from within the community. For instance, members of the health profession, engineers, and crisis communication scholars are key representatives on CCC staff; also important are stakeholders with whom the CCC staff maintains contact. Given that most potential terrorist threats involve a concern for health and safety, these stakeholders must be aware of their roles in crisis responses and they must know how to manage their communication with the public. Their roles move beyond treating the aftermath of a terrorist attack. They also play a critical role in information gathering, analysis, dissemination, and community awareness (Scholl, Williams, & Olaniran, 2005). The respective experts are consulted for input; for example, the CCC needs to work closely with members of the health profession to create messages that alert the public to health concerns while also helping to alleviate public concerns and prevent escalating panic. Responsibility for communication about public safety concerns from the health profession reaches beyond the hospital spokesperson and to individuals actually working in a hospital with victims of an attack.

Once appointed and assembled for the onerous responsibility, CCC staff begin immediate assessment of crisis vulnerabilities and terrorist risks in their community. Guidelines from DHS provide a starting point for this process, as the team identifies targets, risks, and vulnerabilities. However, team members’ local expertise and connections in the community provide the most valuable insights. The CCC develops and maintains a list of areas of concern in the community and maintains relationships with key individuals who can alert the CCC to changes or to activities that might signal a threat. For example, early insight from the community hospital of otherwise unnoticeable, but unexplained, injuries due to minor chemical burns or illnesses from an unknown vapor might signal the onset of a terrorist act that would otherwise go undetected (Scholl, Williams, & Olaniran, 2008). From a different standpoint, the Lubbock, Texas, hepatitis A threat offers a point of reference. An employee at the local Cheddar’s Casual Café contracted the virus and potentially exposed anyone who ate at the restaurant. Consequently, the city’s health department sent letters to those at risk and urged them to get vaccinated. When it was all over, 2,700 individuals were vaccinated, and the vaccines cost the city about $250,000, but individuals were asked to pay $15 each to recoup some of the cost. The good news is that because of collaboration between health professionals and the city, no new case was reported beyond the initial one (Hepatitis Attorney, 2012), and a major epidemic was averted. ← xvii | xviii →

Public relations and crisis management personnel are advised to have regular crisis response training. CCC staff ideally also have regular reviews of vulnerabilities and periodic communication with their contacts within the community. The development of a community-assessment instrument has been suggested elsewhere as a means for facilitating this process (Scholl, Williams, & Olaniran, 2005; Scholl, Olaniran, Williams, & Heuman, 2008). The instrument might include a generic inventory of known areas of vulnerabilities and a list of local sites of interest. In other words, the aim of the CCC is to identify and to research potential local terrorist targets, crises, and other disasters, while developing the best means of information dissemination for the particular community. Such activities are conducted with the belief that the anticipation of crises and/or terrorist attacks and the preparations for them at the local level can supplement national efforts to keep people safe. From this standpoint, community members worry less about their safety, because they can monitor only the national alert systems of interest to them.

Identifying targets and crisis preparation for CCCs is similar to standard procedures for crisis management teams. However, specific needs of CCCs require early attention to the completion of a community assessment. Several types of potential crisis sources and terrorism targets exist in the United States. Perhaps at the highest risk for attack are the nation’s 361 commercial ports, through which $750 billion in goods flow each year (Bender, 2003; Scholl, Williams, & Olaniran, 2005; Seikman, 2003). Bender (2003) reports that the United States is more likely to be attacked with a weapon of mass destruction (WMD) smuggled through a port than with a missile. Other devices that could easily be smuggled include radioactive or biologically malignant materials. With security heavily focused on air travel, the lack of funding to bolster seaport security makes our ports especially vulnerable. Besides the danger of smuggled weapons, an attack that temporarily shuts down port operations could restrict access to such items as spare parts for major industries and heating oil needed in winter (Bender, 2003).

Locations known for marquee events or tourist attractions are also at risk. For example, tempting potential terrorist targets include New Orleans, with its Mardi Gras festival; New York, with its New Year’s Eve celebration at Times Square; and other such regular celebrations. Tourist spots, such as Disneyland and casinos in Las Vegas, have been targeted by “sleeper cells” whose members collected intelligence on these areas (Runk, 2003) as targets of future terrorist attacks (Scholl, Williams, & Olaniran, 2005; Scholl, Olaniran, Williams, & Heuman, 2008). Famous landmarks, such ← xviii | xix → as the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, might also be targets (Scholl, Williams, & Olaniran, 2005; Zamora, 2003).

It is noteworthy that while some targets might seem obvious to the public, any location housing government facilities, energy and transportation infrastructures, prominent financial and commercial districts, and agricultural interests are also potential targets (Azar, 2002). Widely dispersed chemically based threats, such as bioterrorism and environmental terrorism, means that highly populated states, such as California, New York, and Texas, are not the only terrorist targets. Seemingly unlikely states, such as Wisconsin and Rhode Island (Barbarisi, 2003; Williams, 2003), are especially vulnerable because of the nuclear power plants and factories in their state (Scholl, Williams, & Olaniran, 2005; Zoretich, 2003). In actuality, no community should consider itself immune or too underpopulated to be at risk of a terrorist attack and crisis. Predicated on principles of the AMCM, CCCs must consider, in particular, the ease with which perpetrators can target the general public by creating a gas attack, by poisoning a food supply, by disrupting an energy grid, by killing large numbers of livestock, or by contaminating a natural resource (Azar, 2002; Chalecki, 2002).


ISBN (Hardcover)
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2018 (March)
Crisis planning Crisis preparedness Crisis communication Crisis management Crisis communication center Public relations Risk Risk communication Risk management Crisis
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2016. XXVI, 300 pp.

Biographical notes

Bolanle A. Olaniran (Author) Juliann C. Scholl (Author)

Bolanle A. Olaniran (Ph. D. University of Oklahoma) is a professor in the Communication Studies Department at Texas Tech University. His work has received Awards from the International Communication Association and the American Communication Association. He is co-editor of Pre-Crisis Planning, Communication, and Management: Preparing for the Inevitable (Peter Lang, 2012). Juliann C. Scholl (Ph.D. University of Oklahoma) has published articles, chapters, and books on crisis communication, intercultural competence, medical humor, and health communication issues among minorities. She is also a researcher at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.


Title: Handbook for the Crisis Communication Center