Communication During a Tragedy: Lessons from Equifax

To say that Equifax hasn’t handled its recent data breach very well would probably be a bit generous. The credit company wasn’t exactly forthcoming to the world when the personal information of 145.5 million United States consumers was compromised. (In case you’re keeping tabs, that is nearly half the population of the U.S.) Once word did get out about the data breach, the company was slow to setup any sort of response; and when they did, their website and call center systems faltered. While things with Equifax’s customer service response are starting to turn around, their example begs the question—how prepared are we for the seemingly impossible?

Equifax certainly never thought their data center and consumer information would get hacked, but given that they deal with the credit information of hundreds of millions of consumers, they definitely should have been better prepared for the worst. In the church, we can learn from Equifax’s mistake. Being prepared for the unthinkable is something every church needs to do. Putting time and energy into thinking through a variety of scenarios may seem a little doomsday-ish, but being prepared for the worst will allow you to respond well and minister appropriately when a crisis arises.

Form a Team

First, create a team of people that can think through scenarios and provide wisdom about the steps to take in a crisis situation. Forming a team is important because just one person cannot address a situation from all the necessary angles or may not have the needed experience for every type of situation. You’ll want a team of people who have experience in public safety, working with children, leadership, counseling, and public relations, just to name a few. If you don’t have all these kinds of people in your church, it’s okay to ask people from outside your congregation. The police department, local government offices, schools, and other area churches are all great places to find people with the proper expertise. You may be able to create a plan that helps other agencies and organizations beside your own church as well!

Create an Emergency Plan

It’s pretty clear that Equifax had no emergency plan. While we certainly hope that nothing terrible will happen at our church, we are continually reminded that the unthinkable happens all the time. In just the past few weeks we have seen the unthinkable happen in Nashville, Las Vegas, Edmonton, Canada, and Marseille, France. So let’s do our best to be prepared, and pray that God will use our preparations for his glory and to protect his people.

Things to Consider

There are certainly a wide array of possible crises that a church must prepare for: natural disasters; power outages and gas leaks; an active shooter in the area; threats to the church; a financial data breach; scandals involving staff or members of your church. For each of these situations, you must consider multiple issues like the safety of children and families; how to evacuate quickly and safely; whether to shelter in place; or how to work with authorities to ensure transparency and proper follow-up.

While you talk and plan through your emergency preparedness, be sure to think about what immediate action steps will need to be taken. How do you first make sure everyone is safe? How do you communicate to everyone affected effectively and quickly? How does your church handle media attention? What follow-up is there?

Not only did Equifax not have a plan in place to begin with, but they also didn’t think through communication and media attention. Making sure everyone in your church is safe is always the first priority. But creating a plan for clear and transparent communication also makes a major difference.

Make sure that every step, in every scenario, is clearly laid out and easy to understand. Once the plan has been approved by your team and completed, make sure everyone who needs to be included—staff, ministry leadership, even the local police and fire departments—have a copy of the plan and are properly trained on the implementation.

A few years ago, I put together a comprehensive emergency preparedness plan for our church. Soon after we finalized the plan, a tornado tore through our small town. The disaster did not directly affect our buildings, but thankfully we had a plan in place that coordinated with our local government agencies. Right away, the township knew they could reach out to our church to handle the disaster relief efforts, donations, even PR and media attention. Everything flowed through our church office, and it was a great opportunity for us to lock arms with our community, organize volunteer clean-up teams, disperse needed items and donations to those in need, and share the gospel in word and deed while doing it. Having an emergency plan allowed us to better live out our calling to serve, and when you create a plan for your church, you’ll be able to serve your people and community better as well.

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