Crisis Communication in Any Language

An interesting and spirited discussion taking place at my colleague Brendan Hodgson's blog on whether communications can take place in Canada's two official languages -- English and French -- during a disaster, accident or highly time sensitive crisis. As Gerald Baron at CrisisBlogger points out: "The determining factor for speed used to be 'how soon will the news helicopters arrive?' Now it is 'how soon will someone with a cellphone and cell camera convey it to the news media?' Instant news is now instant news."

I am not sure on which side I come down on in the debate. The question I would ask is this: If the chief communicator responsible for managing communications during the crisis is a francophone and is more comfortable writing clear messaging in French, should the organization wait until it is translated into English?  Communication in a crisis is never perfect, usually more ad hoc than we would like, and frequently stalled by over-cautious executives and legal counsel. You just do your best. 

Part of the solution, though, is to have as much back-up data and messaging in a crisis dark site -- pre-translated if that is a requirement under federal government regulations -- so that at least some core messaging and information is vetted and translated and ready to go in the event of a serious incident.

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