Skip to main content

Counter-Terrorism Crisis Communications Strategies for Recovery and Continuity

Final Report Summary - SAFE-COMMS (Counter-Terrorism Crisis Communications Strategies for Recovery and Continuity)

Executive Summary:
The goal of the SAFE-COMMS project is to help public authorities in Europe better react to terror crises by providing effective communication strategies for the aftermath of terror attacks. Such attacks take place when least expected, as terrorists search for vulnerable targets across Europe and seek to spread fear and panic. A terror attack instantly becomes breaking news in the media throughout the world. Effective recovery from such an attack depends also on a carefully planned and trained communication strategy which would restore public confidence and enable quick return to normality. In order to effectively deal with the aftermath of terror attacks, public authorities need a counter-terrorism communication strategy comprised of activities aimed at the relevant audiences. This strategy needs to be trained and adapted before an attack takes place and forms an inherent part of crisis management and continuity plans. SAFE-COMMS provides public authorities throughout Europe with an effective and modular communication strategy in the form of the Terrorism Crisis Communication Manual.
Project Context and Objectives:
In recent years, global terrorism has turned from a political fringe issue to a major security threat affecting public authorities all over Europe. Recent waves of terrorist attacks indiscriminately hit targets in countries all over the world, from the World Trade Center in New York to nightclubs in Bali, from underground trains and buses in London, commuter trains in Madrid and tourist groups in Djerba to suicide bombings of banks and offices in Istanbul.
Many public officials tend to underestimate the effect of an attack, the potential damage to communication which results from the attack, and the role of effective communications in recovery, damage limitation and return to normality. Even when relatively few people or facilities are directly affected by an attack, terrorism is a topic that receives instant media attention at both national and global level. Terrorists use violent attacks to attract public attention. Increasingly, the impact of an attack is extended through the world of communication. Terrorists employ the shock wave that passes through the media as a deliberate means of amplifying and propagating fear and insecurity throughout the population. In this way they undermine the social and political systems they have attacked.
Every public authority affected by a terrorist attack is suddenly faced with huge media interest, stimulated by the visual violence and the association with the phenomenon of global terrorism. Even when a public authority is not the direct intended victim, difficult questions are instantly raised in the media about its level of preparedness, its security procedures, its commitment to the welfare of citizens, and the effects of the attack on its core functions. In order to effectively deal with the aftermath of terrorist attacks, public authorities need a counter-terrorism communication strategy that is designed to give the population security and reassurance. The task requires a high degree of confidence, sensitivity and decisiveness of action. Professional and credible communication can be critical in reducing the impact of an attack and preventing loss of confidence and image for public authorities. The way in which communication strategies deal with terrorism becomes an integral part of the fight against terrorism. The research on which this manual is based has shown that the knowledge of this theme exists in a wide variety of ways in national, but primarily in regional and local institutions. While excellent strategies and structures already exist in individual states and municipalities which have had experience in dealing ith terrorism, other countries have little or no expertise in this field.
A special crisis communication strategy needs to be prepared, rehearsed and aligned before an attack occurs, and forms an inherent part of crisis management and continuity plans. Crisis communication skills that need to be established include good communication, mandatory processes and joint preparation involving communication staff and security departments within a public authority. Co-ordination of the various institutions and authorities and training of communication personnel is critical in providing them with an enhanced understanding of the dynamics of terrorism media coverage and the challenges they may face if confronted with a terrorist incident.

Project Results:
1 This provides a description of the main findings of project SAFE-COMMS on the development of terrorism crisis communication strategies.

2 Characteristics of terrorist attacks
Although terrorist attacks spread fear and panic throughout the population, their actual goal is to destroy public safety and order and to undermine confidence in those responsible for political, religious or social systems. Terrorist groups make use of attacks as a strategy of both violence and of communication, since their attacks require a high degree of public attention to develop their full destructive power and impact.
While the type and extent of attacks cannot be predicted, our study shows that they are increasingly reaching new, unimaginable levels. However, terrorist attacks have specific characteristics which can be prepared for.

2.1 Characteristics
The main characters of terrorist attacks are threefold:
* They come as a surprise and without advance warning, often targeting unexpected places.
* They are designed to cause the maximum possible damage to human life, facilities and to attract the highest public attention.
* They are aimed at targets that often have no direct connection with the political aims of the terrorists.

From the viewpoint of communication strategy, the selection of targets for attack is made on the basis of symbolic, ideological or purely media-related considerations. The more spectacular the attack, the higher it's public impact.
This is not the only characteristic that shows that terrorist groups and organisations can be communication professionals who can make use of simple mechanisms of media attention. The communication impact of attacks is extended by letters, videos or e-mails claiming responsibility which are issued after a delay, thus triggering more news updates. Even warnings issued shortly before actual terrorist attacks serve to ensure that the media are on the spot as a building is evacuated or a car explodes. Terrorist groups use their own or sympathetic television stations or organisations and, increasingly, the Internet to spread panic internationally and to persistently feed this panic over a long period.
The systematic use of violence and communication represents the difference between terrorist attacks and disasters or 'normal' acts of violence - however spectacular and designed for media attention the latter may be, such as acts by spree killers. The distinction of terrorists' mode of operation is their systematic propagation of fear, anxiety over repeat attacks, helplessness, and the feeling of being under threat - throughout as wide an area as possible.

2.2 Types of attacks
2.2.1 Attacks against citizens
The attacks on rush-hour public transport in Madrid in 2004 and London in 2005 left deep scars on the collective psyche. Several hundred people were killed and thousands were injured. Television stations all over the world interrupted their scheduled programming to show special programmes, and for many days the attacks were the dominant subject in the media, accompanied by horrific pictures of the events.
Although places with high concentrations of people such as railway stations and trains, airports, shopping centres, fairgrounds, sports events, discos and restaurants do not have symbolic character, they are among terrorists' preferred targets because attacks on citizens, including those targeting children and young people, generate enormous public attention and are in themselves events that have an impact on the mass media, maximising the shock wave. The primary result of these attacks is to trigger fear among the population that they could themselves become victims.
On the other hand, other targets selected have included the symbolic buildings, religious institutions such as churches, mosques and synagogues, and private companies. These attacks simultaneously communicate a message of destruction of cultural, religious, social, philosophical and commercial values. The message translates as being "we're out to get all of you".
Particular attention must be given to the collective fear and insecurity of the population in the communication and handling of the consequences of the attack.

2.2.2 Attacks against security forces
Terrorist attacks against security forces carry a communication message directed at the destruction of the government and public security. Here too, the symbolic power of the act is often more important than any actual weakening of state power. This is particularly clear in the case of attacks on individual police officers or security force members.

2.2.3 Attacks against prominent persons
Attacks against prominent persons are frequently directed at leaders in politics, jurisprudence or economy and are likewise generally of a symbolic nature. The prominent status of the victim amplifies the media attention focused on the person involved and his or her family. The features of the public shock wave are shaped by factors including the status, fame and popularity of the victim.

2.2.4 Kidnapping or hostage-taking of citizens or prominent persons
Kidnapping or hostage-taking of citizens or prominent persons in the victim's own country or abroad take on special status in communication terms. Investigations are directed at releasing the kidnapped person alive and well. This often imposes restrictions on communication which may extend to a gagging order or news embargo, which may under certain circumstances perhaps over a long period. However, the terrorist kidnappers communicate their messages and demands over the Internet or via the media, thus continuously updating news reports which in turn feed public attention for long periods. The persons responsible for negotiations with the kidnappers are under constant critical monitoring by the public. There is the danger of controversial discussions arising in the media or among the population concerning the fulfilment of the kidnappers' demands.

2.3 Media agenda
Media-related potential is defined according to the following factors:
* Personalities
* Circumstances
* Proximity / potential of involvement
* Impact of image
The power exerted by news in the media is normally related to the damage caused. Terrorist attacks are counted as hot media topics in the category of "the power of nightmares". Terrorist groups make targeted use of this mechanism to propagate frightening messages, and the exertion of violence and brutality against innocent bystanders is an almost unrivalled method of gaining public attention.
The media play a complex role in this. No TV or radio station and no print publication can afford to ignore such an attack. Many newsrooms still operate on the maxim 'if it bleeds, it leads'. A terrorist attack is simultaneously a hot political topic focusing directly on not only local authorities, but also the government itself - to which all eyes are turned in the anticipation of action.
The media all over the world deal with terrorist attacks in different ways, depending on the moment when they take place and on the experience that a country already has in terms of terrorism. There is a very fine line between information and sensation (which is more saleable). In recent years, high competition pressure in the media market has resulted in the "brutalisation" of journalists' methods and many media sources.
The media are not only tellers of tales - recounting events with greater or lesser ideological content; they also use a large part of their space to illustrate the events with images and videos. Visual display of the scenario of a terrorist attack to the public is probably the media's most important instrument in causing impact. These images are precisely those that most effectively summarise the events in the collective memory.

2.3.1 How the media work
Today's 'fast' media are no longer television and radio alone, but are primarily the new forms of media spawned by the Internet. After a terrorist attack, conventional media - including TV, radio and daily newspapers and their news reporters are the primary sources of reporting. Working under time pressure, they require rapid information and images to meet their editorial deadlines. Reports in weekly newspapers and news magazines follow later but are generally researched in more detail.
However, the media are no longer the only force shaping the public agenda. The Internet has become the largest pool of information, a mass of serious, credible news and information jostled by reports, comments and opinions from individuals which can be disseminated around the world unchecked in seconds.

Fig. 2.1 The media landscape

Reporting after a terrorist attack is not restricted to news per se, but is shaped by commentaries, eye-witness reports, comparisons of statements, human stories, background information - and often by speculation and sensation.
Media draw their information from both 'official' and informal sources. The more defensive the official information policy, the more journalists will conduct their own research and receive information from unchecked sources and from persons following their own - possibly contradictory - agenda.
Journalists process information in a different way from experts. They think from the reader's point of view, which includes the need to process facts to make them easy to understand and "saleable". As a result, experts often feel themselves to be misunderstood.

Fig. 2.2 Different points of view from journalists and experts

2.3.2 How to deal with the media
Unlike 'normal' crises, the media are not fundamentally critical of persons and institutions in responsible positions, but most certainly address them with critical attention.
All too often the media are perceived as 'opponents'. But the institutions and the media need each other, and provide mutual feedback. To ensure the government has a favourable reception in terms of communication in a crisis situation, the media must be involved on a mutual basis. If not, the media will increasingly use informal sources. In small communities, these informal sources and rumours could become critically important. Communication aimed at combating the media shock wave thrown up by a terrorist attack must note that the serious media, at least, face a critical conflict of interest - caught between their task of providing objective investigative journalism on the one hand, and the interests of the state and its institutions in minimising the public impact of the terrorist attack on the other. Strategic and intelligent treatment of this conflict of interests is an essential aspect of any preventive programme of anti-terrorist communication.
It is important to maintain a balance under media pressure. Credible information should be provided at brief intervals. It is not advisable to provide information more frequently. Confirmed information from an investigation that has been authorised for release must be communicated at the earliest opportunity. If the information is provided in later appearances, this reduces transparency of the official sources and contributes to a perception of hidden intentions.
It is advisable to end the information process at a certain point. After providing all the available information at official press conferences and after responding to the journalists' questions, all further declarations should only happen in extraordinary circumstances. From then on, press releases will be the usual channel of communication.
Good contacts with journalists are an essential element of crisis communication management. To achieve this, contacts that may become useful in the case of terrorist attack must be established and maintained in advance. Round-table talks with journalists could be helpful in raising awareness of how to deal with terrorist attacks.
By providing more information, a wide variety of training courses and highly factual news coverage, media and authorities could contribute to lessening the impacts of terrorist attacks. The more 'ever-present' and 'normal' the risk, the higher the chances are that reactions will be more rational in the event of an attack.

2.4 Social media
Today, classic journalist-driven media compete with new forms of social media on the Internet over the status of opinion and interpretation leaders.
Social media achieve particularly high credibility in the target group of young people, where they are often perceived to be more credible than the classic media formats. But social media are no longer a domain restricted to the younger generation - the 'digital natives' - but are also used practically across the board as a source of information or platforms for opinion-building.
The Internet and social media in particular, have become an independent public space characterised by complexity, diversity, anonymity, rapidity and ephemeral. Consequently they are predestined to be hotbeds of rumours and platforms which shape public opinion.
Forms of social media on the Internet such as twitter, YouTube, blogs and forums function like a vast marketplace, where private observations, opinions and rumours expressed in words or pictures spread throughout the Web community like wildfire. The propagation of news spreads via a mechanism fuelled by internet links. These links can trigger an avalanche of rumours, scandal and escalation in Web communities. The more inadequate or inconsistent the official information provided, the broader the impact of these unofficial mechanisms. Restrictive communication policies are undermined by news, observations and comments posted by users, and social media platforms often adopt the function of news services.
In addition, extremists often shape Internet communication, particularly in times of crisis, and they are extremely prone to outrage. The main issue is not to inform the public, but to maintain solidarity among the Web community, to call for boycotts and protests. The dynamism and intensity of the Internet are dominant in shaping the progress of tides of rumours, waves of scandal and the formation of opinions.
Communication networks follow their own rules; while not everything is new, many things function in a completely different way from conventional communication networks. The classic and familiar communication or legal intervention strategies do not work in these contexts, or may even bring about the opposite effect. Crisis communication in the new forms of social media imposes new challenges of early identification, analysis, treatment, intervention and communication tools.

2.5 Target groups
In addition to press and media work, direct and targeted communication with further target groups plays a key role in mitigating the consequences of terrorist attacks. This can only be effective if the content and measures used in communication are precisely tailored to the needs of these target groups.

2.5.1 Victims and their families
The primary need of victims and their families is support. Although they are in shock, they still need to be taken into consideration and consulted. This support should first and foremost involve psychological help and practical assistance, often organised by the crisis management team. Yet the victims and their families are the focus of public and media interest, so that they should also receive advice and assistance in dealing with journalists and possible public appearances. The decision whether they appear or speak in public must, however, be theirs and theirs alone. During funeral ceremonies it is essential to attempt to control and maintain the distance separating the journalists from the families. This is to prevent the families from feeling hounded and to prevent the media from having access to areas that are especially private.
Traditionally, the victims have not been invited to decide on the issues at hand: the kind of tribute to be held and its location, the message of condemnation to be communicated, the information or images that need to be highlighted, etc. It is increasingly realised that victims have the right to be involved in plans for public events and to take part in these events if they wish. Their wishes should always be respected. The main objective of public institutions is to protect these victims in their most intimate moments of grief and to accompany them in processes of public mourning and administrative management. The emotions and proximity of political representatives on these occasions is an element that the victims normally value as precious. The institution's communication policy should place them at the focal point of the statements. The victims should be the first ones to be highlighted in an official message.
An essential point is that the families of the victims must be informed personally as fast as possible after the attack, to avoid the danger of them finding out from news reports in the media.

2.5.2 Victims' associations
In some European countries, victims' associations have become a reference point from which to support and advise victims. These associations have become very important in the years following events, by specifically focusing the attention of the public on cases from the past.

2.5.3 The population
Institutions, communication agencies and journalists no longer have the monopoly on information. New technologies have allowed the public not only to gain access to multiple versions of reports on the same incident via the Internet, but also themselves to become a source that is capable of competing with the Government's official version.
The role that the public plays in a crisis situation such as a terrorist attack should not be undervalued. Attacks in public places in particular not only trigger shock and horror, but also incite insecurity and fears of new attacks, resulting in highly emotional reactions. The ability of the population to mobilise in response to certain events has been the most precious contribution to expanding an awareness of democratic values. However, the role of the population has also been an underestimated contribution that has actually destabilised governmental communication policy. The expressions of pacifism that are manifested on Internet platforms, at mass rallies and public mourning rituals are an appropriate response to desolation. This emotion is felt by the group as a consequence of the incident. Governmental communication policy cannot ignore the fact that the government has a responsibility to the public in its communication policy and that it must prove to the public that it has the ability to manage the situation. The public are relatively tolerant of mistakes made, if those mistakes are accepted and rectified, but they are especially sensitive and will react negatively if they feel that they are being deceived.
'Mass rage' can become one of the most difficult problems for responsible persons to solve in a crisis situation. Human beings can be unpredictable by nature, and individuals react differently in a given situation. However the 'infection effect', which takes over in moments of extreme social tension (such as in the case of a terrorist attack), takes place in scenarios where the feelings of one person converge with the feelings of many in a single space and time. Polarisation is usually the direct consequence of this phenomenon, such as public opinion against the government, democratic society versus non-democratic society, non-Muslim citizens against the Muslim community, etc. One of the most dangerous consequences of these situations is that those involved resort may themselves to violence.
In the short term, the use of violence by a group of members of the public against another group should be counteracted as soon as possible so that this does not result in social fracture of irreparable consequences. Public institutions should be prepared to react in this type of case. Political spokespeople should also try to demonstrate exemplary attitudes by communicating messages of tolerance, democratic values and political unity to all the members of the social and political community. For example, it may be important to protect headquarters that are being attacked by the crowd and to highlight the qualities of the people that have perished despite their ideological differences, etc.

2.5.4 Political parties and other spokespeople
The control of spokespeople who do not belong to a public institution is a complex task, since it restricts freedom of speech and participation in democracy. It would be desirable if the political parties were to restrict themselves to coherent, transparent and credible speech. The emergence of contrary opinions and ideological postures by oppositional political parties should not obstruct the possibility of sharing moments of tribute and condemnation.
Later debates on the responsibility of public institutions in the management of the crisis should not take priority over the responsibility of the terrorist group members. Public institutions can and should be self-critical, in the same way as they should be when they aim to improve the management of any situation for the benefit of the public.
The phase of examination and analysis after terrorist attacks is particularly beset with controversial discussions of investigative procedures and preventive measures to protect against attacks and terrorist activities. These discussions often have the potential to spark controversial public debate over themes such as relaxation of data protection and imposition of restrictions on the public. Attacks and accusations of blame directed at the crisis management system must be anticipated. Here the aim is to use targeted communication as a means of deescalating and restoring a factual basis. In any case, this phase should start after mourning.

2.5.5 Internal communication: employees
Employees of an organisation are viewed by the public as part of the crisis management system, even if not all of them are actively involved. They have the function of disseminators and must thus be provided with specific information. Employees must be informed at regular intervals of the status of crisis management activities and crisis communication. This should take place at the very least in parallel with communication produced for the press. Any asynchrony between public and in-house information may develop into a serious problem of communication dynamics. Codes of practice for dealing with press and public enquiries are helpful in presenting a professional image of the organisation to the outside world and providing employees with security. The prerequisite in this situation is to establish close, co-ordinated communication between national and regional authorities and the responsible members of major companies and business organisations.

2.6 Stages of communication response
Each individual terrorist attack is different, and imposes a specific set of requirements on crisis management systems. The force and duration of the shock wave triggered by an attack may vary considerably depending on the seriousness of the injuries involved, the number of fatalities, the type and extent of the damage. Current political and social situations also shape the progress of events.
Communication responses to a terrorist attack basically occur in distinct stages. The time data shall give a basic impression, but they can vary depending on each attack:

Fig. 2.3 The six stages of communication response

The first day (stages 1 - 4) is taken up by collecting initial information on the actual attack, what happened where and when, who got hurt and what damage was done to facilities. The media interest is very strong, with hundreds of calls and e-mails directed at the communications staff. Media inquiries concentrate on the circumstances of the attack itself.

Stage 1 - Confusion
In the first hour after a terrorist attack, confusion prevails. The first rumours about a possible attack spread. The exact situation is unknown, and the first information coming in generally stems from either the police or the emergency services. They have to act with great caution, a requirement which protracts the flow of information on the incident. A prime task is to inform the families as soon as possible and try to make sure they receive the information from a public institution first.
Public pressure is high. The media interrupt their scheduled programmes and want to broadcast confirmed facts. It is imperative at this moment to act with caution, prudence, and responsibility, to confirm only those facts that are watertight, and to disclaim rumours and wrong information - albeit without interfering with the work of the media. The message should signal calmness.
Media representatives are ready to approach any person or organisation involved. The journalists' main sources of information are frequently 'first responders' such as individual police officers, fire-fighters or members of the emergency services whom the journalists know from previous reports. It is therefore crucially important that all information is transmitted through one single channel and that every person involved knows to whom the information must be forwarded.

Stage 2 - Rescue operations and investigations
The following 2 to 3 hours. This is the stage in which the work of the emergency services and the investigations of the police are crucial. It is important not to disturb the work of these professionals, and to let them do their job. If possible, political office-holders should be kept away from the scene until the end of this stage.
Two types of information are generated at this stage: first, information directly related to the incident, and second, statements of condemnation by various political institutions.
TV and radio stations and online media broadcast pictures from the scene, facts and initial information about events.

Stage 3 - Institutional statements
3rd or 4th hour after the attack. Usually at this stage, a large number of official statements at all levels are disseminated and covered by the media. The media themselves ask for this kind of communiqué.
TV and radio stations and online media reports spread more and more details about the attack and the victims, adding photos or footage from the scene and eyewitness accounts. Public interest grows at national and international level.

Stage 4 - Start of normalisation at the scene
From the 4th or 5th hour onwards - up to the few days after the attack. At this stage the process of normalisation at the scene starts. Depending on the level of the atrocity this process of normalisation may take much longer. This is the stage when the local council or responsible authority has a major role to play, as its duties include cleaning up the scene.

Stage 5 - Core functions of recovery and rebuilding confidence
Up to 3 days after the attack. The next morning after the attack, the print media publishes widespread reports - a summary of the first day. The media attention in the days following the attack is still high, however it moves from details of the actual attack to its effects. Questions might be asked in relation to the assistance provided to victims, security measures, closing of businesses or staff evacuation, future official operations both in that location and in the region as a whole, financial losses and long-term effects on communities and business. The victims' issue becomes a 'human touch' story as the media focus on a small number of individuals with interesting backgrounds or rescues.
During the stage of recovery, the responsible communications team has the ear of the media and can concentrate on rebuilding confidence. Messages communicated include, "We are back to business and will not allow terrorists to rule over us. We are doing our best for the victims and their families. We had security arrangements in place but nobody could have foreseen/prevented this."
The stage of confidence communication is also the time for statements regarding victims' welfare and commemoration of casualties. The communication staff have a limited media window in which to announce the establishment of relief funds, memorial services, victim family support and other activities designed to help those hurt in the attack.
The timing and meaning of funerals can vary across cultures. Funerals are an important and emotional act which will be carefully watched by the public. However, they also have a symbolic function of closing a first chapter after the attack.

Stage 6 - Lessons learned and return to normality
From day 4 after the attack and later. At this stage, international news media interest declines significantly and the story returns to being mainly a national or even local media story. Media interest becomes more investigative and focuses on issues such as '"What are you doing now to prevent such a disaster in the future? What lessons have been learned and how will they be implemented? What are you doing for the victims, their families and for the affected community at large? Are further attacks likely?"
The public often expects a certain 'lesson' to be learned from such terrorist attacks. Official messages can now concentrate on announcing improvements, lessons and implementation of new measures and ways in which such future tragedies could be better prevented. The final crisis message is that of a return to normality. The return-to-normality message also affects citizens, workers and businesses. If made too early, it can be perceived as callous or ignoring the victims. Such a message should therefore ideally come after a memorial service or similar event which signals the closing of a chapter regarding the terrorist attack.

Special features of cases of kidnapping and hostage-taking
The stages of response listed above may vary in cases of kidnapping or hostage-taking. In general, the durations of stages 5 and 6 are longer as kidnapping or hostage-taking is a longer-term process. News updates are ongoing as the terrorist group issues demands or statements, perhaps on the Internet or in the media, or as new information comes in from investigations. The event generates a succession of peaks in media and public attention.
In addition, the longer duration of cases of kidnapping or hostage-taking offers more extended time and space for discussions, political statements and speculations. Crisis management moves into the focus of public attention and is monitored critically. Accusations of blame are often directed at the persons responsible for taking action.

3 Counter-strategies
The most effective strategy against the consequences of terrorist attacks is preparation. Preparation means the establishment of fundamental principles of organisation - but also the awareness that destruction is caused not only by the acts of violence themselves, but also by their communication impact. They trigger not only shock and horror, but also an ongoing insecurity among the population and loss of confidence in both the persons responsible for taking action and the democratic system itself. Public security and order are thus undermined, and the effect may be amplified by panic and chaos, poor co-ordination and uncertain or irrational behaviour on the part of the persons responsible for taking action.
Given this, the fundamental strategy must focus on restoring security as soon as possible and resuming daily life. This can be achieved most successfully by calmly competent, yet sensitive and trust-building behaviour by the persons responsible. Anything which helps to curtail insecurity and fear is also a contribution towards mitigating the intended consequences of an attack.
Each attack is different; each country, each state and each city has its own special features. There is thus no 'one size fits all' solution or simple recipe for success in designing a communication strategy. However, there are some basic principles which apply today to all countries:
* Rapid restoration of confidence and security;
* Transparent, trust-building information policy;
* Calmly competent, yet sensitive treatment of all those directly and indirectly involved;
* Leadership with integrity and credibility;
* Decisiveness of action.
An integral element of the fight against terrorism is an open, effective communication strategy. The challenge is to demonstrate strength and certainty and to instil confidence in the population.
The common strategies of the past, involving total silence or control of the media, are no longer viable: freedom of the press is one of the major pillars of democracy, and given the competition which exists among the media and the Internet it is impossible to suppress or control news. Censorship and manipulation are rapidly uncovered, resulting in deep-seated loss of trust and credibility. If the media do not spread reports, individuals step up to fulfil this role. Public institutions and the media now share communication spaces with the population. A third and highly unpredictable factor in communication are the social networks which operate via the Internet. The authorities that are responsible for managing the crisis can do little or nothing to remove this new actor from the scene. They can only maintain a prudent and transparent communication policy.
A far more effective strategy is not to work against the media and the public but to view them as partners and meet them openly. Although it is not possible to suppress the images of horror, they can gradually be replaced by positive messages of confidence.
The primary aim is to establish and communicate trust. The core message must be "We will not allow terrorists to spread fear and horror and gain the upper hand". The second message must be, "We know what we are doing", showing decisiveness of action and thus moral, religious and social strength. The third message must be addressed to the victims, that they will achieve all the support that they need.
The victims of terrorist attacks and their families must be treated with attention, sympathy and respect. Focusing on them without leaving them stranded and condemning the perpetrators are not only actions of humanity and decency: they also reveal the inhumanity of terrorist groups and underpin the moral condemnation of these groups.
A further positive factor can be a credible leadership personality with visible integrity. It is still a valid phenomenon that strong individual personalities will have a more powerful impact on people than a group or organisation will. The factors of success here are honesty, decisiveness of action, respect, trust and strong leadership.
In a sense, the saying "do good and tell the world" can also be applied to crisis communication. Crisis management must be addressed in communication and must continuously deliver new and positive messages. The aim is to highlight the actions performed by those in responsible positions to protect the population and restore order. This is a vital factor in making the shock wave after a terrorist attack ebb away. If mistakes occur, it is better to admit them and explain why they happened and what remedial actions are being taken than it is to clam up or play them down. It has been proved on many occasions that an open, honest approach to mistakes is a more effective way to create confidence than trying to hush them up.
Potential Impact:
The potential impact of the project is divided into three categories: The first is the impact on the activities of direct end users of the SAFE-COMMS terrorism crisis communication manual, which are mainly first responders and public authorities. The second is the impact on the wider crisis plans of local authorities, regional authorities, corporations and governmental authorities which are charged with planning and preparing for crisis situations. The third are the wider societal implications of the project on the general public. The following sections summarize the impact on these three categories:

The project's impact on direct end users is the adoption and use of the Terrorism Crisis Communication Manual for training and preparations before a crisis, and for actual reactions in the aftermath of a real terror attack. The manual is based on true-and-tested real world activities, the lessons learned from analysis of numerous case studies of actual terror attacks. The SAFE-COMMS terrorism crisis communication manual describes fundamental requirements, provides examples of procedures and tools and gives specific advice on their implementation. It has been produced in the awareness that it can only represent a manual of guidance, encouraging users to act independently in aligning treatment of the topic with overall national, political, social and cultural conditions.

The project's impact on the wider crisis plans of local authorities, regional authorities, corporations and governmental authorities who are charged with planning and preparing for crisis situations is by providing them with a comprehensive and flexible terrorism crisis communication strategy for incorporating into their existing crisis strategies. Most authorities have at least rudimentary crisis plans, but those often do not contain, or do not address sufficiently, the issue of crisis communication. By using the SAFE-COMMS Terrorism Crisis Communication Manual, public authorities can revise and update their crisis plans, conduct training exercises, simulations and brainstorming sessions on how best to use the SAFE-COMMS strategy and recommendations in their own specific context, geographical area and particular needs.

The project's wider societal implications on the general public is in building and enhancing public confidence in the effectiveness of official response to terror attacks. As the project's case study analysis clearly showed, previous attacks were often characterized by ineffective, delayed or partial official communication response, leading to public confusion, fear and chaos. The knowledge that public authorities and first responders are now equipped with an effective terrorism crisis communication strategy reinforces public confidence in future official reactions at times of terror crises.

The project's dissemination encompasses a wide range of activities carried out by the individual partners and by the consortium as a whole. These range from conferences and workshops, presentations, media briefings, production and distribution of written and video information material, meetings with end users, press articles, television and radio interviews, etc. There were two stages in the dissemination activities: the first stage aimed at creating knowledge about the project, its aims and methodology. The second, which came once the crisis manual was ready, aimed at creating and enhancing awareness of the SAFE-COMMS Terrorism Crisis Communication Manual and website. Details of the dissemination activities are below in this report.
List of Websites:
Project website address:
Coordinator's contact details:
Dr. Shlomo Shpiro
Department of Political Studies
Bar-Ilan University
Ramat Gan 52900