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First Message in a Crisis

This information is for historic and reference purposes only.  Content has not been updated since the last reviewed date at the bottom of this page.
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People are more likely to remember and believe the first message they hear after an emergency occurs. The first CERC principle is for your organization to “be first.” The context, content, and delivery of the first message that you put out about the emergency are critical.  

Your first message should:

  1. Express empathy by acknowledging the feelings or emotions surrounding the event in words.  You could say, “I understand that this is a frightening time for people living in the area.”  
  2. Give any confirmed facts and try to answer who, what, where, when, why and how.
  3. Tell your audience what you do not know about the situation. Not all information will be confirmed right away and it is better to acknowledge what you do not know then to leave room for rumors or suspicions that you are withholding information.
  4. Explain what you will do to find more answers and how you will keep the public updated.
  5. Express you and your agency’s commitment to staying through the emergency and recovery.
  6. Tell people where they can find more information, such as a hotline number or a website.

Immediately following an emergency, the public has a greater appetite for information. Beyond this want for information, populations directly affected by an emergency need to know certain information to protect their lives and their community.   The right message, at the right time, from the right person can save lives in an emergency.   Make sure your first message has all of the components to make it credible, well-received, and effective for promoting action.

For more resources and information on CERC, please see Crisis and Emergency Risk Communication, 2014 Edition or Crisis and Emergency Risk Communication Pandemic Influenza, 2007.

Have you used CERC in your work? To share your CERC stories, e-mail cercrequest@cdc.gov. Your stories may appear in future CERC Corners.

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