Five Best Practices for Citizen Communication in a Crisis

Five Best Practices for Citizen Communication in a Crisis
Posted on 02/05/2018
CivicLive Blog - Five Best Practices for Citizen Communication in a Crisis

When an unexpected weather emergency, security advisory or a health alert hits your community, you want to be ready to communicate quickly, effectively and intelligently in order to contain the situation, limit miscommunication, and lead your citizens responsibly.

Being prepared and providing effective communication is vital in any emergency situation, that’s why having a plan—one that includes use of an effective mass communication solution—is key to providing the most diligent and efficient emergency efforts possible. At CivicLive, we know the importance of mass communication notification systems. Below we outline five best practices for effective citizen communication in a crisis.


95% of Americans own a cell phone, and of those, 77% own some type of smart phone. Most mobile phone owners use them as their primary source of communication and information, which means text messages are a convenient and effective way to reach large numbers of people at once in a crisis. The speed with which a mass text message can be sent enables you to reach people before the media begins reporting or rumors on social media sites have the chance to spread to citizens.

You should strive to always keep mass text messages concise and to the point:

  • Give the need-to-know facts in your texts: the most vital information includes who, what, where, when and how.
  • Connect those receiving texts with additional resources. Provide a way for people to learn more. Include a hotline number or use a link shortener service such as or Google Shortlinks to link people to a page on your website for more information.


Another tool you can use for effective communication in a crisis are automated voice calls. We’ve found that there are five components that every emergency message requires. Any automated message disseminated should:

  • Address any safety or security concerns up front.
  • Outline the steps you are taking to address the crisis.
  • If the crisis site has become a crime scene or disaster area, direct people toward a specific location where they can meet. Be explicit with this detail as it will help you keep access roads clear for first responders.
  • Be as brief as possible while still communicating key information (30-60 seconds works for most messages).
  • Be timely to ensure that accurate information reaches people as quickly as possible.


Since many people can now access email on their phones, email messages can also be an effective way to reach people on-the-go. Email messaging is best for medium length alerts but also allows you to vary message length if need be. For emails:

  • Keep your subject line brief and add the most important keywords at the beginning of the message (e.g. “ALERT: Fire in CityPower Tower 1”). This will help encourage people to open your email.
  • Use simple text format (instead of HTML) to minimize the chances your email will get caught in spam filters.
  • Limit your use of bold, italic, and ALL CAPS text to increase message readability and comprehension.
  • Provide any special instructions or details you couldn’t fit into other types of messages (voice, text, etc.).


You should use social media sites, like Facebook and Twitter, to help push out your message as well as to monitor what’s being said to ensure information being shared is accurate. Two key ways to use social media sites:

  • Send emergency alerts. For best results send short, text-like alerts that are easy to broadcast across different platforms.
  • Monitor what’s being said. During crises, many affected individuals will go to social media sites to share their thoughts and connect with others. Search keywords and hashtags related to your crisis, direct any media inquiries to your communications team and be on the lookout for the spread of rumors or inaccurate information relating to the ongoing crisis.


In the case of an emergency, citizens are actively looking to their governments for guidance and thoughtful crisis management. Government and government agency websites are the easiest way for citizens to find the information that they need. Citizens will turn to your website for accurate, up-to-date information, they’ll be expecting a clearly defined plan to follow, including what steps they need to take to secure their safety.

Your website is also where citizens will go for additional information after receiving a text, call, email or social media message. Updating your website on an ongoing basis should be a priority in order to keep your community informed, engaged and connected at all times.


At CivicLive we’re experienced in delivering expert messaging through our robust mass communication solution. The CivicLive Mass Notification solution is equipped with a dependable and secure infrastructure that delivers over 130 million text, email, voice and social media messages and alerts per month to citizens across the United States. To learn more about how CivicLive helps governments communicate with citizens on a mass scale, contact us today.

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