Draft guidance for local elected members.
What you should and should not do online during an emergency.
This is for
Emergency planning and communication teams in local authorities in Great Britain. The intention is that it could form a basis for issuing guidance to your elected members.
What is an emergency?
In England, Wales and Scotland the law defines an emergency. In any given incident local agencies will sometimes use terms like major incident. Your council will have drawn up plans for a range of emergencies in partnership with other public services, notably the blue light services.
What does your local authority do in an emergency?
Staff from your council will work closely with the other public agencies to preserve people’s lives, protect the environment, protect property and return the situation to normal as soon as possible,
Your council has a duty to work with partners to deal with emergencies and staff from your council will be working, often behind the scenes, to tackle the situation.
Your council employees will be working with other agencies to warn and inform the public about risks and to give them important information. They are likely to use the council website, Twitter, Facebook and other online tools.
What are the key things local councillors should do?
Share the public messages that are published by your council and other agencies, where they are relevant to your community.
Ask people not to spread rumours. Rumours can spread online very rapidly in emergencies and cause a great deal of distress. As a community leader councillors can play a key role in reducing the spread of rumours.
Help people deal with uncertainty. Information is often slow to emerge in emergencies. It takes time for agencies to understand the full picture and to take steps to resolve the situation. You can help to explain to people what is happening behind the scenes and that the situation will become clearer.
Where you have specific information about issues in your community you should provide these via the appropriate channel. This is likely to be via your council’s emergency planning team, or by calling the police on 101 or 999 as appropriate.
Accept and log criticism but don’t action it immediately. Sometimes people feel that the council should have done things differently. This may well be the case but it should be dealt with in a review following the incident. As a member you could collate complaints and undertake to ensure they are factored into the review.
Work within your community to encourage people to look out for their friends and neighbours.
What are the key things local councillors should not do?
Publicly raise questions about the conduct of the incident online during the incident. Though after the incident it is entirely legitimate for members to ask for and be involved in reviews of emergencies and recovery operations.
Place demands on the resources of the local agencies (like attending public meetings in your community). Resources are always stretched in emergencies and you will not have visibility of what resources are available.
Use emergencies for political purposes during the emergency. There will undoubtedly be political dimensions to the emergency itself and how it is tackled and these should be raised and debated following the emergency. During the emergency you can provide clear leadership by helping everyone focus on the task in hand.