Communications has had a really vital role in helping our communities and our staff and officers understand and react to the coronavirus threat. This series of blogs highlights the critical roles we, as communicators, have played in helping the policing family tackle the complexities of the last six months.
Day one provides an overview of what the next week looks to offer.
Well, where do I start?!
Everyone has their own story to tell about this exceptional time in our living history, sometimes desperately sad, sometimes just frustrating, but we are lucky (or unlucky depending on how frazzled you are feeling) in policing communications to have a had a unique insight into the pandemic as it unfolded. As a result, when planning this week of blogs, I thought others could benefit from reading a little more about how we all (in different ways) handled the biggest of all crisis communications challenge in our lives so far.
Having worked in policing communications for nearly 20 years in Norfolk, I thought I had dealt with nearly every type of incident there was, with so many of my experiences, at least over the last decade, meaning I have become used to dealing with something that seems so bizarre you can’t believe it isn’t in a movie or a book! Outside of work I was also in the process of planning my wedding, all set up for a weekend of partying in a field (there was a festival theme), right in the middle of June.
It began with a few murmurings towards the end of February, I had a couple of ad hoc meetings, where we started to discuss what a response would look like if the virus currently causing significant issues in China reached our shores, but it wasn’t until my Chief Constable popped into our office one day saying things looked really worrying that I began to take it extremely seriously. With the sad number of terrorist strikes the country has endured over the last couple of years, Norfolk and Suffolk had its own plans for dealing with such events and once the country was looking like it was going to go into full lockdown, we dusted off our communications plans and started looking at what that impact would mean for our teams.
With Norfolk and Suffolk working slightly differently, Norfolk picking up the day to day COVID communications internally and both forces sharing their external messaging, ensuring localised differences; there was a multitude of meetings to attend remotely and messages, campaigns and updates that needed to be given both to officers and staff and to our residents in both counties. Both forces were also heavily involved in supporting their local resilience forums, both with officer representation and communications.
What this meant is that while my team were not only grappling with a new way of working (we had a couple of people fall ill with what seemed to be COVID symptoms early on, so I sent the whole team to work from home) and trying to keep on top of an ever-changing picture, they were also having to work harder than they have ever had to do in their police communications lives. I had said to several of the new members of my team that a major incident would help them really learn more about our vital our roles in policing are but I hadn’t meant this!
As a group, in our daily Zoom and Skype meetings, we often agonised about how to get the messaging out in a way that positively influenced behaviour, in terms of words and images (getting local feedback from team members who had to go out in the community) both to our communities and to our colleagues internally. When we conducted a poll of those communications, 88% of our responders externally said they felt the forces’ communications around COVID 19 were informative and in an internal survey, officers and staff were, in the main, very happy with how we had given them information.
We did also have a little fun – our meetings on Fridays had a dress up theme which some team members found more challenging than others. One memorable week found me dialling in to a whole host of images of me. Very, very surreal!
With things getting slowly back to a new normal, given the threat of the virus is still with us, the team is taking a collective breath. Although our communities will still be looking to us for policing updates, I am now trying to persuade people that time off will do them some good from a welfare perspective. I cannot, however, underline how proud I am of how my team met the challenges and overcame them and I have not stopped telling people this. This whole pandemic has highlighted to me how important caring about each other is, both in our working lives and with our nearest and dearest.
Oh, and I had to sadly postpone my wedding until next year but I am determined that we will then party like it is 2020.
Nicola Atter, APComm Vice Chair and Corporate Communications Manager at Norfolk Police