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The rollout of 5G around Australia could make crisis communications more challenging.

Why 5G could spell trouble for your crisis comms

The ongoing rollout of 5G networks around Australia won’t just make for much faster internet connections on our mobile devices – it is also set to pose an increasingly challenging test of the crisis communications capabilities of businesses and organisations.

Speaking at a recent webinar on crisis communications hosted by media monitoring company Meltwater, international communications expert John Bailey said 5G capabilities would supercharge existing trends in our behaviour around disasters and noteworthy public incidents.

Bailey, who has extensive experience working with airlines on crises responses, mapped out the evolution of social media around airline emergency situations in recent years.

While the crash of an Asiana plane at San Francisco airport in 2013 came to public attention via a tweeted photo 38 seconds after the plane came down (another 44,000 tweets followed in the first half-hour), the aftermath of an August 2016 crash at Dubai International Airport was captured on video and uploaded to YouTube via the airport’s wifi.

That progression was taken to a new level in April 2018 when passenger Martin Martinez staged his own live broadcast of the moments he believed his flight from New York to Dallas was about to crash.

Bailey said increased global availability over the next few years of high-speed 5G – “we’re nearing terminal velocity, we can’t get much faster” – would pose crisis challenges for communications teams across all industries, not just aviation.

“There has been a fundamental change in human behaviour over 10 to 15 years,” Bailey outlined.

“If we see something that is surprising, shocking, unusual or amusing our first reaction is to reach for the pockets and our mobile phones.

“If we didn’t film something or get a photograph, then it never happened.

“[Marty Martinez] did something that when you think about it is extraordinary – he reached into his wallet, pulled out his credit card, fired up his wifi connection, paid the $8 connection charge and fired up Facebook Live so that he could say his goodbyes to all his friends.

“It only lasted about eight seconds and the quality was pretty poor but suddenly there we are sitting on board during an air disaster. It was the first time that’s happened but it won’t be the last.”

Bailey said the recent mosque shootings in Christchurch, which claimed 50 lives, provided further evidence of the frightening pitfalls that accompany the emergence of social media as a tool for live broadcasting.

He expects Facebook and its competitors in the social media space to be made more accountable for objectionable material published on their platforms but warned that it was a difficult area to police and patrol.

“It’s a bit like playing whack-a-mole,” he said.

“You take down one video and another one pops up somewhere else because someone has altered the video file slightly. I think that says a lot about where we are at in our society.”

Bailey said businesses and organisations that found themselves in crisis communications situations would often be judged less on the incident that triggered the trouble and more on their response to it.

He said in an “always-on” era in which crises could escalate at “frightening speed”, businesses and organisations should aim to start communicating with stakeholders and establishing themselves as credible information sources within 15 minutes after an incident. In the case of government departments, where traditional communications models might feature numerous layers of approvals, separate crisis procedures might need to be put in place.

Bailey said companies that didn’t operate 24/7 might be given some leeway around response times (depending on the nature of the crisis) but there was no excuse for not monitoring social media adequately.

“Do what you can, if you aren’t 24/7 – and respond in real time as you become aware [of a situation],” he explained.

“But if you aren’t engaging in social media monitoring, it’s like trying to deal with a situation with one hand behind your back. “

Karen Brown is Cannings Purple’s National Director and an expert strategist and crisis communicator, with experience across a variety of sectors – including property, education, health, aged care, resources, agriculture and science. Contact Karen

Cannings Purple received an Asia Pacific Excellence Award for crisis communications in 2017, for work supporting Australian mining and construction company Macmahon during a hostage situation in Nigeria. Recently we have helped aged care clients navigate the challenging circumstances of a royal commission.

We also offer comprehensive media intelligence services, providing clients with actionable insights and instant alerts for both their traditional and social media mentions.

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