Public relations, media relations, public health, issues management, reputation management

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ATLANTA (Nov. 10, 2014) -- Emerging public health issues such as Ebola can place even the most sophisticated organizations in a reactive communications position. But while Ebola has been making headlines, there is a much more contagious virus emerging – seasonal flu – that generally begins in October and can run through late May, peaking between December and February.

“As the two viruses can have similar symptoms at the onset – it’s important to have crisis communications plans in place to temper fear and anxiety among employees and prevent an interruption in operations,” says Sherri Simmons, who, in her role as president and CEO of Duffey Communications, Inc., has developed pandemic flu and other crisis communications plans for educational institutions and global businesses. "According to public health officials, an organization is much more likely to encounter an outbreak of the flu, which, if not controlled, can have detrimental consequence on many different fronts, including productivity and profits."

Although crisis communications plans inherently reflect the nuances associated with specific types of organizations, there are several best-practice strategies that can be used as a guide.

1. Actively communicate internal flu-related policies to employees. If such a policy does not exist, public health organizations can be a good resource to tap. A primary recommendation is to encourage those who have the flu to stay home from work or school to prevent the spread of seasonal flu to others. Providing guidelines for effective hand-washing techniques may seem inconsequential, but is a useful reminder.

2. Educate employees now about seasonal flu and ways to prevent it. Encourage employees to get flu shots – and let them know if there are company benefits, such as insurance or reimbursements, to help offset the cost. Use posters, newsletters, intranets and employee meetings to reinforce prevention awareness.

3. Ebola is still top of mind – and health care organizations are concerned about the possibility of confusion between the two at the onset of infection. Proactively educate employees about the distinctions between seasonal flu and Ebola. Knowing these differences can prevent unnecessary panic. (Visit the CDC's "Is it flu or Ebola?" for more information.)

4. Have trained spokespeople in place in case there is a need to reach out to primary audiences, including employees, customers, vendors and media. In some cases, you may need to have your public affairs team prepared in case there is a need to provide information to elected and/or regulatory officials.

5. Most importantly, stay current on public health issues by monitoring traditional and social media every day. Not only will this alert you to an encroaching flu outbreak within a region, it will ensure you are prepared to adjust your crisis communications plan to the scenario that is unfolding in real time.

Simmons says that the good news is that the flu can be prevented – the polices, procedures and information to do so are readily available.

"This year, however, it's even more crucial to have a crisis communications plan in place to provide accurate information and prevent employees from confusing the onset of flu with the onset of Ebola. Being prepared on all fronts with a solid, non-alarmist crisis communications plan will help ensure your organization is protected," says Simmons.

About Duffey Communications, Inc.
With a 30-year track record in public relations, public affairs, crisis communications, business marketing and cause marketing, Duffey Communications serves clients ranging from Fortune 100 companies and small businesses to government agencies, professional associations and nonprofit organizations. The firm has earned more than 600 industry awards, most recently the Platinum International Marcom for Strategic Communications and Gold Stevie Award for Public Service Campaign of the Year. For more information, visit www.duffey.com.

Sherri Simmons, president and CEO, is an award-winning industry leader who specializes in corporate communications, government relations, and crisis communications.

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