Thai cave rescue mission offers lessons in crisis communication

The 12-member ‘Wild Boars’ football team and their coach rescued from a flooded cave pose with a drawing picture of Samarn Kunan, a former Thai navy diver who died working to rescue them at the Chiang Rai Prachanukroh Hospital. [File, Reuters]
The world watched with trepidation the treacherous cave rescue mission of Wild Boars football squad at the Tham Luang Cave in Thailand.

Sifting through the massive coverage with a communications professionals’ eye, there are many lessons to be learnt in crisis communication.

So, what are the golden rules for communications specialists in the event of a crisis of the magnitude witnessed in Thailand? The key responsibilities of the communications department include identifying key stakeholders both internal and external like media, experts, the public among others.

During such occurrences, communication experts need to provide timely and accurate information about the incident.

Other roles are liaising with the central crisis management team in relation to messaging to all stakeholders and finally advising the team leader on the reputational implications/consequences of decisions related to the response.

Back to the Tham Luang Cave, since the news broke about the missing boys and their coach, the messaging was handled with clinical efficiency.

So much so that the coordination of the rescue mission, media updates and spokespersons were not faltered in sharing the complex details of the rescue mission to an eager global audience.

We did not hear conflicting statements, accusations and counter accusation from the panic-stricken parents and relatives or even the spokespeople.

On their part, the media respected the privacy of the boys and cautiously kept off the medical teams, only releasing dispatches that were approved by the head of the rescue mission.

As a result of the effective crisis communication, we now know that even after completing the dark, treacherous journey from the depths of Tham Luang cave to safety, the rescued members of the Wild Boars football squad face barriers to resuming normal lives.

The media reported that before the boys can enjoy a warm embrace from relatives, doctors must ascertain they will not make anyone ill.

As we wish the boys and the coach well, it’s the high time communications professionals deeply analyse how the rescue mission was coordinated and take their rightful place in advising businesses, government and the public on how best to manage a crisis. 

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thai rescue missioncrisis communication