Wouter Jong on Dutch NPO Radio 1 on Crisis Communication by Mayors
A man died in Assen while being detained by bystanders. The man allegedly touched a young girl inappropriately and the girl’s father is believed to have been one of the bystanders. Five men have been arrested by the police and later released. As a result, wild rumours have started circulating. How does a mayor deal with such a situation and what it the role a mayor needs to play when it comes to crisis communication?
Wouter Jong, Lecturer at the Institute of Security and Global Affairs at Leiden University works for the Dutch Association of Mayors. He is expected to obtain his PhD in crisis communication at the end of this year. ‘It is important for mayors remain be alert during situations such as the one in Assen. They need to know if the situation is causing unrest within the community and what the municipality’s options are to best provide support for its citizens and make sure that the situation does not escalate? In such cases, communication is a very important tool.’ Wouter Jong advises mayors on crisis communication during various incidents. ‘It is often impossible to write a script for each and every situation. A made-to-measure approach is needed especially during times of social unrest.’ says Jong.
Communication is Key
It can be difficult for mayors to comment on an incident that happened very recently, for instance in situations similar to the one in Assen. Quite often, a mayor will first gather more information regarding the incident before giving a response. This was common practice for most authorities until recently. Wouter Jong however has noticed a change in mayors’ response methods. ‘The era of I’m better off not saying anything because that also means I won’t say anything wrong appears to be over. Mayors understand that communication is key when responding to a crisis.’