The traditional way of crisis communication
During most crisis situations at airports, information is hardly available; too little and too late. Passengers, friends, family and the media are looking for official sources of information but in most cases people have access to information they find on social media. The result is that people get the wrong idea about the actual situation on the ground.
November 2010: A Qantas Airbus A380 departed Singapore Changi Airport for Sydney after which 4 minutes after takeoff a fire started in one of the plane's engines causing significant damage to the tail and critical systems. The plane was able to land safely at Changi Airport 90 minutes later but at that time Reuters and other news agencies had already published that the plane had crashed. These reports were based on photos and comments published on various social media channels. This is a good example of a situation where the available digital channels of the airport and the airline were unable to prevent misunderstandings like this. People in these situations need information spread through official channels.
Another big problem is that the airport website is not able to handle the usage. People go to the website to get the right information. The main reason for the delay and lack of information in crisis situations is because of the large number of digital channels available such as; PA announcements, website, mobile app, Flight information displays, email and social media. Each channel is managed by a different department and system creating inconsistency and delays.
Another example of "old-fashioned" crisis communication is that everyone receives the same message. If an active shooter is in one of the terminals what should people do if they are on their way to the airport and/or present in the terminal in question? And what message should be spread in the terminal in question? A generic message for everyone will only lead to more confusion and panic.
A digitally transformed way of crisis communication
The solution is simple: make sure you have access to a platform that controls all of an airport's channels. We call this a Digital Airport Platform. As a passenger, you need to hear (PA), see (displays) and feel (notification on your phone) the message. When an airport has a solid digital base (data) then a platform is available to orchestrate a passenger's entire journey and provide the passenger with personalized information distributed through the available channels. In these cases, templates are available that can be activated by the team. The team can also send segmented messages to people who are in a specific location, have not yet arrived at the airport or are flying to a specific destination. A push notification is one of the most effective ways to reach a wide audience. These notifications have a high opening rate and the time between sending and reading the message is limited.
How can you avoid chaos?
Crowd control can be crucial to effectively evacuating a building. If no information is available everyone moves to the same exit. This causes congestion at one exit and other exits are not used. With controlled communication and dynamic signage, crowds can be directed to the most optimal exits.
Schiphol is informing passengers of the crisis situation through a special announcement on the app and website.
If an airport had an instance of power failure, there was no way to communicate it through the PA system or the Flight Information Displays. But the mobile app and website are available in the cloud and thus still usable. We saw a spike in usage because this was the only channel where passengers could get reliable information.
During the devastating events at the time of Hurricane Irma, our client Orlanda Airport used the mobile app and website extensively to inform its passengers of the status of their respective flight. We saw a spike in app downloads (450%) and user engagement (>900%).
Florida shooting incident
On January 6, 2017, a major shooting incident occurred at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. Five people were killed and six were injured. Part of the panic was caused by unverified reports of multiple shots fired. As became clear with the FLL case is that panic can quickly set in at these times. Even if there is a false alarm. At these crucial moments, it is important to have a consistent flow of information that does not encourage confusion. Since it is not always clear which digital channels the passenger uses, it is important that all information is available through all digital channels
In a crisis situation, good communication is required. As a public domain where security protocols must be available at all times, we expect an airport to have the most advanced digital means to inform passengers. As we have explained in this publication it is possible to manage crisis situations by developing a digital platform that manages all channels. This platform should be able to communicate predefined protocols and personalized messages to the relevant passengers with a simple push of a button. Of course, this will not prevent a crisis situation, but it will reduce the impact.