Missing Persons – The Communications Challenge for Families

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Tue, Dec 5 - 7:43 am EDT | 8 years ago by
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Update:  The Kim family and several news outlets report that James Kim’s body was found Wednesday.

The rescue Monday of Kati Kim and her two young children after nine days stranded on a logging road in southwest Oregon is the kind of result families involved in a search and rescue operation hope for.

The photo of Kati hugging her nine-month-old daughter as the helicopter landed in nearby Grants Pass just about breaks your heart. You just know she wasn’t sure anyone would figure out where they were, and come looking.

The search continues for her husband James Kim, a technology journalist for CNet.

Like the highly publicized search for David Koch on Vancouver’s Grouse Mountain in 2005, the search for James and Kati Kim and their children called upon all the resources family and friends could muster. And like the Koch case, technology bloggers and others were quick to offer help in getting the word out.

The challenge for family and friends is to work closely with authorities, but not to rely solely on official channels to get word out and muster resources.

What the Family Can Do

I’m no expert on search and rescue, but here are my observations on what the family can do to communicate during the crisis.

kimsA website for the search is helpful in providing a single unofficial point of contact. The Kims have a media contact available, so others involved can remain focused on the search.

People will be in touch with offers to help. It’s important to identify tasks, financial support and other ways people can contribute. Take advantage of offers from people in the area to provide on-the-ground logistical support and information.

Regular updates to the website keep people aware of the status. It also provides motivation for those involved. If the news is bad, at least they know what they’re up against.

It is possible to fear the worst without giving up hope, or discouraging others. Voicing concerns about the safety of missing persons can be helpful, but the emphasis should be on the urgency of following all leads and making sure all search options have been explored.

One of the drawbacks of social media and interactive news sites is the ability of armchair search captains to spread gloom about the prospects for success, and to criticize the missing persons for any number of errors of judgement that may or may not have happened. It’s best to just ignore the wild speculation and negative comments, unless they offer some insight that the search team hasn’t considered.

As with any crisis situation, speed is important, but so is remaining calm and consistent. Your main contacts online and with the media should stick to known facts, express concern for the missing persons and appreciation for those who are helping, and provide clear contact information or instructions for anyone wanting to help.

Communicate what you know when you know it, and update when new information is available.

The family will probably have a different perspective on the situation from the official search reports. Don’t be afraid to speak on behalf of the missing people. Be assertive, but try not to antagonize local officials if it’s not absolutely necessary.

If you have other suggestions or personal experience, I’d love to hear your comments.

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