“Hotwash: The Importance of Crisis Communication and Learning from Experience”

Key Takeaways:

– A hotwash is an after-action debrief in emergency situations, originally from the military and now applied to crisis communications.
– It allows for reflection on what went right and wrong during a crisis response and identifies areas for improvement.
– Crisis communicators should participate in the hotwash to learn from the experience and contribute to future crisis response strategies.
– It is important to be aware of potential crisis aftershocks and take proactive measures to protect the client’s interests.
– Communicating the actions taken to prevent recurrence and highlighting the benefits of management’s protective actions can help protect the client and advance one’s career in PR.

The Origin and Purpose of a Hotwash

A hotwash, originally from the military, is an after-action debrief conducted in emergency situations. It serves the purpose of reflecting on the response to a crisis and identifying lessons learned for future improvement. The term “hotwash” refers to the immediate debriefing that takes place while the events are still fresh in everyone’s minds.

In the military, a hotwash is conducted after a mission or operation to assess what went well, what went wrong, and what could be done differently next time. It allows the team to analyze their performance, identify strengths and weaknesses, and make adjustments for future missions.

In the context of crisis communications, a hotwash serves a similar purpose. It provides an opportunity for the crisis response team, including crisis communicators, to evaluate their actions, communications strategies, and overall performance during a crisis. By conducting a hotwash, organizations can learn from their experiences and improve their crisis response capabilities.

The Importance of Crisis Communication in a Hotwash

Crisis communication plays a crucial role in a hotwash exercise. Effective communication during a crisis can help manage the situation, mitigate reputational damage, and maintain stakeholder trust. Therefore, it is essential for crisis communicators to actively participate in the hotwash and contribute their insights and perspectives.

During a hotwash, crisis communicators can evaluate the effectiveness of their communication strategies, messaging, and channels used during the crisis. They can assess whether the messages conveyed the right information, reached the intended audience, and aligned with the organization’s values and objectives.

By analyzing the communication efforts, crisis communicators can identify areas for improvement, such as refining messaging, enhancing media relations, or strengthening social media engagement. This evaluation helps in developing more effective crisis communication plans for future incidents.

Participating in a Hotwash as a Crisis Communicator

As a crisis communicator, active participation in a hotwash is crucial for personal and professional growth. It provides an opportunity to learn from the experience, gain insights from other team members, and contribute to the development of better crisis response strategies.

During the hotwash, crisis communicators should share their observations, challenges faced, and lessons learned. They can provide feedback on the effectiveness of the communication tactics employed and suggest improvements for future crisis responses.

Additionally, crisis communicators can benefit from hearing the perspectives of other team members, such as operations personnel, legal advisors, or senior management. This cross-functional collaboration allows for a comprehensive evaluation of the crisis response and fosters a better understanding of the challenges faced by different stakeholders.

Identifying Areas for Improvement in Crisis Response

A key objective of a hotwash is to identify areas for improvement in crisis response. This includes evaluating the effectiveness of the overall crisis management plan, the coordination among team members, and the decision-making process.

During the hotwash, the crisis response team should discuss and analyze the actions taken during the crisis, assessing their impact and effectiveness. This evaluation helps in identifying any gaps or weaknesses in the response and developing strategies to address them.

For crisis communicators, this evaluation includes assessing the timeliness and accuracy of information shared, the responsiveness to media inquiries, and the effectiveness of internal and external communication channels. By identifying areas for improvement, crisis communicators can enhance their crisis communication strategies and contribute to a more effective overall crisis response.

Dealing with Crisis Aftershocks

After a crisis, there may be potential aftershocks that can impact the organization’s reputation and operations. These aftershocks can include calls for protective legislation, public scrutiny, or ongoing media attention.

As a crisis communicator, it is important to be aware of these potential aftershocks and take proactive measures to protect the client’s interests. This may involve monitoring legislative developments, engaging with stakeholders to address concerns, or implementing additional communication strategies to manage ongoing media attention.

By staying proactive and addressing potential aftershocks, crisis communicators can help safeguard the organization’s reputation and minimize any long-term negative impacts.

Communicating Preventive Actions and Advancing in PR

One of the key takeaways from a hotwash is the importance of communicating the actions taken to prevent recurrence of similar crises. This communication helps rebuild stakeholder trust, demonstrate the organization’s commitment to improvement, and protect the client’s interests.

Crisis communicators play a vital role in crafting and delivering these messages. By highlighting the benefits of management’s protective actions and emphasizing the organization’s commitment to learning from past experiences, crisis communicators can help protect the client’s reputation and advance their own career in PR.


A hotwash is a valuable exercise in crisis communications, allowing for reflection, learning, and improvement. Crisis communicators should actively participate in the hotwash to evaluate their communication strategies, identify areas for improvement, and contribute to the development of more effective crisis response plans. By effectively managing crisis aftershocks and communicating preventive actions, crisis communicators can protect the client’s reputation and advance their career in PR. The lessons learned from a hotwash can be applied to future crisis responses, ensuring continuous improvement and preparedness in managing emergencies.

Written by Martin Cole

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