The Power of the Hotwash: Enhancing Crisis Communications

Key Takeaways

– A hotwash meeting is an after-action debrief in emergency situations.
– It originated in the military and is now applied to crisis communications.
– The hotwash exercise allows for reflection on what went right and wrong during a crisis response.
– It is important for all members of the crisis response team, including crisis communicators, to participate in the hotwash.
– 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.


In the world of crisis communications, the ability to effectively respond to emergencies is crucial. One of the key tools in this process is the hotwash meeting. Originating in the military, the hotwash has now become a valuable practice in crisis communications. This article will explore the concept of a hotwash meeting, its importance, and how it can benefit crisis communicators and their clients.

The Origins of the Hotwash

The hotwash meeting has its roots in the military, where it was used to evaluate and learn from combat operations. After a mission or exercise, soldiers would gather to discuss what went well, what went wrong, and how they could improve for future operations. This practice proved to be highly effective in identifying areas for improvement and enhancing overall performance.

Adapting the Hotwash to Crisis Communications

Recognizing the value of the hotwash in the military, crisis communicators began to adopt this practice in their field. In the aftermath of a crisis, a hotwash meeting allows the crisis response team to come together and reflect on their actions. This includes analyzing the effectiveness of their communication strategies, identifying any shortcomings, and brainstorming ways to improve for future crises.

Participation of Crisis Communicators in the Hotwash

It is crucial for crisis communicators to actively participate in the hotwash meeting. As key members of the crisis response team, their insights and perspectives are invaluable in evaluating the effectiveness of communication strategies during a crisis. By sharing their experiences and observations, crisis communicators can contribute to a comprehensive analysis of the crisis response and help identify areas for improvement.

Communicating Actions Taken to Prevent Recurrence

One of the key outcomes of a hotwash meeting is the identification of actions that can be taken to prevent similar crises in the future. As a crisis communicator, it is essential to effectively communicate these actions to stakeholders and the public. By transparently sharing the steps taken to prevent recurrence, organizations can demonstrate their commitment to learning from past mistakes and improving their crisis preparedness.

Highlighting the Benefits of Management’s Protective Actions

In addition to communicating the actions taken to prevent recurrence, crisis communicators should also highlight the benefits of management’s protective actions. This can help protect the client’s reputation and advance the career of the crisis communicator. By emphasizing the positive outcomes of the crisis response and the proactive measures taken by management, crisis communicators can shape the narrative surrounding the crisis and mitigate any potential damage to the client’s image.


The hotwash meeting is a valuable tool in crisis communications. By reflecting on what went right and wrong during a crisis response, crisis communicators can identify areas for improvement and enhance their future crisis preparedness. Active participation in the hotwash and effective communication of actions taken to prevent recurrence are essential for protecting the client’s reputation and advancing one’s career in PR. By embracing the hotwash concept, crisis communicators can become more effective in their roles and contribute to successful crisis management.

Written by Martin Cole

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