Handy in a Crisis: Covello Questions

A basic principle of crisis communications is be prepared in advance, as much as possible, even though you may not know what the incident might be. A good crisis toolbox has priority contact lists, roles of the players spelled out and much more. Does it have the Covello Questions?

Recently a local public agency faced an unexpected incident generating a news story. A community relations manager quickly put together an internal fact sheet to bring co-workers up to speed. She followed the Covello Questions as she wrote. This document poses 77 questions commonly asked by journalists during a crisis.

Dr. Vincent Covello, director of the Center for Risk Communication, prepared the questions. On its website, the center states:

“Trust and credibility are central to effective communication about topics of high concern. Key elements in trust and credibility are: Caring/empathy, honesty/openness, competence/expertise and commitment/dedication.”

How does a media spokesperson convey these important values? The simple answer is being prepared to answer basic questions and having the facts. The Covello questions provide a blueprint. Boiling the list to a few basics who, what, where and how type of questions, a reporter may ask:

  • Why are you qualified to speak?
  • What happened?
  • Who or what was harmed?
  • Is the situation under control?
  • What is being done to avoid a repeat of the incident?
  • What lessons were learned? What’s the cost?

Click Read More to view the entire list.

Here’s the entire list:

  1. What is your name and title?
  2. What are your job responsibilities?
  3.  What are your qualifications?
  4.  Can you tell us what happened?
  5.  When did it happen?
  6.  Where did it happen?
  7.  Who was harmed?
  8.  How many people were harmed?
  9.  Are those that were harmed getting help?
  10.  How certain are you about this information?
  11.  How are those who were harmed getting help?
  12.  Is the situation under control?
  13.  How certain are you that the situation is under control?
  14.  Is there any immediate danger?
  15.  What is being done in response to what happened?
  16.  Who is in charge?
  17.  What can we expect next?
  18.  What are you advising people to do?
  19.  How long will it be before the situation returns to normal?
  20.  What help has been requested or offered from others?
  21.  What responses have you received?
  22.  Can you be specific about the types of harm that occurred?
  23.  What are the names of those that were harmed?
  24.  Can we talk to them?
  25.  How much damage occurred?
  26.  What other damage may have occurred?
  27.  How certain are you?
  28.  How much damage do you expect?
  29.  What do you do now?
  30.  Who else is involved in the response?
  31.  Why did this happen?
  32.  What was the cause?
  33.  Did you have any forewarning that this might happen?
  34.  Why wasn’t this prevented from happening?
  35.  What else can go wrong?
  36.  If you are not sure of the cause, what is your best guess?
  37.  Who caused this to happen?
  38.  Who is to blame?
  39.  Could this have been avoided?
  40.  Do you think those involved handled the situation well enough?
  41.  When did your response to this begin?
  42.  When were you notified that something had happened?
  43.  Who is conducting the investigation?
  44.  What are you going to do after the investigation?
  45.  What have you found out so far?
  46.  Why was more not done to prevent this from happening?
  47.  What is your personal opinion?
  48.  What are you telling your own family?
  49.  Are all those involved in agreement?
  50.  Are people over reacting?
  51.  Which laws are applicable?
  52.  Has anyone broken the law?
  53.  How certain are you?
  54.  Has anyone made mistakes?
  55.  How certain are you?
  56.  Have you told us everything you know?
  57.  What are you not telling us?
  58.  What effects will this have on the people involved?
  59.  What precautionary measures were taken?
  60.  Do you accept responsibility for what happened?
  61.  Has this ever happened before?
  62.  Can this happen elsewhere?
  63.  What is the worst-case scenario?
  64.  What lessons were learned?
  65.  Were those lessons implemented?
  66.  What can be done to prevent this from happening again?
  67.  What would you like to say to those that have been harmed and to their families?
  68.  Is there any continuing danger?
  69.  Are people out of danger? Are people safe?
  70.  Will there be inconvenience to employees or to the public?
  71.  How much will all this cost?
  72.  Are you able and willing to pay the costs?
  73.  Who else will pay the costs?
  74.  When will we find out more?
  75.  What steps are being taken to avoid a similar event?
  76.  What lessons have you learned?
  77. What does this all mean?

Center for Risk Communication: www.centerforriskcommunication.org

Download a PDF of the Covello Questions