Only four months after terrorist attacks rocked Paris
professionals’ crisis communications were put to the test as terrorists hit Brussels.
On Tuesday morning, two explosions went off in the check-in area of Brussels Airport. Shortly after those attacks—at least one of which, Belgium’s federal
prosecutor said, was likely caused by a suicide bomber—a third blast occurred at Maalbeek metro station. The station is near several European institutions.
The Guardian reported that Belgium’s health minister previously said 11 people died at Brussels Airport:
Maggie de Block, the Belgian health minister, confirmed that 11 people died and 81 were injured in the airport explosions, which the Belgian prosecutor
said were caused by a suicide attack.
Belgian subway spokesman, Guy Sablon,
told The Associated Press
that 15 are dead and 55 wounded in the attack on Maalbeek station.
Brussels’ mayor later raised the death toll in the city’s subway explosions to 20, CTV News reported:
Mayor Yvan Majeur now says at least 20 people have died and 106 people were injured in the attack on the Maelbeek subway station, which is close to the
European Union headquarters.
The New York Times reported
that the current death toll is at least 34:
At least 34 people were killed—14 at the airport, and 20 at the subway station—and many more were wounded, including 92 at the airport and 106 at the
Though officials are still determining who was behind the attacks, some reports claim that the attacks are tied to Friday’s arrest of Salah Abdeslam—who, The Guardian reported, was the logistician for the Paris attacks.
Early reports said one of the explosions took place at American Airlines’ check-in desk, the airline issued an official statement that disputed the claims
and confirmed that its employees and crew members were safe:
thoughts go to the victims and their families. So far 15 victims, 55 wounded (provisional) #Maelbeek #STIB #MIVB #Brussels
— STIB-MIVB (@STIBMIVB) March 22, 2016
The crisis is ongoing and officials are still disseminating information. Here are the communication efforts so far:
Organizations spread emergency instructions
Brussels Airport kept people updated with information, safety warnings and instructions through its Twitter account (@BrusselsAirport):
Brussels Intercommunal Transport Co. also updated people through its Twitter account (@STIBMIVB):
Facebook enabled its safety check for users in the area:
Other organizations used Twitter to update people as well, and Belgian citizens are offering rides and shelter under the hashtag #ikwilhelpen—meaning, “I want to help”:
Shortly after the first two explosions, Belgium’s prime minister, Charles Michel, tweeted that officials’ priority was helping those at the airport. He
continued to share information—including instructions for people in Belgium to stay where they are—via his account (@CharlesMichel):
Officials unite against terrorism
Michel has shared more than emergency information in the wake of this morning’s attacks. He tweeted:
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Sweden’s prime minister, Stefan Löfven, issued a statement to reporters and called
the attacks “an attack on Democratic Europe”:
Brussels has been hit by terrorist attacks and although the extent is not fully known, there is information about the dead and injured. It is an attack on
the democratic Europe. We will never accept that terrorists attack our open societies.
United Kingdom’s prime minister, David Cameron, tweeted that he will chair an emergency meeting about the attacks in Cabin Office Briefing Room A—the
British equivalent to the White House situation room:
“We face a very real terrorist threat right across the different countries of Europe, and we have to meet that with everything we have,” Cameron later told reporters.
France’s president, François Hollande, tweeted his “full solidarity with the Belgian people” and said the entirety of Europe was affected by the attacks:
France’s interior minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, chose stronger words, saying Europe is "at war”:
“These events that strike at the heart of Europe... [They] show the need to reinforce even more the fight against terrorism," Cazeneuve said during a press
Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, released the following statement:
I am appalled by the bombings this morning at Zaventem airport and the European district in Brussels which have cost several innocent lives and injured
I extend my sincerest sympathies to the relatives and friends of the victims. These attacks mark another low by the terrorists in the service of hatred and
The European institutions are hosted in Brussels thanks to the generosity of Belgium's government and its people. The European Union returns this
solidarity now and will fulfill its role to help Brussels, Belgium and Europe as a whole counter the terror threat which we are all facing.
“We stand together, united against terror and in full solidarity with the people of Brussels,” Margaritis Schinas, the European Commission’s chief
spokesman, said during a press conference.
that President Barack Obama, who is in Cuba on a historic visit meant to re-establish relations, has been briefed about the attacks. Obama will give a
speech this morning and might address the Brussels attacks then.
“U.S. officials have been and will continue to be in close contact with their Belgian counterparts, and we will provide additional information and updates
as we are able to do so,” a White House spokesman told Politico.
Update: Obama briefly remarked on the attacks in Brussels at the beginning of his address in Cuba:
The thoughts and prayers of the American people are with the people of Belgium and we stand in solidarity with them in condemning these outrageous attacks against innocent people. We will do whatever is necessary to support our friend and ally, Belgium, in bringing to justice to those who are responsible.
As world leaders and U.S. presidential candidates reacted to the attacks, Twitter and Instagram users used Belgian cartoon character Tintin to express solidarity and condolences:
Hours after the explosions, the Islamic State claimed responsibility. The Washington Post reported:
The Islamic State asserted responsibility for the attacks, according to a statement posted on the Amaq Agency, a website believed to be close to the extremist group. The message said Belgium was targeted for its participation in an international coalition battling the Islamic State.
If the Islamic State link is confirmed, it would mark another deadly strike less than a week after a suicide blast in Istanbul that killed five people, two of them with dual American-Israeli citizenship.