Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to contribute an analysis of how crisis communication can make a difference in terms of the impact of an emergency on society. Design/methodology/approach – The attitude of the response organisations with respect to communities is reflected in the planning model they adopt. Two ideal-typical planning models are distinguished in the literature. In order to analyse what role both planning models play in the dynamics of crisis communications, the authors selected two Dutch cases for a comparative case analysis on message contents and media responses to the crisis communication. Findings – The content analysis revealed different crisis communication styles used by the emergency response organisation. The crisis communication in the first case focused primarily on denotative meaning-making while the crisis communication in the second case focused primarily on connotative meaning-making. Practical implications – The authors argue that, in crisis communication, more attention should be paid to the way in which a response organisation approaches the situation, and to the dynamics of the interaction with the affected community. Social implications – More attention should be paid to the fact that emergency response and the affected community mutually shape each other; large-scale operations need to be moved out of their exclusivity and integrated into society. Originality/value – Crises have a significant societal impact and do not occur in isolation from the broader social environment. The way in which people within society interpret the information from the authorities is important for the emergency response organisation in order that it can adapt to ongoing developments and match its communication more effectively to the affected communities.