What Hurricane Irma Can Teach Us About Crisis Communication

Image result for hurricane irma photo

Image from USA Today

As we sit on the precipice of seeing the outcome of Hurricane Irma, one of the strongest storms in history, rip through Florida, I can’t help but think of the parallels to crisis communication.

When a crisis hits, organizations are rarely prepared. I often wonder why. They seem to react as though the crisis came out of nowhere. Just as meteorologists track weather patterns, organizations can occasionally predict a crisis.

The Crisis Management Survey revealed that

“The crisis communications function was shown to be lagging behind when it comes to crisis preparedness; while 84 percent of organizations surveyed had a documented crisis management plan, over a quarter of respondents recorded noted that they do not have a documented plan for how they will communicate in a crisis and 41 percent responded that they do not have guidance on handling social media in a crisis.”

The detection phase of a crisis can begin with what researchers refer to as the prodromal stage. Prodromes are warning signs that, if heeded, can give an organization a considerable advantage when the crisis hits.

Hurricanes have hit before. Those affected usually know how to prepare. According to the National Hurricane Center, the two key factors contributing to weather safety during hurricanes are preparing in advance for the risks and to act on those preparations when alerted by emergency officials.

Crisis communication for organizations is similar. When a crisis occurs, the need to communicate is immediate. I offer five crucial steps from my APR training workshop that will help you build a reliable crisis communication strategy:

  1. Prepare in Advance: Analyze your organization and assess risks. Decide which issues are likely to contain events that will trigger a crisis then list the kinds of crises your organization is most likely to face and prepare for the worst. Recognize the difference between bad publicity and a true crisis and respond accordingly.
  2. Enact Your Plan: Your objective is to maintain corporate credibility, even if the organization is at fault. Attend to the smallest detail to maintain trust with your publics. The crisis plan itself should offer guidelines, but be flexible enough for the organization to make changes should the need arise. A crisis is unpredictable, you wouldn’t want to be stuck following a crisis plan that isn’t appropriate.
  3. Identify Your Spokesperson: Assign the best person to speak on behalf of the organization. It may not necessarily be the CEO. The spokesperson should be perceived by the publics as knowledgeable and up-to-date on developments. They should show empathy, give reassurance, reduce emotional turmoil, and quell crisis related uncertainty.
  4. Monitor the Situation & Conversations: Follow the situation closely for any changes that are happening. And in a social media driven world, continually monitor your organization and the brand name. Track the conversations so you can respond appropriately.
  5. Lessons Learned: Once the crisis is over reflect on the events that caused the crisis. Develop standard protocols and training workshops to efficiently manage a future crisis.

Crisis happen. A well-managed crisis reinforces that your organization can address almost any issue that may arise. It’s up to PR practitioners to lead the way before, during, and after the storm.


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