Category Archives: Hurricane Katrina

Government Procurement article on Katrina communications

Some time ago I wrote an article on how the US Coast Guard used PIER, the online communication management tool I created and my company provides, to facilitate communication during Hurricane Katrina. That article was published in the October issue of Government Procurement Journal. Read the article.
Here’s a quote from the article:

It’s fair to say that the world is shifting under the feet of today’s Public Information Officer and, for that matter, today’s Incident Commander (IC), both of whom need to understand the demands each faces if he or she is to make informed decisions. Experienced ICs know that their efforts are judged positively by the public only if two things occur: the response is handled well, and the public is kept adequately informed. A poorly communicated public response, no matter how effective it originally may have been, is nonetheless a disaster.

All crises are personal

It’s hard to imagine a crisis that doesn’t involve a lot of personal pain, agony and tragedy. That was brought home to me recently as I struggled with the personal pain of those involved in some reputation crises that I was involved in.

But this series of articles from PR Tactics gives an inside look at some of the personal pain endured by professional communicators during Hurricane Katrina. It’s a powerful reminder for those of us engaged in this line of work that ultiimately what we do and how we do it matters. Because it matters to the people who are truly stakeholders.

Crisis communication planning made easy

Meeting with a client shortly to put a simple crisis plan in place. He’s a contractor with sizeable projects in multiple states. So this is kind of help me prep for that.

Every crisis consultant does things differently no doubt, but here is my approach with a client like this.

1) What are your goals? How do you define winning in a crisis? The answer usually comes down to wanting to minimize damage. I will remind him of the Chinese character for crisis which can be read as “risk” and “opportunity.” A crisis represents a great risk of damaging or destroying reputation and potentially the enterprise, but it also represents opportunity to enhance that reputation according to how the crisis was handled and communicated. What do we need to do in a crisis to help people think of us more positively?

2) Who will speak? Identifying spokespersons and making certain they are properly trained and prepared is essential. Also, preparing those who are not spokespeople to understand the policy and to learn how to “refer and defer” is also very important.

3) Who are the people whose opinion of you is most important to your future? That helps identify and prioritize stakeholders. Reporters are important, but their opinion is not the only one that counts. Key managers, employees, customers, suppliers, bankers, subcontractors, neighbors, potential opponents, industry influencers, government officials, etc. Know them, prioritize, and build lists to enable you to phone and/or email very quickly. I usually create lists of Level 1, 2 and 3. Level 1s get phone calls. Level 2 get emails and letters. Level 3 get more general emails and direct to website.

4) How will you communicate? Through media only? Big mistake. Prepare to manage message development and distribution to multiple critical audiences. And prepare to do it from wherever and when you’re entire IT infrastructure is down. This need is what led to the development of PIER, still the only web-based crisis communication control center. It is the reason why the US Coast Guard was able to continue to communicate non-stop during Hurricane Katrina despite having a distributed team and all IT resources under water.

In this, don’t forget your website. It is just about your most important asset for communications in a crisis. If you can completely control it without having to do go through some ridiculous chain of command and IT management process, you are flat out dead in the water.

5) How will you respond to and manage inquiries? Who will do it? Are they capable? Do you know where the inquiries will come in? How will email inquiries be managed? Who will prioritize and make sure of the responses and speed of response. Again, this daunting problem is why we created PIER which also fully integrates and manages the inquiry function.

6) Remember, now is too late. To try to put these pieces in place during an event means you will not communicate in time. It’s an instant news world and that means virtually instantaneous response. That can only be done through appropriate preparation.