Professional Articles

Crisis communications and weather events

The arrival of Hurricane Michael on my doorstep this morning caused me to reflect upon my many years of handing crisis communications and inclement weather procedures for organizations.

Inclement weather preparedness often feels like a thankless job, but so necessary to your organization’s business functioning and reputation. Just like your facilities or operations manager might ensure that you have proper insurance, emergency supplies or generators in your facilities, a communications manager will ensure that you have a communications strategy, procedure and tools for reaching your audiences.

As the primary communicator for several organizations (library, school, visitor center) during inclement weather, I quickly learned that my best friend was documentation. Keeping track of things like decision trees, media notification codes, scripts for phone recordings, etc. made the actual implementation much easier – especially since I was often doing it in the early morning hours when I was low on sleep.

Another lesson learned was to rely on a team and make sure everyone knew what their responsibilities were. A quick huddle before the inclement weather hit, followed by a “hot wash” or debrief after, captured best practices and lessons learned for the future. Even with the best planning, there are usually a few balls that get dropped or less-than-ideal circumstances. The debrief is an opportunity to work out those kinks – and document them for next time – while the information is still fresh.

Nine times out of ten, inclement weather is a non-event that may result in minor inconvenience for you and your customers. But in the rare instance where the weather event causes lasting damage or a threat to your continuity, you need to have a crisis communications plan in place.

How do you know when it’s time to switch from inclement weather to crisis mode? Crisis communication is defined by PRSA as “protecting and defending an individual, company or organization facing a public challenge to its reputation. These challenges can involve legal, ethical or financial standing.” Examples of this could include if the weather event has caused damage to facilities, injury to employees or customers, or loss of assets (ex: damage to a computer server, significant revenue loss).

If you don’t have a crisis communications plan, it is crucial that you create one, preferably when you aren’t in crisis. Then you can feel confident and prepared for whatever mother nature – or the world in general – has in store.

Need help creating a crisis communications plan? Contact Cordelia

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