While much of the country deals with the vestiges of winter’s wrath, emergency and government personnel are doing their best. Teams are on the job to minimize damage from what could be the worst storm to hit the East all season. From dispatching trucks and proactively salting roads to offering citizens tips on assembling the necessary supplies, storm management officers do much of their work well before the first snowflake falls.
Similarly, crisis communications specialists spend a large percentage of their days proactively constructing contingency plans well before the arrival of organizational crises, from product recalls to cruise ship catastrophes.
With this week’s winter storm—now being referred to by pundits as the Snowquester— the parallels between emergency management and crisis communications are readily apparent:
Check the Radar
No matter the emergency, the first step in crisis communication planning is to scan the environment. Just as Doppler radar helps emergency officials understand current conditions and the projected path of an incoming storm, research tools assist communication specialists in understanding the landscape to fully prepare for impending crises. SWOT analyses—which identify organizations’ strengths, weaknesses, obstacles, and threats—are helpful. But more sophisticated scans combine traditional media analysis that tracks sentiment and tonality with social media analyses that report on the pulse of organizations’ key audiences. Temperatures, wind velocity, dew point, and barometric pressure are all vital metrics for gauging the severity of a weather event. Similarly, coverage sentiment, competitive positioning, company reputation, and community acceptance indicate an organization’s situation in advance of trouble.
Forecast the Weather
Days, sometimes weeks before an anticipated storm, emergency management officials deploy messaging informing the public of potential threats. In the days that follow, numerous updates are made, but the common denominator remains: transparency. Though precipitation total and time of arrival estimates often shift, the messaging delivered in each report sustains public awareness and dialogue, addresses concerns, and provides updated information. For crisis communication specialists, the deployment of clear and consistent messages that support an organization’s posture, reputation, and commitment to customers are essential, especially when those messages are delivered through the filter of the media.
Gas Up the Snow Plows
The storm (or threat) is approaching, but there is still pre-crisis work to be done. Proactive measures such as sending out snow plows and issuing blankets, batteries, and other emergency supplies reduce the impact of the event. Similarly, genuine value exists in positioning spokespeople in front of key media in order to develop an authentic, crisis-specific organizational tone before trouble breaks. All the organization’s communication in recent days and weeks is intensely scrutinized as crises unfold. Did you tell the truth? Were you fair, clear and complete? Do such vetting yourself so you know any issues that may arise. Whether a blizzard or corporate crisis, proactive tactics help officials stay on top of conditions before the snow (or negative media sentiment) piles up too high.
Don’t Slip on the Ice, Twice
The weather, much like uncontrollable communications variables, is always out of emergency officials’ hands. However, crews always can learn from the storm timeline, including what went right and wrong. For communication officials, an ever-growing list of crisis case studies exists. The best of these demonstrate that honest introspection is an excellent method for improving procedures in the future. The public appreciates humility. Telling them you are studying the experience, reviewing your decisions and striving to create methods for doing better in the future is generally a welcome message.
A lot can be learned when comparing winter storms to communications crises. Both present challenges when interacting with key stakeholders. Both offer opportunities to further organizational messaging. And both yield teachable moments from which officials can use for the next event.
For those within the expected reach of this week’s major winter weather event, stay safe and informed!