Posted by Cognito on Fri, Apr 26 2013

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Six Months After Sandy - Lessons Learned

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Crisis Communications After Sandy - Lessons Learned from the Conference Board of Canada

A recent strategic crisis management session held by the  Conference Board of Canada in Toronto, provided this participant with some excellent ideas for crisis communications. Taking place less than a week after the bombings at the Boston marathon, and in the shadow of the Toronto terror threat, session participants discussed key strategic and communications issues related to emergency situations.

At the session, I presented Cognito’s experience during Hurricane Sandy based on Dan’s Forbes blog as a Case Study to the other participants.

Participants and speakers were emergency management professionals from the public and private sectors. The morning speaker was Eric McNulty of the National Preparedness Leadership Initiative (NPLI)  a joint program of Harvard Kennedy School and the Harvard School of Public Health. 

Overall, what I learned from the discussion is that communications professionals have a lot to learn from the emergency management sector. In fact, a good understanding of how emergency situations are handled – ranging from terror threats to natural disasters – make the best foundation for sophisticated crisis communications.

Hence, a short check list for crisis pros:

  • Know and understand who gets involved in emergencies: government agencies, private operations like hospitals, engineers and doctors. For example, solving Deep Water Horizon was largely an engineering problem that had to be solved by the company. But the emergency itself was environmental, political and economic.

  • Give important stakeholders in an emergency a “job” to do. For example, political leaders and CEOs should be tasked with the functions that they can best fulfill, like obtaining resources and access to ideas

  •  Calm is requisite to making good decisions. Eric McNulty, author of an upcoming book on crisis leadership, noted that panic-driven reactions are almost always wrong.

  • Don't be afraid of unorthodox ideas: leaders need a toolbox to ensure calm: meditate for a moment, take a drink of water, take a breath.

  • Leaders need a plan to project calm - for example, change clothes and take a look in the mirror

  • Successful crisis management means understanding social as well as personal behavior. For example, the tendancy for people to converge on (run towards) dangerous situations has implications for publically-directed communications.

I found the expert presentations and discussions at the event to be facinating and informative, and I'm looking forward to applying some of these new lessons to work for our clients.

Have you learned anything from watching communicators dealing with recent events? Any additional lessons from Sandy?

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