Hurricane Katrina was one of the most catastrophic natural disasters in United States history. It caused death and destruction in several states including Alabama, Mississippi, Florida, and Louisiana. New Orleans, Louisiana received the worst damage of the four states and consequently received the most media coverage. There were several telltale prodromes that Hurricane Katrina would pose a crisis situation. These signs included:
- Leadership miscommunication
- Massive, mixed media coverage
- Failure of state officials to create an effective crisis management plan prior to the crisis
- Inadequate maintenance of the New Orleans levees
Communications and Public Relations professionals can learn several lessons from the Katrina disaster. Here are six of the most important lessons that may have saved thousands of lives and minimized damage:
- Possibly the most important lesson is to pay attention to the signs! The National Hurricane Center warned New Orleans’ state officials of levee failure days before the hurricane made landfall. Officials ignored this warning.
- Always have alternatives. You should have a plan A, a plan B and a plan C.
- Several places should be selected as a crisis command center. All sites should be in different locations to ensure the affected area won’t further hinder crisis communications.
- Anticipate and plan for the absolute worst case scenario! It’s always better to be prepared. Just because a crisis has never occurred does not mean it never will!
- Monitor all media – this includes radio, television and print. (This keeps you ahead of the story.) Numerous newspapers were reporting on Hurricane Katrina before it even hit.
- Never guess statistics! This makes you look uninformed and/or unprepared. The media will eat you alive if they find that your official statement features unofficial numbers and facts.
With countless deaths in African countries and a number of reported cases in the United States, the Ebola virus has propped up its feet on our coffee tables and made itself at home.
The virus has claimed the life of Thomas Duncan, a Texas man, making him the first Ebola death in the U.S. since the outbreak began months ago. Subsequently, two Texas nurse’s that treated Duncan have undergone treatment for Ebola. (One has even been sent to the Center for Disease Control [CDC] headquarters in Atlanta.) Since these events, Texas Governor Rick Perry has held a press conference owning up to the mistakes that led to the spread of the virus, calling them “unacceptable”. Currently, a number of counties are being quarantined in Dallas, Texas and surrounding areas to combat further spread of the virus. In fact, I was recently on the phone with one of my close friends who lives in the Dallas area and she was telling me that people are walking around town with masks on. They are not taking the Ebola scare lightly.
From a Public Relations standpoint, the scariest part about the Ebola outbreak is not contracting the disease, because medical professionals have made it clear that it is curable and full recovery is possible (with adequate resources). Perhaps the most frightening part is being unclear and uneducated about how it is spread. Here’s the truth behind a few Ebola Myths to keep you in the loop:
- Myth: Ebola can be contracted. through the air.
Truth: Ebola isn’t transmitted through the air. It is transmitted through direct contact by bodily fluids with an infected person – direct touching that involves bodily fluids such as blood, sweat, feces, vomit, semen or spit.
- Myth: Water kills the Ebola virus.
Truth: Soap and water kills the Ebola virus. So does chlorine, alcohol and bleach, according to experts. One of the most important preventive measures is frequent hand-washing.
- Myth: Banning flight travel will stop the spread of the disease.
Truth: Similar bans were used during the SARS and Swine Flu viruses. Experts say that NO ban will completely stop people moving about the world.