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.