Category Archives: Crisis Communication

The Weather Outside is Frightful ❄

buffaloLast week, a cold front swept the nation that broke record numbers. On Tuesday (November 18), the National Weather Service reported that at least one city in all 50 states hit 32 degrees or below, including Hawaii. The same morning, the NWS reported that about 50% of the United States had snow on the ground.

At the center of all the commotion is Buffalo, NY. Tuesday morning, Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown declared a state of emergency, which banned all vehicle travel excluding emergency vehicles. Over a 13-mile radius of Interstate 90 and a 37-mile radius of Interstate 190 was shut down. Snow began to fall and before you know it, we’re looking at a Winter Wonderland. This week, Buffalo experienced nearly 6 feet inches of snowfall. It’s predicted that the city is anticipating about 3 more feet over the weekend. This Buffalo Blizzard has claimed at least 7 lives. Most of the deaths were the result of people being trapped in cars or succumbing to health conditions that were exacerbated by the freezing weather and lack of access to healthcare facilities.

So what factors really makes this a crisis?

  • It was unexpected. It seems that the temperature dropped almost overnight.
  • Time is compressed. Things are happening fast, which elicits quick action on the part of city officials. The top priority should be keeping residents safe and warm.
  • There is much ambiguity and uncertainty. While scientists and weather experts can monitor and snowfall and current temperatures, there is ultimately no way to predict how long the snowfall will last or how big of an impact it will have in the end.
  • Nothing is local. Although Buffalo seems to be the city most affected by the cold weather, temperatures are dropping all across the United States.
  • There is intense media scrutiny. A blizzard occurring is one thing. But when the blizzard begins claiming lives, the crisis becomes much more serious requires immediate action.

My advice to everyone is to stay inside and stay warm! Also, keep up with the news and weather reports regarding your area. Conditions may get worse and they may get better. And for those in Buffalo, there are 49 other states that have your back. They don’t call us the United States for nothing.

Sources: http://www.cnn.com/2014/11/19/us/winter-weather/index.html?hpt=hp_t1; http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2014/11/18/364972644/baby-its-cold-outside-all-50-states-hit-32-degrees

Case Study Analysis: Hurricane Katrina

image_09_11_010_katrina_neworleans_flooded

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
  • Mismanagement
  • 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:

  1. 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.
  2. Always have alternatives. You should have a plan A, a plan B and a plan C.
  3. 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.
  4. 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!
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

Crisis Analysis: Ebola in the United States

Belkys Fortune, Teressa Celia

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
    Mayo Clinic
  3. 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.

Source: CNN

Ray Rice vs. NFL

Ray-Rice-wife-presserOne of the most recent immediate crises making national headlines is the case of football star Ray Rice. Footage of Rice punching his then fiance Janay Palmer (now his wife) and knocking her unconscious in an elevator has been released. The footage was not obtained by the National Football League (NFL), but by TMZ, a celebrity gossip site. Originally, the Baltimore Ravens suspended Rice for only two games. Since then, the NFL has responded by terminating his contract with the Ravens and suspending him from the NFL indefinitely.

When discussing this crisis, there are a number of factors to consider:

  • Establishing a timeline. The incident occurred 7 months ago, in February 2014. Has the NFL known about the incident since then? Determining whether or not the NFL had knowledge of the incident is a key part of its response to the crisis.
  • Determining what role the NFL played in the leak. Did the NFL have access to the footage prior to its leak? According to TMZ creator Harvey Levin, the NFL not only had knowledge of the incident when it occurred in February (he was indicted for third-degree assault in March), but also had access to the footage, although Commissioner Roger Goodell did not even seek it out.
  • Janay Rice’s role in the incident. Did the fact that Janay decided to go through with marriage only a month after the incident have anything to do with how “lightly” the situation was originally handled by the NFL?

In my opinion, there is enough blame to go around for everyone. Ray & Janay Rice (and their attorneys) knew about the incident and should have been preparing for a Public Relations nightmare ever since. (It is clear that they did not anticipate Rice’s career-ruining outcome.)
The NFL should be held to a much more scrupulous standard. Whether Commissioner Goodell had seen the footage or not, he knew about the incident because Rice was indicted for it months ago. The NFL could have accessed this video and addressed it immediately after the incident occurred. At the very least, a statement should have been released that the NFL was investigating the details of the incident, punishing Rice accordingly and assuring the public that they have a zero tolerance policy for players involved in domestic violence issues. Domestic violence is a serious issue, so there would likely be an uproar regardless of the NFL’s actions. However, they could have easily began managing the crisis in the Pre-Crisis stage, before it gained national coverage and blew up in their faces. Had they taken the horse by the reins, the NFL would not be dealing with such backlash. At this point, public opinion of the NFL is not only that they are slow to respond to immediate issues, but that they withhold information to save the NFL’s reputation and the reputation of its players.