How to Avoid a Communications Crisis During a Natural Disaster

Catastrophe in Colorado calls for crisis communication.

By: Kelly Richardson, WildRock Consultant

When a slow-moving cold front stalled over our hometown in Colorado last week and challenged warm, monsoonal air coming from the south, a catastrophic storm paralyzed the state. The once gentle creeks of Colorado turned to surges of fast-flowing water; main roads and highways were abandoned while homes, lives and businesses were dissolved in the sodden path of Mother Nature.

As runoff quickly began to flow from the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, no one anticipated what Colorado was about to endure. Declared a “state of emergency” by President Obama, Colorado officials promptly put to practice their disaster communications skills, talents that barely had time to rust following countless wildfires and a devastating theater shooting the year before. Communication in times like these is a form of aid – it can save lives and prevent further damage. Regardless of the audience, the goal for Colorado communicators responding to the flood was universal: ensure the safety and wellbeing of residents by providing relevant and timely flood-related information.

As a business leader, these experiences awaken the reality for potential crises and state the obvious – both disaster communications and a recovery plan are essential. How will your customers react if your business suffers a disaster? Will they be impacted? What are the responsibilities of your employees? What action needs to happen to ensure business as usual? Knowing the answers to these questions before a disaster may help prevent a communications crisis during.

Another thing to consider in disaster communications is how your business can help, whether directly affected or not. However, it’s important that assistance be authentic and not interpreted as selfish disaster opportunism.

In any crisis, transparent and timely information to and from your business can be the difference between a minor bruise and significant trauma. Social media and other digital communication tactics such as SMS and email are an effective way to broadcast quickly and widely. Don’t ignore these channels while in the height of crisis or on the road to recovery.

How a business handles itself in a crisis or disaster situation is far more telling of what it stands for than any mission statement or marketing plan. It can reveal many things to stakeholders, consumers, media and the general public including preparedness, ethics, adaptability and honesty.

Natural disasters can’t be avoided, but communication disasters can.