3 steps to prepare for an extreme weather crisis

Every organization is at the mercy of Mother Nature. Here are the messages and plans you should have in place to be prepared.

Storm crisis prep tips

Anyone who works in PR knows that your day can change as fast as the weather—sunny and glorious one minute and dark and stormy the next.

Communicators across the country are—or should be—braced for extreme weather at all times.

You can’t control the weather, but you can control your company’s reaction to it. Do you have a communication plan in place if a crisis situation should roll in?

Here are three steps to take after a natural disaster hits:

1. Be proactive.

Make your job easier by anticipating the crisis before it arrives and preparing a system of communication. Decide on the chain of command for decision-making and who will speak on behalf of your company when controversy strikes.

If you wake up one morning and a tree has fallen on your office building, who would you call first? Who develops the message? Who has to approve it? How would you get the message to your employees, customers and other key stakeholders? How will you handle calls from the news media? Do you have a media-trained spokesperson?

In addition to mapping out procedures for the flow of information, you should also brainstorm a list of possible crises—weather-induced or otherwise—and think through how you would respond to each. This step should go beyond communications strategy.

For example, who would you call to remove the fallen tree from your roof? Who would repair the roof? Who would dry out your office? Who would recover any digital files that were corrupted when water leaked into your servers?

Some of these jobs might not fall on your PR or communications team, but PR pros know what kinds of questions will be asked and planning for a crisis response means making sure there is a robust response in place.

2. Spread the word.

Decide which communication channels you’ll use to disseminate your carefully crafted message.

For example, email is usually best for communicating with insiders like employees, key customers and shareholders, as well as key external publics, such as government officials, especially those who regulate or otherwise have some degree of control over your organization. Tailor the message to each audience, and make sure you have a system in place to respond quickly to any questions your communication generates.

Social media can be an excellent channel for reaching people who are interested in your organization but are not directly affected by it, like consumers, fans and followers. These “acquaintances” versus “close friends” can actually be the source of the most damaging rumors if they are not kept in the loop and assured that things are under control.

Finally, you’ll want to be in close contact with appropriate news media—which could include, local, national and trade outlets, depending on your organization and the nature of the crisis—to ensure your message doesn’t miss anyone and head off the creation of bad information.

In weather-related crisis situations specifically, a top concern is going to be public safety. If applicable, assure your publics of the safety of those within the organization and offer resources to help those who might be in danger or who have suffered health emergencies.

Be mindful that crisis situations are sensitive, so make sure to halt any scheduled social media posts that aren’t delivering important updates or ways to help.

3. Go after the good.

One of the best parts of our jobs as PR practitioners is getting to create and spread goodwill.

After a traumatic weather event, think about the ways that your company is uniquely positioned to help. Can you offer your services to those in need? Use your community partnerships to spread the word about opportunities to donate money or resources. Being proactive and vocal about your efforts will allow your audiences to get involved, too.

While the weather is uncontrollable, we have the power to have a plan in place when disaster strikes. By following these three steps, you will be ready to tackle whatever crisis comes your way.

A former journalist, Jeff has worked in public relations since 1985. He established the Bradford Group in Nashville in 2000.

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