Hurricane Gustav: Who got communications right and who got it wrong?

A firsthand account from a Gustav evacuee and crisis communication expert.

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A firsthand account from a Gustav evacuee and crisis communication expert

The early evaluations indicate that crisis communications was substantially better for Hurricane Gustav than it was three years ago for Hurricane Katrina. But there is still room for improvement.

Let’s break it down first with a few communications awards, then some lessons about crisis communications in the Dark Ages. The “dark ages” aspect is especially important because as I sit here once again as an evacuee and refugee in Florida, waiting to return home, we see what problems are caused in our techno world when too much crisis communications depends upon electricity at a time when all power has been taken out by the hurricane.

If you’ve ever been in one of my crisis communications workshops you’ve heard me say, “as communicators we have the ability to save lives. Powerful communications before a crisis and rapid communications during a crisis have the ability to move people out of harm’s way.”

The New Orleans death toll after Hurricane Katrina exceeded 1,800. This time the death toll for the entire state was fewer than 10. Government leaders learned something. Although I must say, a frightened public was wiser this time than three years ago and willing to evacuate without being told to do so.

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