Hurricane Irene’s wrath put crisis communication plans to the test

NYC transit scurried to let 8.5 million riders know about a bus, train and subway shutdown. Others communicated with employees amid blackouts.

The decision was unprecedented. New York City was ordering the evacuation of low-lying areas and shutting down its transportation system in advance of Hurricane Irene.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA)—which runs city subways, buses, commuter trains and bridges—had to get the word out to 8.5 million riders who use the system every day.

The MTA was one of thousands of agencies, businesses and other organizations communicating with employees and the public as the hurricane, later downgraded to a tropical storm, raked the East Coast over the weekend.

Many credited effective planning for making their messaging a success, whether through press conferences or intranet updates.

“Everything went very smoothly,” says James Fisher, a senior manager in media relations with Booz Allen Hamilton in McLean, Va. “The communications channels that we had set up did work, and we were just very thankful for everyone’s safety and for the limited amount of damage that our facilities did incur.”

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