Be especially prepared for the crisis everyone sees coming

Nearly all discussions of crisis management focus on the crisis that drops from the sky, sneaks up on a client when she’s asleep or results from the surprise actions of some rogue in the chain of command.

What of the crisis you can see coming a few days away? That crisis is both easier — because you can prepare and practice — and harder — because the expectations are higher since people expect you prepared and practiced. Don’t get caught unawares and unprepared when everyone else saw a crisis coming.

The Northeast today is experiencing a rare and potentially serious April snowstorm, with as much as a foot of snow expected to fall in some areas. With wet, heavy snow, leaves on trees and high winds expected at the tail end, there is potential for downed limbs and power lines. Some schools already closed.

This all means that utilities, towns and cities and school districts — along with their subsidiaries such as departments of public works and homeless shelters — must perform well. Forecasters [who are now equipped with advanced and highly predictive radars and computer modeling] days ago started their rise up the decibel scale from bass warnings to hysterical tenor. By this morning Aprilgeddon fully flowered.

There’s no hiding from that. Media picked up the drumbeat of warning over the weekend. Salt supplies, barely touched over the mild Northeastern “winter” that wasn’t, overflowed. Overtime was authorized. Mayors dusted off their emergency parkas. Hospital emergency rooms double checked supplies and staffing. Supermarkets prepared for a minor rush on staples. Utilities warned distant support crews and tree surgeon companies that an all hands on deck call may go out.

The last time something like this hit locally was the Friday the 13th storm in October — similar conditions on the year’s flipside — of 2006. Some Buffalo-area residents were without power for 10 days after 24 inches of cement-like snow crashed the region overnight, bringing down, and in some cases killing, thousands of trees. Today might be similar.

At the time, EMA did some work with National Grid, but we were a small part of a well-laid plan executed beautifully by long-time utility spokesman Steve Brady and his team. They received much deserved praise — and other utilities that proved less prepared were heavily criticized — for proactive and effective communications and restorative work.

Web sites and email blasts kept media and government officials aware up to the minute. Questions were answered in timely manner. And there was always someone available.

It was a harrowing 10 days with long sleepless nights. But advanced preparation saved the day — and taught companies that did not prepare, or underestimated the threat and ramifications, that they must.

Don’t let the crisis you see coming run you over. You’re expected to play deft matador to the charging crisis bull.


About steveoncrisis

The content is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It comes from Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and as managing editor and editorial page editor at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower and Associates, one of the nation's largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agency with six offices in the Northeast and Southeast.
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2 Responses to Be especially prepared for the crisis everyone sees coming

  1. bflomo says:

    Steve…enjoying catching on your posts..just discovered your blog–thanks for the insights (and your Twitter address)…..Monica “Wilson” (Pomeroy– formerly WBEN N.D.)….

  2. Steve Brady says:

    Steve — Thanks for the reference to our response during the October ’06 storm (although your “Steve Brady” hyperlink references the character from “Sex & the City” and not this utility spokesman, but perhaps that was intentional).

    We learned a lot from that storm about crisis communications, and have implemented changes in our emergency procedures as a result. The storm predicted for today (thankfully, so far a dud) will see a somewhat different approach from us but with the same basics of: proactive outreach, timely response and customer focus.

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