As major crises go, Northeast’s leaders handled Sandy expertly

Jon Stewart provided his usual comedic take on leadership foibles during Hurricane Sandy’s devastation of the Northeast, and it feels good to laugh after all the grim scenes of charred neighborhoods, flooded homes and weeping victims.

For days, it’s felt too much like Katrina, sans President Bush’s indifference and ugly scenes from the Superdome; or the Japanese earthquake and tsunami.

From President Obama to governors Andrew Cuomo and Chris Christie to New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, leaders managed this crisis expertly, so far. [The idea of running the five-borough New York City Marathon under current circumstances seems a terrible idea, but, if it happens, Sunday’s media reports will no doubt focus on how the city came together to help 45,000 runners.]

From a crisis management point of view, let’s look at how these leaders acted and why they succeeded so far:

1. Proactivity. All, especially Bloomberg and Cuomo, got out ahead of the storm, literally. Their somewhat hysterical-seeming warnings, pre-storm, proved dead on after it hit. Preparing and evacuating people, closing tunnels and subway tubes, saved lives. Bravo.

2. Facts. When a crisis strikes, people need facts, they want information. Bloomberg delivered them in three languages [English, Spanish and sign — with his sign interpreter Lydia Callis becoming an internet sensation]. Cuomo’s team Tweeted details like bingo callers shouting out letters and numbers. Information flowed. Christie hardly slept for days and was all over TV.

3. Accountability. Christie took the prize in this realm, telling the media that regardless of who he supports in the presidential race, President Obama was doing a great job helping the people of New Jersey and streamlining the federal bureaucracy. Bloomberg also kept the key information flowing and demonstrated his no-nonsense approach with moves like only permitting vehicles carrying three or more people to come into the city in the storm’s aftermath. Cuomo placed the issue of global warming and climate change

4. Transformative leadership. Like Mayor Rudolph Giuliani after 9/11, these elected leaders boosted their images and transformed their leadership quotients by succeeding in a crisis. They stood out for putting public safety first, providing decision-making that made sense and positioning themselves as responsible and strategic forces for coping.

5. Demonstrating change and progress. Even the best leaders will fail in crisis mode if they are all rhetoric and no action. Transportation resumption, power fixes, food delivery, public safety presence all showed that utilities, fire and police, federal government departments and National Guard troops were up to the task. The fastest way to end a crisis is to fix the problems that caused it. This may take weeks for the Northeast after Sandy, but progress is clear. The bad situation is improving and the forces for change are moving in the right direction.

Excellent work overall.

The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with seven offices in the Northeast and Southeast. Learn more about EMA at Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.


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. Until recently, he was Senior Vice President and Managing Director of Crisis and Reputation Management at Mower, one of the nation's largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agency with nine offices in the Northeast and Southeast. He is now managing partner of Steve Bell Communications LLC.
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1 Response to As major crises go, Northeast’s leaders handled Sandy expertly

  1. Steve, I enjoy your daily updates and follow them with interest. I am watching the growing cloud regarding the New York City Marathon and thinking this was Bloomberg’s big fumble. At the very least he should have required the marathon to re-arrange its starting route away from Staten Island, which is the epicenter of the storm for the city, and asked the marathon to increase its volunteer numbers in order to to free up cops and other city personnel. The idea of generators being used to accommodate runners is especially unsavory and people in Staten Island are beyond outraged. Could be an unsafe situation on Sunday at the start, which could require even more cops. The New York City Marathon’s Facebook page is quite emotional on this topic.

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