What I’m listening to – I can’t hear anything over my space heater
What I’m watching – Much to my dismay I don’t control the remote in my all boy house, so typically Impractical Jokers or BattleBots
What I’m reading – Buddhist Path to Simplicity
Confession: I would have stayed in grad school for the rest of my life.
No, I didn’t love the less than rewarding “team” projects or pointless attempts to apply archaic theory to modern public administration. But I am a gigantic nerd at heart and I truly love learning.
I still find myself studying today, though nearly 20 years out of grad school the method is different.
There’s another hurricane coming. As warped as it sounds, that means I will be studying this week. I don’t live in an area of the country that sees frequent natural disasters like wildfires or tornadoes or hurricanes. So each time one occurs, I try to pay attention. I pay attention to the way emergency management information is conveyed, the tone of messaging from city officials and the expert use of digital platforms for public safety.
I study crisis incidents, state legislative matters and nationwide emerging issues the same way. I have a notebook where I jot down approaches that resonate, as well as disastrous responses that go horribly wrong. I’ve been known to reach out to colleagues in impacted areas after the incident is over to see what they learned from the experience. There are even fictional story lines that make my notebook.
Circumstances we may face in my own community will never exactly mirror those that occurred in another time and place. Still, observations of other approaches will inform and influence the way I triage the situations we do face. I never thought that a tragedy like a law enforcement involved shooting or a teen murder would happen here in Mayberry. But both did and I am glad that I had a frame of reference and some examples to guide me through.
I contend that preparation to respond in the event of crisis or emergency, and in the face of criticism or threat, is a leadership skill that can’t be taught. It’s something that becomes innate through experience, like an involuntary reflex. And unfortunately it is a skill that is becoming more and more critical in our uncertain world.
Here are some of the key things from my “studies” that great managers of public communication do well:
- At all times keep the focus on what the information means to the public at large. Put concerns about safety and need for cooperation first. Even in the case of inconvenience rather than crisis, all the public wants to know is how and why it matters to them.
- Clearly explain everything you know for certain about the situation. Speculation has no place. It is ok to say “we don’t know that yet”, as long as you explain how and when you will know.
- Anchor content digitally to your website and direct all points of reference back to that anchor. That way as the situation evolves you can make changes to one single point of reference.
- Remember that anyone who works for your organization will become a source of information on any topics of crisis or controversy. Distribute clear, concise key points far and wide as soon as you possibly can. Consistency is key to reliability.
- Know your audience. Think of how you would explain the situation to your neighbor or a family member with limited understanding of government procedures.
- Remember, only your war room team understands how frantic and hectic things are as the incident unfolds. Paddle like hell under water, but whatever its takes appear smooth on the surface. Connected calm in the face of crisis instills confidence.
To my colleagues in the path of the latest storms, thank you. The work you do when your community needs you the most leaves a legacy for those you serve and those of us learning from your leadership.