Crisis Communications When an “Act of God” Strikes

Act of God Crisis

Act of God Crisis

What do you do when, through no fault of your organization, an Act of God causes a crisis that harms your employees or your customers?

When Hurricane Irene wreaked havoc along the Atlantic Coast a couple of summers back,  people coped with the horrific aftermath for months. Utility companies faced a barrage of criticism for their handling of power outages that lasted for days and weeks for thousands of customers.

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While these natural events can occur without warning, they are not unexpected. As we stated in our last blog, a company should have an emergency response plan in place that includes crisis communications training for the employees who will serve as the face of the company to the news media, government officials and — especially — customers.

Acts of God tend to impact thousands of people and continue indefinitely, whereas an Instant Crisis may be limited in scope. Previously, we listed the immediate steps to take when an Instant Crisis occurs. These apply as well to Acts of God.

However, there are additional activities to undertake for the long haul when nature strikes:

  • Establish a 24/7 virtual command center. This center should be staffed with employees trained to field calls from the media, customers and other stakeholders 24 hours a day. The PR executive on the team needs to work closely with technical and operations executives to understand exactly what is being done to correct the situation in order to feed correct and timely information to reporters. The center should remain accessible until the crisis has passed.
  • Provide timely responses to customer complaints. If you are a company in the retail business – meaning you service individual customers and not other companies – you know that you will be inundated with phone calls. You can expect this in advance of a crisis. Make sure you have sufficient phone lines and trained responders to handle the load. A friend, who finally gave up calling and getting no response, drove to his utility’s home office to find out when power would be restored.
  • Leverage social media. As in an Instant Crisis, social media can be your friend. Create a hash tag (such as #XYZupdate) on Twitter that media and customers can follow for instant updates. Have company representatives staffing the account 24/7 to respond to questions and complaints. Get back to people promptly. Comcast is recognized for @comcastcares and @comcastbill where employee Bill Gerth interacts with customers having service problems. Comcast is ready to handle any emergency – and your company should be, too.
Crisis Communications

Crisis Communicatiions

No organization wants to be embroiled in a crisis situation where its reputation and possibly its existence are at stake. Advance planning for an Instant Crisis and an Act of God will lower the stakes considerably when you find it necessary to dial into crisis mode.

We’d welcome hearing from you with your tips about crisis planning and with stories you’d like share about how you solved a crisis; just use the comment box below. In our final post in our series on crisis communications, we will discuss how to manage the Brewing Crisis.

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