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Natural Disaster

Disaster/ Emergency Communications Prep Must Happen Year-Round

For decades, PR pros have planned communications campaigns around weather “seasons”—hurricane season and tornado season in particular.  Each spring, messages are issued with reminders to prepare for possible weather events.  In November, we are reminded to prepare for winter weather.

Climate change has upended what we think of as weather “seasons.”  Typically, April through July are considered “tornado season” and June through November are “hurricane season.”  In the past few years, though, we have seen devastating tornado events and tropical storms much earlier than the “season.”  Extreme rains have become more frequent, too, throughout the year, causing fatal flooding in more communities than ever before.

Who would have thought just a month ago that we would have more Hurricane Ida casualties in the northeast U.S. than the Gulf coast? Many organizations were likely unprepared for what happened when Ida moved north.

The Institute for Crisis Management (ICM) noted in its 2020 annual crisis report that according to Statista, there were 416 natural disaster events last year, causing twice as much damage as 2019.  Thirty named Atlantic storms exhausted the alphabetical list of names for only the second time. This year, Ana, the first named tropical storm formed on May 22, ahead of season.

Devastating floods around the world have killed untold numbers and caused billions in damage. And then there are the earthquakes, which have no season.  The USGS’ National Earthquake Information Center identifies 20,000 earthquakes worldwide annually, or around 55 a day.  Let us not forget record-setting wildfires, disastrous mudslides, monsoons and tsunamis.

One of the best resources I’ve found for emergency managers and communicators is the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, which reports that 40 percent of businesses do not reopen following a disaster.  PR pros should update crisis communications plans to assure that weather and natural disaster events are considered more likely to occur, even in unlikely regions and at unexpected times of year.  For organizations that do not have a disaster communications or operations plan, there are numerous free resources available online to help professionals in communications, business continuity, emergency planning and operations.

As natural disasters and major weather events involve first responder agencies, every PR pro should become familiar with the National Incident Management System, or NIMS The NIMS structure is widely used by fire and EMS, law enforcement, the military and other groups to manage disasters and other emergencies.  It is an easy-to-follow command structure to guide organizations in the personnel, communications and operations plans needed to effectively manage a disaster.  Communicators who understand NIMS will be able to better work with municipal officials in a disaster to assure that communications are timely, targeted and effective.

FEMA’s Emergency Management Institute offers several free NIMS courses online. This critical planning need not be burdensome with the ample resources available with a simple click.

So what are you waiting for?  The next natural disaster could impact your organization.  Be prepared!

Deb Hileman, SCMP

Deb Hileman, SCMP

President and CEO, Institute for Crisis Management