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Hurricane Sandy: A Study in Crisis Communications
By: Gerard E. Mayers
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I know I mentioned the first sentence that opens Charles Dickens’ novel A Tale of Two Cities in my blog Perceptions, Debates, and Reality. However, the full paragraph that starts the novel reads as follows:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way — in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

I thought about that first sentence of the novel and, as I read the entire first paragraph, I am reminded of the all-encompassing news coverage of Hurricane Sandy prior to its making landfall in the Northeastern U.S. I am also reminded of the devastation the hurricane wrought (in particular clobbering the many historic and well-remembered beach towns along the NJ shore and delivering a blizzard rarely seen in West Virginia as well as a precedent-setting flood in Lower Manhattan Island). The caption for the photo given with this blog notes: "(Photo : Reuters) U.S. Coast Guard handout photo showing Long Island flooding from Hurricane Sandy."

However, from a PR standpoint and from a standpoint of crisis communications, I think we can all learn valuable lessons from the experience of Sandy. I see the following examples as being perhaps among the best in crisis communications:

1. Having learned the lessons from Katrina and Irene, Federal, State and City governments in the entire Northeastern U.S. did all in their power to warn, prepare, and assist people in the threatened areas.
2. Governors of Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, Connecticut, and New York repeatedly appeared in local media to warn residents of the danger and the importance of listening to orders for evacuation if needed. (This was especially true for New Jersey, whose blunt-talking Governor, Chris Christie, told it like it was [in effect] to Jersey Shore residents: “Get out ‘now’ while you still can, because if you stay, we will not attempt to rescue you during the storm.”
3. FEMA officials in Washington DC properly briefed the media as well as respective state governments as well as the President on preparations for rescue efforts as well as recovery efforts after the storm passed.
4. Given the amount of media coverage, this writer would be hard pressed indeed to believe there was anyone in the area hit by Sandy who was unaware of the catastrophic danger posed by the storm, the potential for a need for mandatory evacuation, and the need to be prepared for power outages as well as disruptions in municipal and other services.

Superstorm Sandy will go down in the history books for many reasons, not least as the damage cost (estimated in the billions of dollars) but also in the sheer size and scope of the weather it created. I believe it also will go down in the books as a prime example of how effective good PR and crisis communications can be when properly prepared, administered and followed up on.

What do you think? Drop me a line and let me know.


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About the Author
Gerard E. "Gerry" Mayers writes about PR and other relevant topics for PR professionals. A former PR manager for Sensor Products, Inc. (currently based in Madison, NJ), he lives in Milford, NJ.
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