Did New York City Overreact? A Crisis Communications Case Study

junoYesterday’s crisis communications blog regarding the winter storm Juno and the #Blizzardof2015 promoted the idea of managing the expectations of those who will be affected by a crisis.

Today, some critics are saying New York City overreacted.

Two observations:

1) The people who complain about “overreacting” are idiots. These would be the same people who would criticize their leaders if things had gotten worse than predicted.

2) One way to proactively address the potential critics during your initial media statement before the storm is to use language like this:

Experts tell us this may be the worse storm we have ever faced. As a city (community) we believe the best course of action is to err on the side of caution, rather than to have anyone get hurt or put in harms way. We are putting safety measures in place based on the best information we are getting from experts at this hour. However, ultimately mother nature is in charge. Sometimes she sends us weather worse than we expected; sometimes it is not as bad as we expected. For that reason, we ask your forgiveness and understanding in advance, if we institute safeguards and ultimately those safeguards are not needed. However, at this time, the best information we have indicates that we should shut down the city…

I’ve noticed several government officials on the news already defending their position, as they should. One governor pointed out how few accidents took place in his state. New York City quickly re-opened this morning after being shut down. Meanwhile, locations in New England are getting slammed, as predicted.

As I’ve learned as a storm chaser in pursuit of hurricanes, the slightest change in tracts means the difference between safety and disaster. If the eye of the storm moves just 10 miles off of the predicted tract, it makes a huge difference.

The bottom line is communicate often and communicate forcefully. Communicate before the event, during the event, and after the event.

By Gerard Braud