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Sunday, October 21, 2007

Crisis Communication 3 of 3

I went to the PRSA Core Training on Crisis Communications this week. Ted Canova, Chief Communications and Development Officer for the Twin Cities Area Chapter of the American Red Cross, Kathryn Janicek, PIO, Hennepin County Sheriff's office and James Shiffer, Star Tribune discussed what worked and what didn't when communicating the 35-W bridge collapse.

To round out my discussion of Crisis Communications I want to quickly give my take aways from this conversation and ask you all for your input. I would love to make this a discussion.

Kathryn Janicek was in charge of all of the media for the sheriff's office including all international and national media of the water recovery. They had just practiced their crisis communication plan the week before.

Reunite all missing loved ones

Key Messages:
Immediately Following Collapse
  • Don't use your cell phone because the lines were needed for emergency use
  • Don't come down here - emergency workers need room
  • Give blood - this helped people feel like they were doing something to help
During this time she wanted to make sure that the media was getting information but she also wanted to protect the victim's families. For example, in messages to the media she would say "human remains" rather than body parts because that was not necessary to get the story across. Also, she tried to avoid having the number of casualties reported early on because they were not accurate.

Ted Canova was the spokesperson for the Red Cross. As the collapse happened 100 yards from their site they played a key role in the rescue and got significantly more coverage than they typically would. A lot of the media took up camp in their parking lot and he had to deal with treating and keeping victims save while working with the media to keep the public up to date.

Goals: Re-unite missing loved ones and portray a unified message and to protect the victims who were receiving treatment while ensuring there was adequate media coverage
  • Portray calm and confident
  • Express heartache and condolence
He allowed media into the parking lot of the Red Cross but set up a perimeter for the victims protection. he was also on a lot of different news programs describing what he was seeing because it was difficult in the early hours to get camera crews that close.

James Shiffer is an editor at the Star Tribune but immediately following the collapse he got to cover it. He wanted to ensure that the public got all of the information available. He is very concerned with public access to information including that about the infrastructure. He didn't think it was the Kathryn and Ted's job to "protect" people from the truth about what was happening.

What Worked
  • Having a plan allowed them to immediately know who the designated spokespeople were
  • They did not stray from messaging
  • Kept a lid on pettiness and political agendas
  • Keeping in constant contact with the other organizations ( red cross, sheriff, politicians, etc)
  • Having good relationships
  • Setting up good visuals for media coverage
What Didn't
  • Not enough communication support
  • Not prepared for a web communication piece
  • Needed a liaison for print/releases