By virtue of where I grew up, I’ve lived through my share of hurricanes and hurricane threats. By virtue of what I do for a living, I’ve lived through communications crises and crisis threats. And I must say, both have extraordinarily similar characteristics.
Now, before I offend someone in a world where some are too easily offended these days, I realize that death and destruction are realities with hurricanes. My attempt at drawing this comparison is by no means an effort to trivialize the sheer horror that a hurricane can bring. Trust me, I know first hand what it’s like.
But the comparison between the two is nonetheless interesting. Why? Because they are eerily alike. Consider these seven similarities.
1 Both require a common goal.
- Hurricane: Protect your property and seek shelter to protect your life.
- Crisis: In most situations, the goal is to protect your company’s reputation and protect your ability to operate. The first order of business is to determine the goal. It defines everything else.
2 Both require action.
- Hurricane: Prepare your property and determine evacuation plans.
- Crisis: Implement your crisis plan, or if you don’t have one, prepare one quickly.
3 Both require nimbleness.
- Hurricane: The best preparation won’t prevent the unexpected from happening.
- Crisis: I’ll repeat—the best preparation won’t prevent the unexpected from happening. Or as a colleague here often says: Mr. Murphy is always lurking. Properly set goals rarely change, but strategies and tactics often do, requiring adjustments in the plan and related actions.
4 Both can be accurately forecast, but only occasionally.
- Hurricane: Models are often inaccurate and require updating.
- Crisis: Media reports are often inaccurate and require updating.
5 Both are exhausting and time consuming.
- Hurricane: Requires hard work, long hours, and offers little sleep.
- Crisis: Yep, you guessed it. Requires hard work, long hours, and offers little sleep.
6 Both require assistance.
- Hurricane: Neighbors, the National Guard, police, sheriffs, church groups, the Red Cross are typically on site to help prepare and certainly help through the aftermath.
- Crisis: A team of people close to the organization—many times with outside help—are leading the charge in preparing, implementing, and recovering.
7 Both require debriefs in the aftermath.
- Hurricane: An assessment of the preparation for the storm and actions taken during and after it passes is essential so plans can be better made—and implemented—in the future.
- Crisis: Yet another repeat—An assessment of the preparation for the crisis and actions taken during and after it passes so plans can be better made—and implemented—in the future.
Neither a hurricane nor a communications crisis is ever convenient or desired. But both happen, and if you are in the likely trajectory for either or both, you must prepare.
And most importantly, you can—and must—plan for both. So dust off those crisis communications plans. And, if you don’t have one, get busy writing one now with your team because after all, Mr. Murphy will knock.