Hurricane Prep: Avoid Frustration and Panic: Make Social Media Part of Your Plan

Crisis social media expert Jane Jordan-Meier

Jane Jordan-Meier is a high-stakes communication and media coach with more than two decades of experience.  Today Jane discusses preparation for natural disasters such as Hurricane Irene!

Avoid the intense frustration not to mention the panic that comes with being cut off from the Net or your cell phone or your loved ones in a natural disaster by planning ahead.

Whether it’s communicating with your family, your friends or your employees, you need to plan in advance.  Your reputation, if not your life, depends on it.

And today your communication plan MUST include social media. Twitter and Facebook in particular have made a critical difference in the past 18 months with timely postings saving lives, raising money and dispelling rumor and panic.

hurricane-irene-social-media-crisis-managementSo with unprecedented earthquakes, continuing civil unrest and with dire predictions of (Hurricane) Irene’s impact it’s timely to think about your communication plan.

How will you communicate with your loved ones? How will you communicate with your employees, your suppliers and business partners, your customers? Will it be Facebook, Twitter, a pre-determined phone call to a cousin, friend or work colleague in another state or indeed another country?

Are the basics covered – is your contact list up to date? What is your plan?

What is the most reliable communication channel?

Have you shared critical information with your key stakeholders? What do they rely on?

Will you use Facebook? Twitter? Traditional media? Social Media?  Both?  When? How?

Quite simply, use of social media, together with the more traditional communication channels, is critical in a crisis. That’s where people congregate when a disaster strikes.

Twitter, in particular, will be pulsating with information– the recent earthquake on the US East Coast showed us yet again the power of the microblog, and how quickly people jumped on-line to share news, their experiences, their status.

This earthquake resulted in 5,500 Tweets per second, more than Osama bin Laden’s death and on a par with the Japanese earthquake.

Hurricane-Irene-Crisis-Mgmt-Jane-Jordan-MeierAnd if the numbers aren’t enough to convince you that Twitter is a must-have in the crisis communication tool kit, then take FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate’s word. This week he urged families and individuals “to factor social media into their natural disaster and emergency-preparedness plans.”

Mobile phone networks are simply overburdened in the immediate aftermath of a crisis, yet texting can get through when voice cannot, and social media – Twitter, of course, and Facebook are very good options.

And then there is the hash tag – #. (A hash tag is an easy and effective way to categorize content in your tweets to better find information.)

What hash tag # will you use? Have you pre-determined and shared that hash tag plan with colleagues and friends?

This use of a hash tag as a de facto aggregator is a good thing. Particularly in the age of the smartphone and the tablet, allowing us to access breaking news even when isolated by power failure. Official hash tags also help cut-down repetition of inaccurate information.

In short, a crisis and disaster-preparedness plan is incomplete without a comprehensive communication plan, and seriously flawed without a social media component.

So here’s a checklist that will help keep you on-line with access to the all important social networking sites.  With thanks to Urs E. Gattiker, whose experience of the February 2011 earthquakes, helped to generate this list:

  • Make sure that you have mobile Internet access to networks through two providers.
  • To be ready for the worst and avoid the over-reliance on cell phones by having a satellite link to assure uninterrupted internet access.
  • Have a diesel generator as back-up in case electricity grid fails.
  • Have a hashtag # to maximize your messages, monitor and search for news and updates.
  • Pre-test your hash-tag so that everyone is speaking from the “same hymn book” – makes it much easier to track and monitor for accurate content, coordinate rescue efforts and to raise money for disaster victims, e.g.  #donateqldfloods.
  • Utilize your best friends- what, where, when, who, why and how to plan your communication.
  • Have at least three different channels open and working, and make sure that whatever you use links to your website or Facebook page, and the official local authorities.
  • And remember that you and your employees should have a similar plan for your families.

Her book on crisis media management, The Four Highly Effective Stages of Crisis Management: How to Manage the Media in the Digital Age was released in May, 2011.

You can follow Jane on Twitter — @janejordanmeier


Jane Jordan-Meier is principal of Jane Jordan & Associates, a boutique training, coaching and advisory firm, Jane is a high-stakes communication and media coach with more than two decades of experience in working with executive management in both the government and the private sectors. Most of Jane’s work is in crisis management training with senior and executive management.