Tuesday 12 November 2019

How to avoid being bitten by next Beast from the East

'The show must go on.' - Gina London
'The show must go on.' - Gina London

Gina London

During my news reporting days, I covered a plethora of big weather events. You name it: hurricanes, floods, tornadoes and yes, just like what we are all hopefully now recovering from, snow.

Not the picture prints from Currier and Ives sort of soft, white blankets that make for a sweet Christmas carol verses, but those unceremonious dumpings of the frozen white stuff that pile on roadways forcing everyone to a halt. Everyone but those of us in the news business.

I remember a particularly severe blizzard that hit overnight in Washington, DC. In the wee hours, before any of us on the day shift could try to weasel out of coming into work, the news director ordered a fleet of 4x4 monster trucks to collect us.

We were put up at a hotel across the street from the station - enabling us all to be available for what became multiple days of around the clock coverage of a major storm.

No one asked us if we were okay to work the long, extra hours this kind of coverage required. It was expected we understood what would be asked of us since we were in the news business. I imagine similar scenarios were playing out for personnel in the area's hospitals and police and fire stations.

The show must go on.

But sometimes the show doesn't go on. Heavy snow may prompt the closures of schools, businesses and the cancellation or postponement of many events.

And, that, of course, means communicating with the many human beings who will, in turn, be impacted by the closings. Contingency planning is critical to make these moments as smooth as possible.

And while today's technology helps meteorologists predict bad weather in advance, the rest of us may need a little help to communicate effectively.

1 Establish your communication line well in advance

In many parts of the US, like where I grew up in Indiana, school snow closures are a regular part of winter.

When I was a kid, if a single flake was in the forecast, I would set my alarm clock to the "official school announcement" radio station before going to bed.

Then, in the morning, I wouldn't simply take my mom's word for it, I'd listen myself to learn whether I would have to get up or (hopefully) not.

But, now, with websites and social media, there are a whole lot more ways to let everyone know what's going on. Maybe there are too many ways.

Does your child's school class or your business department have a dedicated WhatsApp group? Is there also a Facebook page? A Twitter feed? An Instagram page? Is everyone also getting an email?

The important thing here is to pick an "official" communication channel and then let everyone know in advance what it is. Make sure to include a date and time stamp or notation within your original tweet, post or email. If not, and someone retweets, reposts or resends it minutes or hours later, it can become very confusing.

Inform everyone of the 'official' channel so hearsay doesn't rule the day. We shouldn't have to ask a fellow parent: "Do you know whether there will be school tomorrow?" or enquire of a work colleague, "Do you know if the office will be open tomorrow?"

You may decide to use a social media channel first and then reinforce with email or even those old-fashioned radio or TV stations (kidding, don't get mad!) but it's important to empower everyone to know where to look or listen to find accurate information quickly and directly.

2 Establish a deadline for making announcements

I knew when I was lying in bed hopefully listening to the radio station, if I hadn't heard my school announced by 7.30am, my hopes were dashed.

That's because my school had a written policy that any decision to close or delay the opening of school was made by 7am.

The policy described how the superintendent made the decision after being informed by weather reports and staff and a number of other considerations.

The point was that our busy parents weren't left dangling hour after hour.

Likewise, although there may be pressure to delay a tough decision, it's better in the long-run if your organisation can set a policy that sets a "fish or cut bait" deadline and then ensures all agree to abide by it. No second-guessing once a decision is made.

3 Manage expectations as thoroughly as possible

If you're closing school for a day, will you possibly need to make it up during a holiday? If a hockey match or a ballet recital was planned, will it be rescheduled?

Likewise, is your business meeting or special event being completely cancelled or just delayed? If it's postponed, can you announce the revised date or let people know how quickly you can reschedule?

You need not literally send in 4x4 trucks to everyone's home, but an effective communications plan will tell everyone you care enough to make sure they don't get bitten by the next Beast from the East.


How well did your communications processes perform during the Beast from the East? Write to Gina in care of SundayBusiness@independent.ie

Gina London is a former CNN anchor and international campaign strategist who is now a director with Fuzion Communications. She serves as media commentator, emcee and corporate consultant. @TheGinaLondon

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