Prepping the Public for Winter Storms: An Expert Shows Us How It’s Done

In a recent GSN Magazine article, crisis communications expert Kim Fuller shared her advice for how best to prepare the public for a winter storm.

Fuller owns the media relations and crisis communication firm Kim Fuller Public Affairs, based in Tulsa, OK. She was previously a consultant to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and was the agency’s first national public affairs director for their initiative, Project Impact: Building Disaster Resistant Communities.

Fuller told GSN that one of the most significant problems in emergency preparedness is the prevalence of urban myths. She spoke about the recent winter storms that have been making headlines, such as the Atlanta storm that shut down the city.

“People always say that this has never happened before,” Fuller told GSN.

That’s not always the case, however, Fuller explained, citing recent situations where Atlanta for example, has received significant amounts of snowfall in the last five years.

“People will find that if they check their meteorological history that this has happened before,” she said.

Another problem Fuller notes in the GSN article is that there is sometimes a disconnect between what local officials are saying and what the public is hearing.

“There has been an inability to communicate with the public,” said Fuller. “We have to determine exactly what the public is hearing so they can understand the situation and know how to respond appropriately.”

A Rule of Thumb

Fuller suggests local officials err on the side of public safety rather than politics because this will usually lead to a better emergency response.

“People do not want to be inconvenienced,” she explained to GSN. “Yes, some people will be upset, but at least everyone is safe.”

Have a Plan

“Effective planning and preparation for winter storms as well as other types of disaster situations is key,” Fuller told GSN.

She explained the importance of local officials having an emergency operations plan. This is a document with an hour-by-hour itinerary telling everyone what to do, when to do it and how to do it.

“The emergency operations plan should be drilled in advance and modified as needed. A few days before the storm hits, everyone should take a look at it and have a copy of it.”

Fuller also advises local governments to run full exercises, but she knows these can be pricey to carry out. Table-top exercises are an alternative.

“Unfortunately, one of the best ways to prepare is to get some experience with an actual incident so that people know how to respond in the future,” Fuller noted.

In the GSN article, Fuller said hiring skilled emergency managers is one of the keys to success in crisis communications.

“A good emergency manager could have some credentials like a degree or certification, but it should definitely be coupled with real practical experience in the field. They should have good decision making and communication skills,” said Fuller.

“If any government official does not know their emergency manager, they should take them out to lunch now.”

 

For more information, see the GSN article here: http://www.gsnmagazine.com/article/40182/crisis_communications_expert_explains_how_prep_pub