Three days after Hurricane Irene, I received a four-page newsletter in the mail titled, “Hurricane Readiness in Nassau County.” It seemed like a good public relations effort gone bad–valuable information that came too late. I later found out that most residents received the newsletter before the storm hit and the post office was to blame for my late delivery. In reality, Nassau County and most local governments did a pretty fantastic job of keeping their constituents informed. From mandatory evacuations to post-event clean-up, they used print, broadcast and social media very well. As the storm approached, we knew what was coming, what to expect when it got here, and how to deal with the aftermath. And except for quite a bit of pre-storm hype, kudos to the media for also shining during and after Irene.
Not so much for the Long Island Power Authority. LIPA’s COO Michael Hervey admitted mid-week that the utility was giving itself low grades for communication. As hundreds of thousands of Long Islanders wondered when the power was going to come back, their anger increased because no one was telling them anything. As it struggled in the rush to get electricity to its customers, LIPA dropped the PR ball big-time. Its leadership seemed to forget that people truly felt powerless because they couldn’t get information about what to expect.
The moral of this case study: In a time of crisis those in charge must keep people informed quickly, honestly and accurately. We all want to know what’s happening and what to expect next when faced with challenging situations. It’s the PR professionals’ role to make sure this happens. LIPA, somehow, forgot this obvious rule. Your thoughts?