When a disaster strikes, you want your best people tackling the situation. A brand, company or in this case a state’s government, need to be prepared and able to address those impacted to help mitigate damages and calm impacted parties.
When Atlanta’s “Snowpocalypse” occurred on a Tuesday in January 2014, the city and state were woefully unprepared for the impact. Unfortunately that shouldn’t have been the case. Warnings from The Weather Channel (ironically based in Atlanta), were not heeded by the Mayor and Governor and business and schools were not recommended to close for the day. The anticipated snow, sleet and freezing rain had been predicted for days; however, students and companies began the day as usual.
Then around noon, they all started to close. And between around 12pm and 3pm everyone hit the road at once. Being one of the thousands that commutes into Atlanta nearly daily, I can tell you that traffic is a disaster every rush hour. But having buses, commuters and tractor-trailers all on the road with snow and ice became a nightmare quickly.
While the situation was bad, and accidents occurred, not a single person was seriously injured or killed. Unfortunately for the Mayor and Governor, this wasn’t enough to keep them from a severe backlash from the local community and nationwide. The negative publicity that arouse across social media sites could have been mitigated altogether or ended much more quickly had the team followed a few key points in crisis management:
- Have a solid communication plan in place – Know who is going to communicate to the public and what they will say. Don’t pass around blame. Own a situation and provide a solution. This is not the place for leaders to call names. Atlanta took to social during Snowpocalypse. They could have much more effectively used this medium to convey updates to the public.
- Consider the optics – If your city is facing a disaster, where are you? In this case, a video message from your office or maybe a crisis management point would be great. Having the community find that you were instead accepting an award for Georgian of the Year while motorists are stranded on the highway looks really bad and major media picks up on it.
- Heed warnings – While not all of this could have been prevented, better crisis preparation could have been put into place. Governor Deal didn’t declare a state of emergency until after 5pm on Tuesday, well after the city was paralyzed. This should have and could have been done earlier. Promoting business closure on TV, radio and social the day prior could have helped lessen the situation.
- Be considerate of those who are impacted – Don’t tell those that are struggling during a disaster that you did a good job handling it. It’s completely insensitive and will absolutely come across negatively to viewers or listeners. The argumentative responses and blame-game was widely seen across social. It really had a negative impact on how Georgians viewed the Governor and Mayor.
With a better crisis management plan in place, Georgia’s key leaders could have mitigated damages and possibly even prevented Snowpocalypse. It’s a good thing that the Atlanta community came together via social to help each other out on that chilly January day.