Formulating a Communication Strategy
Communication is always compromised in a post-disaster situation. Local channels of communication are disrupted due to a breakdown of both physical and social infrastructure (telecommunications and power outages, displaced residents and employers, transportation blockades, etc.). There is confusion regarding where local businesses can access accurate information to assist in their business recovery operations and to get access to additional business recovery resources.
A breakdown in communication is cited as one of the most difficult barriers to overcome for the business community after a disaster has impacted their community. In this environment, rumors and bad information spreads quickly, which greatly impedes the post-disaster recovery process. Telecommunication and power outages may be widespread, or there simply may be confusion regarding where to access help and the status of recovery efforts.
Regardless of the nature and severity of the disaster, a key role of the lead economic recovery organization is to devise a communication strategy to address the following issues.
- Communication between economic recovery partner organizations and businesses. A key problem identified in many communities that have been struck by disaster is difficulty communicating with affected businesses, particularly those that temporarily relocate out of the area. Partners can’t help the business community recover if they cannot communicate with each other. Having a plan in place can help partner groups reconnect with business, meet their needs, and work to ensure that they don’t plan to relocate permanently.
- Communication between local government/disaster response agencies and the business community. The business community will need to know the status of recovery efforts; how to access assistance; and what decisions are being made at the state and federal levels that will affect them. False information can spread quickly through the business community and harm confidence in recovery efforts. Businesses need clear and accurate information from respected sources.
- Public relations or image problems. The community will want to influence its image as perceived by external audiences so that its economic recovery is not jeopardized by false or negative perceptions. At the same time, the community also will want to communicate to those in a position to provide assistance – such as state and federal governments – that such help is needed.
- Potential conflicts among, and capacity of, economic recovery partner organizations. Economic recovery partner groups will want to ensure that the needs of their business constituents are being met. Advance discussion and planning can allow for this, as can identifying effective roles among partner organizations, so that no one group is overwhelmed with requests for help.
Step 1: In advance of a disaster, convene organizations that can play a role in post-disaster business recovery
- These economic recovery partner organizations include any groups that regularly work with or serve the business community, in addition to local government representatives.
- Including all groups that serve local businesses will help ensure that the broadest possible range of businesses can be reached in a post-disaster situation. It also provides a variety of avenues to communicate with businesses via trusted sources who understand their constituents’ needs.
- These groups will play an important role after a disaster in disseminating disaster response and recovery information to business constituents.
Step 2: Identify how economic recovery partner organizations will communicate with each other after a disaster and what their roles will be
- Economic recovery partner organizations should share information with the business community on the disaster management planning process and be prepared to receive feedback on decisions that impact businesses.
- Businesses should be encouraged to conduct their own disaster preparations, including a developing a business continuity plan, and providing anticipated post-disaster contact information to economic recovery partner organizations.
Step 3: Designate one group to take the lead in coordinating communications in a post-disaster situation
This group should be recognized as the lead by both local government and among the partners. The lead organization’s role is to:
- Facilitate the flow of correct information to businesses
- Coordinate concerted outreach to reconnect with businesses and identify at-risk companies
- Build relationships with and maintain current contact information for economic recovery partner organizations, as well as city, county, state and federal partners
- Coordinate post-disaster media and political strategies
An economic development organization may be the best partner for this role, as a strong business retention program is one of the best disaster preparation tools. Organizations that run these programs have relationships with key businesses and are familiar with operational issues.
Step 4: Create a web page to serve as a post-disaster economic recovery portal
This page ideally will be housed on an existing website, most likely that of the lead economic recovery group. It will contain business information that addresses both preparing for a disaster and critical resources for a post-disaster situation.
- The lead group and all partners should promote the site to business constituents as the place to turn for key information post-disaster. This can also be a place where displaced businesses can provide updated contact information.
Step 5: Ensure that economic recovery partner organizations are prepared to function effectively in a post-disaster situation
Economic recovery partner organizations must themselves be prepared to communicate in a disaster situation. At a minimum, they should have:
- A system in place for backing up key office files and data, and a method for accessing that information in different crisis scenarios.
- Updated staff contact information and a system identified for communicating with staff after a disaster.
- Current contact information for business clients – ideally, the name(s) and contact information of one or several key executives who would the main contact for business recovery issues in a post-disaster situation. This is important not just for major employers, but also for small businesses and cultural, tourism and other relevant nonprofit organizations. Economic recovery partner groups may want to consider sharing this information with the lead organization so that a central contact database can be created.
- The Disaster Resource Guide (2009/2010) features “Plans and Exercises to Build a Timely Communication Response”, an article which outlines helpful preparation techniques to improve communications for your organization after a disaster strikes. Download the pdf or online version.
- The Disaster Resource Guide is a free quarterly publication that can be downloaded or mailed at no cost.