Fukushima Remembered: Revisiting the Crisis and What It Means to Communicators Today
By Beth Archer, Vice President, Anne Klein Communications Group, LLC
Can you imagine if, during a crisis, your every word was recorded?
The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) recently released 3,000 pages of transcripts containing nearly every conversation that occurred last March during the crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in the wake of Japan’s tsunami.
Thousands of conversations were captured on the NRC’s official phone conference line. They included discussions of not only how difficult it was to obtain information, but also how the crisis had impacted the participants’ sleep, and even what adult beverages they had when they went home. The crisis response continued for several days, and nearly all of it was recorded.
You might never see a crisis of the scale of what occurred at Fukushima, or even Three Mile Island for that matter. But that doesn’t mean you won’t, at some point in your career, be stuck in the “fog of war,” as the NRC chairman described the haze in which his agency’s personnel worked for hours on end without respite. What you will see in today’s constant, never-ending news cycle are mini-crises of all sizes and proportions.
In today’s environment, you’ll find you’re never off the clock and never out of the spotlight. A heightened level of sensitivity is essential in responding to today’s crises. Here are five points to consider in responding to crises:
1. Remember, you’re always on the record. Whether it is the recording of an official phone conference line like the NRC, or a casual comment or conversation with a reporter camped out on your organization’s front lawn for days, your conversation can become a horrific quote of the year. Just think of the BP CEO’s infamous, “I want my life back.” Act as if you are on the record at all times. Remember that once the crisis ends, you will need to live with the consequences of any remarks made.
2. Have someone assigned around the clock to staff communications. In a crisis, you should expect calls around the clock from local, regional, national and international media. Be ready and be staffed for it. When I worked in nuclear communications, I routinely took phone calls from reporters after hours, including one from a Japanese media outlet at midnight. You’ll want to have staffing allocated to respond at any time, night or day.
3. Don’t forget that communication today is not just about the media. In a highly technical industry such as nuclear energy, many reporters are simply not familiar enough with the technology to be able to write about it with complete accuracy. Nor are the media the only ones disseminating news these days. Make sure you know the bloggers, influential Twitter and Facebook users, and LinkedIn group administrators in your industry. Reach out to them to help clearly communicate the facts.
4. Never, ever, give up. In the words of legendary basketball coach Jim Valvano, “Don’t give up … don’t ever give up!” Don’t ever stop trying to tell your story in the middle of a crisis. Even if you have been working around the clock for days on end to tell your story, and it doesn’t seem to be resonating, don’t stop trying. The truth will come out. A year out from the crisis of Fukushima, the recollection is a lot clearer than the response. And the recollection shows that a lot of smart people worked very hard to make sure as many people as possible were kept safe.
5. After the crisis, allow your team to recoup their energy and relax. The people who responded to the crisis need some time to recharge their batteries before re-focusing on supporting your organization’s ongoing mission. In an organization that faces crises often, the temptation to stay in a frenetic crisis mode is great. Avoid it, and your team can reach new levels of excellence.
Most important, stick to your principles of open, honest and transparent communications, and you and your team will weather whatever crisis may come your way.
Beth Archer is vice president of Anne Klein Communications Group, LLC where she provides strategic counsel to clients in energy, healthcare and higher education industries. Follow her on Twitter @BethArch or email her at Beth@AnneKleinCG.com.
Published: March 11, 2012 By: