As Hurricane Irene recently swept north along the United States’ eastern seaboard, it wreaked havoc in many American cities. Unquestionably, the ominous storm caused massive devastation while knocking power out to millions. Let’s not forget this hurricane came on the heels of a 5.9 magnitude earthquake whose epicenter was in Virginia, but whose impact was felt within the same general region impacted by Hurricane Irene.
Both natural disasters presented two very distinct informational needs – reactive and proactive. The earthquake took many by surprise and created a high level of uncertainly among east coast citizens, primarily because many experienced something new – the physical and emotional consequence of an earthquake (many thought it might have been a terrorist attack of some form). Therefore, the informational gap during the earthquake was primarily reactive. The earthquake was short-lived, but it was amazing how quickly most were informed via digital and traditional media channels about what had happened and where the epicenter was. Cell phone connectivity was quickly interrupted due to overuse and as a result, texting became the communications vehicle of choice.
Because the hurricane was predictable, the informational focus was during the preparation, management and recovery phases. Television programming was interrupted and coverage was wall-to-wall as each region awaited their turn to get pounded. During the build-up, grocery and convenience stores had a run on water, ice, dry foods, batteries and flashlights. Again, Americans followed the events via the traditional and digital communication distribution points until the lack of power would no longer let them. Even then, air cards and other points of internet connectivity allowed people to communicate and find-out the latest news and information.
These two events remind all of us about our collective thirst for information and our own ability to communicate quickly and efficiently. And while the events of last week were natural disasters, the same global village, speed of light communications principles hold true during any type of crisis. Leaders must be prepared at every level for every eventuality. Whether a natural disaster, product recall, issue of workplace violence or negative press, resilient leaders must instill a sense of confidence in their stakeholders.
Remember leaders, if you don’t quickly fill the informational gaps with credible information, others will – regardless of fact.