Public Administration: Media Training

Hurricane Katrina

Hurricane Katrina is the deadliest Atlantic tropical cyclone. It was experienced in 2005 during the Atlantic hurricane season. In August 23, 2005, the hurricane formed over the Bahamas, spread over to Florida as a moderate cyclone and strengthened as it crossed over to the Gulf of Mexico where it reached a deadly Category 5 hurricane. Louisiana was hit by the second wave of Hurricane Katrina in August 29, 2005 (Knabb, Rhome & Brown, 2005). The disaster wreaked havoc, destroyed property, and led to numerous losses of lives in the United States as it oscillated along these lines. The National Hurricane Center records that over 1,833 individuals lost their lives through the hurricane and the floods that followed, while loss of property was estimated to about $108 billion (National Weather Service Weather Forecast Office, 2012). The death toll exceeded was worse than Okeechobee hurricane of 1928, whereas the property loss was four times as much as compared to the 1992 Andrew hurricane (National Weather Service Weather Forecast Office, 2012). Therefore, the paper details a necessity of creating a proper crisis communication plan for an organization when handling the consequences of the crisis.

Crisis Communication Plan

As a national leader addressing media during a national crisis, such as the Hurricane Katrina, one must develop an effective crisis communication plan. In order to come up with a good communication strategy, the person involved must use the right words (Coombs, 1995). An effective communication plan should include the spokesperson of the organization, the person(s) involved in preparing the statement to be released to the media, and the media channels to be used to convey the organizations’ side of the story.

Initial Response

The initial response to a crisis needs to be taken within the first hour after the situation occurred. This message ought to be aimed at providing information needed for public safety, general information about what happened, and the concern regarding victims, if there are any. In addition, a leader in charge of the crisis recovery has to ensure at this stage is that the information communicated by spokespersons is consistent.

The outline below summarizes the steps to be taken during a crisis:

  1. Crisis management team should be swift and respond within the first hour of the crisis.
  2. The information relayed has to be accurate. All the facts ought to be checked before being released to public.
  3. Evidence given to the public is supposed to be consistent. The spokesperson must therefore be informed of any development in addressing the crisis.
  4. In the crisis communication plan, public safety must be set as the prime concern.
  5. The team should exploit all the communication channels available, i.e. the internet or mass notification systems.
  6. The message given is to show some expression of empathy and concern for the crisis victims.
  7. The crisis management must be ready to help the victims of the crisis, their families by way of trauma and stress counseling.

Subsequent Response to the Public

After the initial response to the crisis, the leader in charge should sit down with his or her team and review whether such a crisis has occurred in the past and the effects it had on the reputation of the group concerned. Coombs (2004) in his research concluded that, if an organization has had a history of a crisis similar to the present which resulted in negative reputation, the threat of the reputation is intensified.

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Ethical Issues

A crisis may threaten the reputation and integrity of the organization because of negative media attention (Allen, 2014). In the Hurricane Katrina example, media may capitalize on the failures of the government departments in preventing or managing the crisis. The main idea of doing this is to bring out a weakness in government or organization to the public. Besides safeguarding its reputation, the organization has moral responsibility towards those affected by the crisis, i.e. the victims, their families, and public in general. In light of this consideration, the message communicated by the organization should contain certain ethical elements. The list below shows some of communication practices that a team managing a crisis should have when making public addresses (Coombs & Holladay, 2006):

  1. Actual and potential victims ought to be given both instructing and recalling information.
  2. Victims require expressions of sympathy, information on crisis mitigation measures and counseling. This factor is termed as care response.
  3. For the crisis, significant intensifying factor, but without attribution of responsibility, justification and/or excuse strategies, is to be included.
  4. When the responsibility attribution and intensifying factor are both present but at a low scale, information concerning compensation and apology has to be considered.

Sample Press Release

August 23, 2005

SmartConstruction Building Collapse

The Administration of SmartConstruction is saddened to announce the death of 10 people following the collapse of our building, which was under construction, at around 10:16 a.m. today near Greenland Advocates, Oakland. Among those who died, two were construction site engineers and the building architect. The others who perished in the disaster were construction workers hired by the company.

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SmartConstruction has launched an investigation to the collapse of the building in collaboration with the State Department of Police. We are requesting the public to be calm as we find the underlying cause of the disaster. The administration wishes to convey our heartfelt condolences to the believed families and friends and pray that God will give your courage and strength during this hard time. God bless you, and God bless America.



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