Oct 29, 2012

A Standout in the Storm of Messages About Hurricane Sandy

The NWS map showing the approach of Hurricane Sandy leaves little room for interpretation – as do the crystal-clear communications being issued in advance of the storm.

The National Weather Service is a credible and trusted source of news and updates about the weather.  As Hurricane Sandy approaches the East Coast, the folks at the NWS have been working overtime.   They want people to be prepared and to be safe – and that requires surgically precise communications.

So how exactly do you create a message that will get people’s attention and generate its own momentum?  The NWS decided that brevity and blunt language were the way to get through to people and to make them take this storm seriously.  In update issued yesterday, the NWS pulled no punches. Here is the complete update (we added emphasis):

…AN EXTREMELY DANGEROUS STORM TO IMPACT THE AREA… SANDY IS EXPECTED TO SLAM INTO THE NEW JERSEY COAST LATER MONDAY NIGHT, BRINGING VERY HEAVY RAIN AND DAMAGING WINDS TO THE REGION. THE STORM IS A LARGE ONE, THEREFORE DO NOT FOCUS ON THE EXACT CENTER OF THE STORM AS ALL AREAS WILL HAVE SIGNIFICANT IMPACTS. THIS HAS THE POTENTIAL TO BE AN HISTORIC STORM, WITH WIDESPREAD WIND DAMAGE AND POWER OUTAGES, INLAND AND COASTAL FLOODING, AND MASSIVE BEACH EROSION. THE COMBINATION OF THE HEAVY RAIN AND PROLONGED WIND WILL CREATE THE POTENTIAL FOR LONG LASTING POWER OUTAGES AND SERIOUS FLOODING. PREPARATIONS SHOULD BE WRAPPING UP AS CONDITIONS ARE EXPECTED TO WORSEN TONIGHT AND ESPECIALLY ON MONDAY.

SOME IMPORTANT NOTES…

1. IF YOU ARE BEING ASKED TO EVACUATE A COASTAL LOCATION BY STATE AND LOCAL OFFICIALS, PLEASE DO SO.

2. IF YOU ARE RELUCTANT TO EVACUATE, AND YOU KNOW SOMEONE WHO RODE OUT THE `62 STORM ON THE BARRIER ISLANDS, ASK THEM IF THEY COULD DO IT AGAIN.

3. IF YOU ARE RELUCTANT, THINK ABOUT YOUR LOVED ONES, THINK ABOUT THE EMERGENCY RESPONDERS WHO WILL BE UNABLE TO REACH YOU WHEN YOU MAKE THE PANICKED PHONE CALL TO BE RESCUED, THINK ABOUT THE RESCUE/RECOVERY TEAMS WHO WILL RESCUE YOU IF YOU ARE INJURED OR RECOVER YOUR REMAINS IF YOU DO NOT SURVIVE.

4. SANDY IS AN EXTREMELY DANGEROUS STORM. THERE WILL BE MAJOR PROPERTY DAMAGE, INJURIES ARE PROBABLY UNAVOIDABLE, BUT THE GOAL IS ZERO FATALITIES.

5. IF YOU THINK THE STORM IS OVER-HYPED AND EXAGGERATED, PLEASE ERR ON THE SIDE OF CAUTION.

WE WISH EVERYONE IN HARMS WAY ALL THE BEST. STAY SAFE!

The dramatic language is working – as I write this, the message is generating viral chatter on social networks, and has generated considerable media coverage.  Both are noteworthy outcomes given the sheer volume of conversation and coverage the impending storm is generating.

So hats off to the communications team at the National Weather Service on a job well done.  They took a bit of a risk deviating from the language we expect.  However, their direct and human appeal arrested reader attention and has helped amplify their important message.  They’ve provided the PR community with an object lesson in effective crisis communications.

We hope they — and everyone else in the storm’s path, for that matter –  heed all the warnings to be prepared and to stay safe!

Our own important note:

The Red Cross is mobilizing a massive response across multiple states in advance of Sandy making landfall.   Details on where those affected can find help, and those who wish to offer help can give it,  can be found in the press release the Red Cross issued over the weekend: Red Cross Responding to Hurricane Sandy Across Multiple States.

Author Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of social media.

 

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