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Crisis Comm

by Gerald Baron: Crisis and emergency communication strategies

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Integrating video into your emergency and preparedness message
June 27, 2012
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You know the old saying, if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Well, my new hammer is video, particularly that created quickly and easily for web use. I absolutely believe that video is the "next, big thing" and that includes for crisis and emergency communication.

But, how is it used? And how can you, given your measly budget, no staff, and very limited time possibly expect to incorporate video into your public communication? I hope to help address more examples in the near future, but here is one that is pretty close to mind--in part because I participated in the process.

The Northwest Washington Fair in Lynden, Washington, just south of the Canadian border, is pretty well known for being an exceptionally clean, well-managed operation. It attracts about a quarter million visitors to the week long event, strong on promoting agriculture. Last year something happened that the founders of it over a hundred years ago couldn't have imagined: it was the scene of a gang shooting. Three were injured including innocent bystanders--none seriously. The shooter has been sentenced to 15 years in prison.

But, the Fair had a problem: how do you convince the fair goers that this won't happen again (which you can't because you don't know) or at least that you are doing all things reasonable to make certain it doesn't? How do you return to a "normal" state where fairgoers aren't looking around for someone who might be packing?

The fair manager did an outstanding job of crisis communication in the immediate aftermath of the event last August. So much so that he was nominated for Business Person of the Year in the community. (Mighty proud of him, since he is my older brother, and yes, I did help out just a bit during those trying days.)

But with the fair approaching again this August, what could he do to reassure the community that the fair will once again be a safe, fun and family friendly place. Working closely with the Whatcom County Sheriff Bill Elfo and the Lynden Police Chief Jack Foster, Jim Baron the fair manager, crafted a plan designed to enhance security and provide reassurance. Basically it consisted of beefing up uniformed and non-uniformed security and law enforcement presence and increasing video surveillance. There are somewhere between 300 and 700 known gang members in Whatcom County, Washington according to the Sheriff's department. And they know who most of them are. Besides, gangs like to show their colors so often they are not hard to spot. Because the fair is a private, non-profit organization and the land is private, they can bar whomever they wish. And they wish to bar gang members. So they will stop them before they come in and if they do manage to enter and are spotted they will be "trespassed out" or arrested. The message from the Fair to the community: gangs are not welcome here.

A joint press release between the Sheriff, the Lynden Police and the Fair was issued. Local news media coverage has been very strong and positive. The message was amplified on twitter including from local fire chief Bill Boyd (yes, that Chief Boyd) and by many others on twitter including Seattle area media.

But, the Fair which has just established on an-going series of video blogs also issued their own video communicating directly to the public the measures being taken. The video is up on YouTube on the Fair's own channel but also will be shown prominently in the video blog spot on the Fair's website.

Since the Fair had established a process for producing quick and easy videos for their video blogs, it was a simple matter for Jim to create a quick script based on the press release and add it to the queue for blogs. The video uses simple green screen (chroma key) technology which enables the easy addition of titles, videos or images behind a presenter. Because the studio set up is all preset and the production operation (yes, my new little company called Cornwall Chroma) had all the images from the fair for the other video blogs, it took less than two hours to put it together. Cost to the Fair--less than $200. (All this made easier because Jim is a pretty darn good presenter.)

The point is not to promote this little venture, or chroma key technology, or even video. The point is that today, you are the broadcaster and you are a broadcaster with multiple channels to take care of. This video will be found on the Fair's Facebook page, website and linked in various place. Chances are others on Facebook or Twitter will pick it up and send the link around. Don't know how many views it will get (just getting out there as I write this) but it is just one part of a comprehensive communication strategy. 

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