Texas-Sized Crisis: 7 Steps to Communicating During a Disaster

Texas-Sized Crisis: 7 Steps to Communicating During a Disaster

Published: Credit Union Times

Authored By: Casey Boggs, president of ReputationUs

One of the best outcomes of thinking about a crisis before it happens is the chance to consider your credit union’s strategy in advance. But honesty, if you are a credit union in Texas, the situation is beyond the point of preparing for a crisis. Now is the time to deploy the crisis plan that your credit union has (hopefully!) developed — or take strategic action anyway.

In a crisis, communication is key. This includes verbal, digital, social and through the media. Moreover, frequency is paramount.

This week, financial institutions and credit unions in Texas contacted us for our crisis communications expertise and guidance. Given the extent of the disaster, we feel compelled to share our advice with a wider audience to help the credit union community immediately navigate the appropriate steps to take.

Step 1: Prioritize WHO

Prioritize to whom you should communicate the effect of the weather on your credit union’s standard operations. Recognize that sometimes communication will occur simultaneously to multiple audiences. We recommend an “inside-out” approach to crisis communication, talking to your internal audiences before external audiences.

Here is one order of preference: Your credit union’s board, executives, staff, members, community, community leaders, social services, disaster organizations (e.g., Red Cross), media and social media.

Step 2: Determine WHEN

Communication during the first 24 to 48 hours of a disaster is critical to your credit union’s audience. Make a plan to communicate at least three times a day. Strategic timing includes in the morning, afternoon and before the close of business.

Step 3: Establish WHAT

It is important to provide ongoing updates about how your credit union has been affected by Hurricane Harvey, specifically when branches will be up and running, and any impact on online or mobile capacities. Be sure to share any guidance you can to help ease member inconvenience.

Among the other messages that are invariably part of any good crisis response:

  • Express concern for the impact that the situation has on members, employees, the general public, etc.
  • Commit to addressing credit union and member issues brought on by the storm.
  • Reassure your audience that the credit union is safe and sound (if indeed it is).

Step 4: Identify WHO FROM

Decide who will be the spokesperson. Keep in mind, it doesn’t always have to be the CEO. He or she will probably be taking care of matters related to the disaster.

To select an appropriate spokesperson, review your list of potential problems and figure out who is a credible person within the organization to respond to those issues. Will you have the same person speak to members as to the press? Be certain that you select a spokesperson who has been trained to communicate in emergency situations. You may want to consider crisis-specific communications training going forward.

Step 5: Select WHERE

What are the best – or most applicable – channels of communications the credit union has to communicate within? Members generally expect to go to a credit union’s website when a disaster hits or news breaks. Make sure you can quickly update your website to include news and information about the current situation. Social media sites should also be monitored and updated.

One advantage of multiple streams of communication is the capacity to reach each of your audiences directly and efficiently. Communications channels can include everything from in-person forums for employees to website updates to texting members and mass emails. All are easier to execute if you have some history of holding them under normal circumstances. Now is not the time to try something new.

Step 6: Recognize WHY

Timely communication is essential to your credibility because reassuring your staff and members that the credit union is also affected by the disaster – but is working through the situation – shows strength. It also creates assurance that the credit union will make it through. Let your members know that you are here for them every step of the way.

Step 7: LISTEN

Beyond your crisis communications, how can your credit union listen intently to the unique needs of its staff, members and the community? Adjust your communications according to the needs of your audience.

Although we all hope a disaster at the magnitude of Hurricane Harvey will never affect us, the situation can provide an immediate opportunity to communicate your credit union’s values and provide support to your employees, members and other key audiences.

If you pair your approach with an existing crisis plan, you are well on the path to solid crisis communications. But even without a plan in place, be sure to communicate confidently and reassure your audiences in a timely fashion. We hope that through solid communication, everyone affected in Texas and the Gulf Cost can maintain the sense of community that will get you all through this.

Casey Boggs is president of ReputationUs. He can be reached at 503-946-8344 or cboggs@ReputationUs.com.