Broward County Mayor Beam Furr spoke at the PRSA Greater Fort Lauderdale Chapter’s March event, discussing crisis communications planning and the multi-layered approach the County takes to prepare for and manage crises before, during and after they occur. Furr was accompanied by Emergency Management and Public Information Office staff from the County.
Mayor Furr highlighted three major crises the County has faced in the past year: the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, Hurricane Irma, and the Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport shooting, all of which garnered media attention on the national and international level. He shared how the County’s approach reflects the fundamental components of crisis planning:
- Crafting a plan that addresses possible scenarios based on past and present-day experience
- Assembling a skilled team
- Coordinating with key stakeholders
- Messaging before, during and after
- Strategies for communicating across multiple channels
- Practice, practice, practice
- Structured post-event debriefs to reflect, course-correct and improve
For example, before and during hurricane season (June to November), the County maximizes its marketing efforts to emphasize the importance of preparedness for any serious weather event. Faced with communicating to a population of nearly two million residents, Mayor Furr explained how the County must decide the best way to reach as many people as possible. The Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan outlines what should occur in the case of a disaster. The number one resource to display all hurricane-related information is the emergency page on the County’s website, broward.org/emergency. The ultimate goal is for residents to prepare, have a family emergency plan, know where to evacuate, and have enough food and water if a widespread power outage occurs.
The Broward County Emergency Management Division combines their efforts with the County’s 31 cities, first responders, companies like Florida Power & Light, non-profit organizations, schools, and others to plan effectively and facilitate communication. Additionally, press releases are sent out to the media to provide updates on current weather situations and what residents and businesses should be doing at particular times. During the storm, a call center, reached by dialing 3-1-1, assists thousands of people with questions when a hurricane strikes.
Communication across all levels is the key to successfully manage a county-wide crisis. Once the public safety threat passes, the focus changes to recovery. After a hurricane, residents are asked to keep in touch and report damage to their homes, businesses or property. This feedback is used, along with a damage assessment tool, to ensure each situation receives the necessary help and response, which may require relocation, debris pick-up, and assistance with shelters.
The takeaway from the presentation that Mayor Furr stressed was that no matter what company you’re working for or representing, it’s critical to prepare for an unexpected crisis. In order to prepare, as a public relations professional, you and your team must develop a detailed crisis communication plan that covers how to manage the crisis from start to finish, and always includes an “after action” debrief at the end to improve efforts in the future.