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Ophelia blows Ireland into crisis communications mode

Safety-first response of Irish business community demonstrated textbook crisis management approach.

By last Sunday afternoon, there was only one name on everyone’s lips. Ex-Hurricane Ophelia had been officially upgraded to a Category 3 status, with the US National Hurricane Center warning that the storm “was now taking aim on Ireland”.

The situation escalated fast. Met Eireann issued a red warning on Sunday evening, predicting “violent and destructive gusts” beginning in the south-west and spreading northwards as the day progressed. Many flights scheduled for Monday were cancelled. All schools would remain closed, as would Government buildings and courts.

As the country went into lockdown, most people went to bed wondering and worrying what Monday morning would bring. For employers and workers in particular, there was huge uncertainty. Would offices be open? Would people be able to get to work? Would it be safe?

Swift, decisive communications

By the time Ophelia made landfall on Monday morning, Ireland was in crisis management mode. Anxiety was still swirling in the air but, for most people, swift and decisive communications had at least put paid to the uncertainty around getting to work.

All around the country, businesses (including this one) had assessed the facts and decided it was better to be safe than sorry – office closed, stay at home. High profile retailers including Lidl, Dunnes Stores, IKEA, Tesco and Penneys all announced they would remain shut; countless other organisations both large and small did likewise.

As we monitored events on social media, one tweet caught the eye, suggesting that many people were ‘finding out what their employer was really like’. We can’t speak for everyone but our over-riding impression is that the reaction of the business community was spot-on – safety first, the work can wait.

Crisis management

From a crisis management perspective, the process by which employers took the necessary steps to ensure their workers’ safety appears to have been textbook. Every crisis demands an individual course of action, and in the case of Ophelia we would have recommended (and implemented) the following steps:

Gather all the facts

By late Sunday it was clear that we were in for an almost unprecedented storm. All forecasts predicted violent and dangerous winds on Monday; anyone out and about in such conditions would be in serious danger.

Decide on a response and strategy

Given the information at hand, it was clear that the best advice for everyone was to stay indoors and not risk getting caught in the storm. It’s the proverbial no brainer – the office stays shut regardless of what is happening.

Communicate

At the earliest opportunity, consult with your own team. In this case, internal staff happened to be the primary stakeholders anyway, so let them know as quickly as possible. Our staff all received texts at 7.35am telling them to work from home.

Take charge

Having made the decision, anyone else affected should be notified as well – clients, customers, suppliers, anyone who forms part of your community. In our case, we alerted clients to the situation and assured them that all staff were contactable by email.

Be human

Under the circumstances, this was an easy one. Employers quickly grasped the gravity of the storm and moved decisively to ensure their staff stayed out of danger – a humanitarian response, and of course the correct one.

Learn for the next time

The last time a storm of this magnitude hit Ireland was in 1961, so hopefully we won’t have to face anything like Ophelia again for a long time. But who knows? The best way to prepare for any recurrence is to review how you dealt with the storm, and what you could have done better. That starts with an internal discussion and the development of a contingency plan for any future event.

Ophelia has now passed through Ireland, leaving a trail of destruction in its path. At time of writing, the death toll stands at three – a tragic reminder of nature’s power but without strong, pro-active crisis communications, it could have been worse.

To discuss crisis management or avail of a free PR consultation, drop us a line today.

Topics: crisis, management, communications

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