Tutorial #5: Hurricane Season Crisis Communications Lessons from Hurricane Isaac

Tutorial #5 By CNN iReporter Evangelist Gerard Braud

So far this month, we have reviewed why you should be a CNN iReporter, or at the very least why you should learn to effectively shoot your own smartphone videos. We have learned how to set up your CNN iReporter account and how to determine what is newsworthy and what isn’t.  Now it is time to learn exactly how to effectively communicate through video on your darkest, stormiest day. Here are a few lessons for telling the story of your organization’s crisis, ranging from natural disasters to tragic events like workplace shootings. As with our previous lessons, this one is also based on my video documentation of Hurricane Isaac in 2012. Enjoy!

Tutorial 5 JPG Gerard Braud

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It is important to evacuate when an approaching hurricane is going to be a bad one. Staying in your home in destructive winds and killer flooding is dumb. Hurricane Isaac was not a strong storm and mandatory evacuations were not called. So, I decided to stay in my home on the shore of Lake Pontchartrain in Mandeville, LA, which is 30 minutes north of New Orleans. The storm winds at the eye of the hurricane were just over 75 miles per hour, making it barely a Category  1 hurricane. The eye was forecast to pass 50 miles to the west of me, which meant the winds would not be destructive where I was. The path would push water from the Gulf of Mexico into Lake Pontchartrain, resulting in localized flooding from storm surge.

As an experienced storm chaser, my goal was to document the hurricane, from the preparation stage, through the flooding, then through the aftermath and cleanup.

My home is a small cottage, raised on steel 10-foot pilings, with steel beams. Below my house is a carport and storage area that is 5 feet above sea level. That places the floor of my living quarters 15 feet above sea level and makes for a great perch to view mother nature. The storage area is constructed with mandatory breakaway walls, which will wash away in a storm, and they did.

Two days before the hurricane I began to document the flurry of activities and preparations in the community. There were long lines at the gas stations until every pump ran dry. I documented empty grocery store shelves, as water and canned goods were snatched up. At the hardware store I documented long lines as people purchased electrical generators and filled propane tanks.

On Tuesday, August 28, 2012, the evening before the storm made landfall, I filed an iReport that showed a calm lake, a green parkway and the green grass in my yard. I explained to viewers that the next day the entire area would be underwater, which all came to pass and made for a great follow up report. That was the iReport that lead CNN Headline News (HLN) producers to ask me to do a live report on Evening Express as the hurricane made landfall on August 29. By then, electrical power had gone out and I was broadcasting live using my iPhone 4, a G3 phone signal, and Skype

Isaac Ireport Gerard BraudThe big surprise with Hurricane Isaac was that the storm stalled and stayed in the same place for nearly 2 days, all the while causing the floodwaters to get higher. A fast moving storm would have come and gone in 12 hours. This one would cause flooding from Tuesday until Sunday.

By the time we hit the air live on Evening Express on the evening of August 29, there were whitecaps rolling down my driveway. After dark I did a live report for the Dr. Drew Show. Shortly after I signed off with Dr. Drew around 9 p.m., I began to hear strange creaking noises in the house. Occasionally there were unnerving vibrations. When I turned on the faucet there was no water. This wasn’t good. #understatement. I grabbed a flashlight and walked downstairs, where I could see that the breakaway walls in the storage areas on my carport began to wash out. As they did, debris in the waves broke the water supply, leaving me without running water. Then I realized that near the water pipes were natural gas lines. #causeforconcern

I phoned a neighbor and asked if I could sleep at his house just in case mine had a gas leak. I shut off all of my pilot lights, blew out all of my hurricane lanterns and candles, grabbed my life vest and paddled my canoe to his house. By this time, the water was so deep I simply paddled over my fence.

Overnight, the eye of the storm began to move again. The morning of August 30th I paddled home to find there was no gas leak, so I filed more iReports showing the damage as the water level dropped some.

I was surprised at how much debris had washed into my yard. Then nature revealed unwanted guests. First, there were 10 alligators swimming in my yard. As it got warm, dead nutria, a large swamp rat the size of a large muskrat, began popping up out of the water. I counted 50 carcasses. As the water drained off further, it revealed a blanket of swamp grass 12-24 inches deep, filled with thousands of snakes. I felt like I was in an Indiana Jones movie. Such anomalies mean just one thing: file more iReports and do more live reports for Evening Express and Dr. Drew.

For me, the beauty of iReports is the ability of ordinary people to take their stories right to the world’s leading news network. News happens fast and there isn’t always a professional news crew present to capture it. A citizen with an iPhone can capture and report the news even when no news crews are around.

Gerard Braud Media Training and Crisis Communication with IPad IPhone

What people who work in public relations need to be aware of is that you too, have the ability to be an iReporter. If you fail to do so, your story will be told by a citizen on the street, who may have great pictures, but not always the correct information. This is true for all spokespeople. This is true for Public Information Officers (PIO).

Who will tell your story? You or someone else?

This link will take you to my tutorials on the CNN iReporter website. I hope you take the time to view, study, and share all 23 videos and articles.

This link will take you to the index for all of the articles and videos.

I would be honored to teach you the specifics of iReports as a conference presentation or as a private training program. Download this PDF which describes the program, Social Media iReports.pdf,  then call me.

 

 

 

 

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