Q&A with Brenda Jones Barwick
Tornadoes taught valuable crisis management lessons
Q: Your firm voluntarily stepped up as an in-house full-service agency for the city of Moore after the recent tornado. What exactly did you do?
A: The need was so great that when our team walked in the door, they assigned tasks to us before even making the formal introductions. To date, we have volunteered 600 hours to help field national and international media inquiries, assist with daily news conferences with Gov. Mary Fallin, FEMA and first responders; managed official social media sites and Moore.Recovers.org; created e-newsletters for 34,000 Moore businesses and residents; created digital billboards that are still in rotation and managed communications efforts at City Hall while President Barack Obama toured the schools and neighborhoods.
Q: How did this come about?
A: Moore is my hometown and my family has known Mayor Glenn Lewis and City Manager Steve Eddy for decades. When Oklahoma City Public Information Officer Kristy Yager called at 10 p.m. asking if we can help the city of Moore, I didn't hesitate in committing all of our agency services to help Moore Director of Marketing and Economic Development Deidre Ebrey, Marketing Specialist Jayme Shelton and the city's agency Trifecta Communications implement their crisis communications efforts. With all hands on deck, our team was able to help the city fulfill a need for highly specialized communications efforts, such as managing calls from The New York Times, BBC, ABC, a China news crew and documentary filmmakers from the U.K.
Q: Why are communications so important?
A: After my experience of working on five national disasters, correct information in real-time especially during the first 12 hours to 24 hours saves lives and connects loved ones. This starts to stabilize a chaotic situation. Communications is especially critical to first responders in their roles to save lives and restore public safety. Additionally, communication is important so that misinformation doesn't escalate the public fear in such a crisis.
Q: What lessons can corporations/organizations glean from this experience, as far as crisis management?
A: Lessons include family and employee safety — put a process in place to check on families, employees and their needs; survey how a disaster may affect your business and capability of continuing to provide products and services to customers; identify ways to provide your products and services to aid in relief efforts, such as through your trade association; and ask your professional association to inventory their members' skills that could be utilized in disasters to help save lives. For example, the Association of Oklahoma General Contractors reached out to its members for cranes, construction lights, earth movers and pallet jacks during the lifesaving rescue phase of the tornadoes.
PAULA BURKES, BUSINESS WRITER