© 2001 Jonathan Bernstein
JUST A THOUGHT
Never mistake motion for action.
AN OUNCE OF PREVENTION
PIER System Makes Online Crisis Management Easier -- Finally
by Jonathan Bernstein
Being prepared for crises can dramatically reduce damage when they occur and, today, Internet-centered preparedness is a critical component of such readiness. The PIERS system discussed in this article is one about which I'm personally very excited, because I think it's perfect for many of my clients, who will soon be getting introduced to the possibilities inherent therein. I'm sure future case histories will result!
A plane goes down. An environmental spill occurs. Your company is hit with a lawsuit and everyone knows it. MANY of your key audience members go right to the Internet for information on the crisis -- but is your information there?
Additionally, when a story breaks, not only do newsmakers need to contend with a crushing load of media reporters, they also need to keep family members, employees, elected officials, neighbors and responding agencies all fully informed. The speed and accuracy of the information provided may have more impact on the long-term reputation of the company or organization than the response itself. An organization viewed as "unresponsive" is often also viewed as "irresponsible."
The PIER (Public Information Emergency Response System) now being evaluated by Bernstein Crisis Management has, thus far, demonstrated the capability to put organizations' crisis response online, FAST, accompanied by data and fact management systems that make it easy for the entire crisis communications team to work together, virtually.
While most newsmakers instinctively know that getting the right information to the right people right now is critically important, there are many bottlenecks to the process. These include lack of adequately trained staff, lack of systems, unavailability of key people at the right time, and the need to involve a number of people in the review and approval process with the reality that many of them may be scattered around the country or even the world. In addition, the increasing frequency of the involvement in legal counsel in the public communication process helps give you a very good explanation why it is so difficult to get the needed information out quickly.
There is a way out of this dilemma, say the developers of the PIER System. The answer is a fully integrated Internet platform for public communication management. Users of this new technology include the US Coast Guard, the EPA, the City of Seattle, major oil refineries, companies seeking permits and public policy organizations. These organizations agree that the demands and expectations of media and public communication are growing and that technology solutions such as PIER are becoming increasingly important.
PIER was created, in part, out of one of the most significant news stories of the last few years -- the Olympic Pipe Line explosion in Bellingham which claimed three lives. PIER company founder and CEO Gerald Baron was on the emergency response team during the incident and served as an Olympic spokesperson during the early stages of the incident.
PIER fully integrates a number of critical communication management functions onto a single Internet platform. For example, communication team members login to the system from wherever they are located and from the private site can develop materials, collaboratively edit and upload digital files and track draft changes. Designated approvers can approve materials online and once approved information is instantly uploaded to the external public site and emailed or faxed from within the system to any number of databases of stakeholders managed in the system. Inquiries coming in from the public site are tracked and managed and new sites related to specific incidences or issues can be launched within seconds by the designated users.
The advantages of having these communication functions on an Internet platform are considerable. Equally important is the fact that PIER is a hosted service, which means companies and agencies do not need to significantly expand their Internet hosting services to accommodate the traffic they could experience in a major event.
The PIER System is used for both routine public communication and for crisis communications. For example, the Puget Sound Refining Company in Anacortes, WA one of the first users of the PIER System, routinely uses it to prepare and send information about the refinery of interest to the local community. But when events occur, such as the recent earthquake or a recent small-scale spill from another company's fuel barge loading at the refinery dock, both the technology and the people are ready to respond immediately. The system is currently being used in response to a refinery accident in Delaware; the site can be viewed at www.delawarecityrefinery.com.
Cost? This is going to make your high-end designers cringe, because PIER sites look good -- not fancy, but for their purpose, very good and highly flexible with regard to artwork, layout, and other design considerations. Looking super-slick in a crisis or regarding sensitive issues looks suspicious, anyhow, you don't want to go there.
Clients are categorized as Tier 1 or 2. A Tier 1 PIER user is one that has significant crisis risk with the likelihood of high levels of public interest. A Tier 2 user is evaluated as having a moderate level of risk/traffic. Tier 1 has a one-time installation cost (site activation, training, data creation) of $18,000, while Tier 2's installation cost is only $6,500. Monthly charges thereafter are $400 for Tier 1 and $200 for Tier 2.
For more information about the PIER System, go to www.piersystem.com or call 360.671.8708 or email email@example.com.
Editor's Note: This case history provides a fascinating example of "turning lemons into lemonade" -- taking an absolutely unavoidable series of crises, the hurricanes which hit the Caribbean every year, and achieving a whole series of PR goals by advocating and demonstrating leadership in the area of hurricane response.
Turning Crisis Into Opportunity
Fifth Annual '01 Islands Of The Bahamas Weather Conference
Bahamas Ministry of Tourism
by BSMG Worldwide for The Bahamas Ministry of Tourism
The Islands Of The Bahamas hosts more than 4 million visitors annually in search of clear skies, warm sunshine and beautiful beaches. The main decision not to travel there is the weather. Often this is based on geographic ignorance (Barbuda, Bermuda, Barbados and Bahamas - they all sound the same) and inaccurate information. While it can't change the weather, The Bahamas Ministry of Tourism (BMOT) can work to educate the media, travel professionals and public so that intelligent travel decisions can be made, thereby saving lives in a real crisis and limiting the loss of revenue to the tourism industry when storms are not a threat.
- Develop a newsworthy industry and media conference led by the world's top hurricane experts and organizations to address the issue of hurricanes and other weather activity in The Bahamas.
- Educate the meteorologists that The Islands Of The Bahamas is not one island, but 700 islands stretching over 100,000 square miles of ocean and 650 linear miles.
- Develop a partnership with The National Hurricane Center, Weather Channel and USA Today and link to their websites to provide audiences with the latest information.
- Position The Islands Of The Bahamas as a world leader in tourism, safety and visitor initiatives.
- Encourage the media to identify individual islands or regions of The Bahamas.
- Minimize the impact of hurricanes on visitor arrivals, hotel occupancy and length of stays.
- Secure national and local broadcast coverage for The Islands Of The Bahamas by offering media the opportunity to stage live remotes, report on conference discussions and predictions from hurricane experts.
- Develop a network of meteorologists, an alumni association of sorts, that would annually attend The Bahamas' weather conferences to gain first-hand familiarity with the destination so that they may intelligently and accurately address The Bahamas when affected by weather conditions.
In preparation for the 2001 hurricane season, The Bahamas Ministry of Tourism hosted The 5th Annual Weather Conference, to educate the media and build solid relationships with the hurricane and weather organizations throughout the US. The first item for discussion was hurricane crisis communications and safety procedures, building codes and evacuation procedures. The entire Caribbean was invited to participate, as well as every U.S. state on the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico. The Weather Conference was open to anyone and any government that could be affected by a hurricane.
- An unprecedented group of internationally renowned hurricane experts were secured (gratis) to speak at the conference, including: Dr. Robert Sheets, Meteorological Consultant and former Director of the National Hurricane Center; Max Mayfield, Director of the National Hurricane Center (U.S.), Professor Nicolas Coch, School of Earth and Environmental Science, Queens College; Billy Zwerschke and Bill Massey, Federal Emergency Management (FEMA); Dr. Chris Landsea and Dr. Hugh Willoughby, Hurricane Research Division, NOAA; John Teather and Bill Giles, BBC Weather Centre; Brian Jarvinen, National Hurricane Center, Corina Love, County Emergency Management, Houston, TX, Craig Fugate, Florida Division of Emergency Management, Susan Bryant-Thomas, Hilton Head Island Chamber of Commerce, Nathan McCollum, Indian County, FL Emergency Management, Bryan Norcross, Meteorologist, CBS-Miami, Clay Stamp, Ocean City, MD Office of Emergency Management, John Wilson, Lee County, FL Public Safety, William Winn, Beaufort County, SC Emergency Management.
- The Bahamas Hotel Association upheld its landmark "Hurricane Hotel Policy" for vacationers. If visitors canceled due to a hurricane, they would receive a full and immediate refund, no penalties. If already on-island, they would be extended the lowest possible rate and all possible courtesies.
- More than 95 meteorologists from network affiliates in every major market in the US participated in the conference as well as delegates from Canada and the UK, continuing to bring the event to an international level.
- More than 65 television networks and their affiliate stations in 13 states, including NBC, ABC, CBS and FOX affiliates in New York, California, Tennessee, Louisiana, Florida, Virginia, Alabama, North and South Carolina, Mississippi, Maryland, Texas, Ohio and Ontario, Canada broadcast the conference to viewers back home, positioning the destination as a leader in tourism and visitor safety preparedness.
- During the 2001 hurricane season, broadcasters referred to specific islands or regions of The Bahamas such as "Southeastern Bahamas," The Abacos, Exuma, etc. rather than simply mentioning "The Bahamas" - a tremendous difference to a destination made up of more than 700 individual islands and over 2500 cays spread over 650 miles.
- The Bahamas Weather Conference was officially recognized by the National Weather Association as a forum for meteorologists to attend and receive educational credit towards their "Seal of Approval." The Islands Of The Bahamas was asked to present at the AMS, NWS and National Hurricane Center conference, a first for any country.
- The Bahamas finished 2001 with a record 4 million visitors, an increase of 9 percent over the previous year.
- The media is now thanking The Bahamas for putting a new spin on hurricanes with honest, proactive efforts that kept audiences informed, helped save lives and changed the way business is done
in the Caribbean.
CRISIS MANAGER ON THE SPOT
Q: Are any of the online clipping services particularly useful for crisis and/or issues management?
A: I am in the midst of a not-very-scientific evaluation of four online clipping services and their efficacy specifically for issues and crisis management purposes:
- Dow Jones News Retrieval (to which I have had a subscription for some time)
- CyberAlert (a trial subscription for the purpose of this review)
- ClipGenius (a trial subscription they're offering everyone right now).
- Excite's free News Tracker.
I'm tracking the same three topics with all services, weighing results versus cost and effort required at my end. If you'd like to send your comments for possible use in the article scheduled for 09.01.01, please do so, giving your name, title and organization, and with the advance understanding that I could be quoting you. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The PR and Legal Team Approach To Crisis Management
Bernstein Crisis Management is capable of providing a joint PR/legal presentation team to train any organization wanting education on both components of crisis management. If interested, write to: email@example.com.
(Have a newsletter and/or website and want to exchange links? Let's talk about it! Write to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
These sites have proven valuable to my business and may do the same for yours.
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OTHER IMPORTANT STUFF
Jonathan Bernstein is president & CEO of Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc., a national public relations agency specializing in crisis response, issues management and litigation consulting. Prior to entering the PR world, Bernstein was an investigative reporter, preceded by five years in U.S. Army Military Intelligence. Click Here for information on the firm's services or call (626) 825-3838.
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