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Posted on 05.05.2010
Why Nashville’s Flood Didn’t Make National Headlines
Three days after it started raining and kept raining in Middle Tennessee, the national media finally caught up to this major national disaster by reporting on the devastating floods that ravaged the Nashville Metropolitan area (Metro).
Yes, it was a third in a series of major national disasters (the oil spill in the Gulf and the failed Times Square bombing attempt) that were already filling the airwaves, but I think another major factor in the lack of national media attention was the way the disaster was handled here locally.
It was not a PR nightmare. It was handled with relative calm, an organized response and a lack of sensationalism. I’ve only heard one or two reports of looting and have seen 1,000 times more instances of volunteerism than criminal activity.
Much of the credit for this goes to Nashville Mayor Karl Dean and all of the heads of Nashville’s public agencies for being organized and acting quickly. When the city saw the flood waters start to rise on Sunday, Dean called a press conference with representatives from every possible Metro agency. He addressed the city with facts and real information. He anticipated that the media would have questions about schools, water, sanitation, power, FEMA, road closures and lots of other topics, so he asked individuals representing the following agencies to address media questions at the press conference:
- Metro Nashville Public Schools
- Metro Police Department
- Metro Public Health
- Nashville Electric Service
- Metro Water Services
- Nashville Emergency Management
My inside sources within the media also told me that Mayor Dean asked members of the media to arrive almost two hours before beginning the press conference. That way, they could arrive on time to set up their feeds and prepare to go live at the time of the press conference.
Kudos to Mayor Dean for responding to the crisis early, calmly and with honesty. He has collaborated with Metro agencies to disseminate as much accurate information as possible. He has even worked to prevent further catastrophes. He and Metro Water Services are encouraging residents to cut their water use in half while one water treatment plant is flooded and inoperable. If he and Metro Water Services were not encouraging this activity now, we would be hit by another serious emergency very soon.
Mayor Dean provided proof of what we in PR already know about crisis communication. We know that when a crisis hits:
- Remain calm.
- Be honest.
- Develop a plan.
- Communicate the plan.
- Follow through with your plan for recovery/change or anything else that may change going forward.
Those of us in Middle Tennessee are very proud of the way residents and Metro agencies responded to this tragedy. It’s time to continue in the same spirit that got us where we are now. We must remain calm, be honest, develop a plan and execute the plan that leads to the path of recovery.
To volunteer for flood relief efforts in Middle Tennessee, please register with Hands on Nashville