The next in our series of thought leadership pieces on communicating in and during an emergency. Amy Carter, now Chief Executive Officer of the Christchurch Foundation, and Managing Partner of Carter, Price, Rennie back when the Christchurch earthquakes occurred, shares her thoughts about communicating without power.
Old school and new school both have a role to play in emergency communications
When the Christchurch earthquakes struck, Amy Carter was Managing Partner of Carter, Price, Rennie, a formidable public relations/communications company with clients including the Crown, the Canterbury DHB and Fletcher Group. Amy was quite literally in the hot seat.
In the immediate aftermath, communication options were limited, “We lost our office and all our equipment, bar our servers and laptops. As our work was deemed of national significance, the Police accompanied us as we collected what we could. At home we had no power, no water.” In the most trying of circumstances, Amy attempted to maintain communication with her client’s target audiences.
A Two-Pronged Approach
For Amy and her team, their approach was two-pronged, “Our clients, the Crown, the DHB, Fletchers, and Waimakariri and Selwyn District Councils had to be able to ensure that critical information was reaching every sector of the community.” Back then phones were not as ubiquitous, particularly amongst the elderly, and power was an issue, “I don’t think people realise how a loss of power can impact your communications. We had cell towers that were out for weeks, or operating on generators that would regularly run out of fuel.”
As a result, old school communications became as important as digital, “We identified where people had gathered immediately after the earthquakes – local dairies, fire stations and particularly schools. We put up community notice boards in these locations, and we would update them as required, township after township. We would broadcast across radio and use other non-digital platforms to announce that there was an update.”
Amy acknowledges that today technology has moved on and that Telco’s and the Government have more robust text messaging systems in place, “Text is a key part of an emergency response but to get public information out you need a backup. Understanding who were the critical influencers in our communities, getting the message through to them and setting up phone trees was one of our most effective approaches. I think acknowledging how much we rely on power was the biggest learning for me.”
The lesson is to have a plan. How will you contact staff, students and wider audiences in the event of an emergency? Both digitally, and in the event of a potentially long term power outage?
With thanks to Amy Carter.