Fire and Other Mundane Crises – A Lesson Against Complacency

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Author: Dr. Kathie Fleck, APR, Ohio Northern University Assistant Professor of Public Relations and Media Studies

Firestorm encourages thought leadership across a variety of industries. We are pleased to share insights from guest author, Dr. Kathie Fleck, APR. Dr. Fleck is the Assistant Professor in Communication and Media Studies at Ohio Northern University. With a career spanning various sectors, she provides a unique perspective backed by experience in business, politics, government, non-profit, and higher education. Read Dr. Fleck’s previous articles: 

This past week a disastrous fire at the National Museum of Brazil in Rio de Janeiro, destroyed as much as 90 percent of the 20 million artifacts it held. News reports cite underfinancing and understaffing, along with the fact the museum had virtually no fire protection systems. While this is clearly devastating, it should also be a lesson. A lesson that complacency can and does pay dividends – the kinds you don’t want.

Recent headlines highlight cybercrime, social media manipulation and mass shootings which can sneak into our consciousness and lead us to take our eyes off the more likely crisis potentials of fire, weather-related damage and plain old personnel issues. For example, in 2017, 17 people died in workplace shootings. This is truly tragic, but consider also there were 121 workplace deaths in 2015 due to fires and explosions. This accounted for 2.5% of all fatal occupational injuries for the year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

According to, there are a few categories of crises most businesses should plan for:

  • Natural (floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, and earthquakes)
  • Health (widespread and serious illnesses like the flu)
  • Human-caused (accidents and acts of violence)
  • Technology (power outages and equipment failure)

These crises can and should be part of any business continuity plan. And each should have their own separate crisis communication plan. When considering communication planning, keep in mind a few important rules:

1. Don’t forget what matters most. In any of these possible emergencies the likelihood for human suffering and injury is high. In our efforts to respond to questions and get statements out, we must always prioritize people and the impact on the lives of our employees, customers and communities. Acknowledge this fact first, be sincere and follow real concern with action.

2. Technology fails. With all of our daily work habits focused on technology, it’s important that we also plan to communicate without it during an emergency. It pays to have an old-school printout of the crucial parts of your crisis plan. If Internet service is out, you won’t be able to find your message maps in a cloud file, and if your power goes out your cell phone will eventually die and yet you’ll still need access to contact information. Keeping at least one hardcopy file of your communications plan is important for continuity. Just be sure to keep it as updated as your digital files.

3. Work with a partner. When feasible, consider establishing a contingency contract with a communications firm with locations different than yours to help monitor traditional and social media. If power and online access is cut, or chemical contamination or medically related issues keep you from your location, you will still need the capacity to communicate, monitor and respond to the situation at hand. By having a backup plan set in advance with a firm that knows your organization and your leadership, you can address the crisis and maintain coherent communication despite the conditions.

You can’t always prevent an emergency, but you can plan for it. A crisis communications plan for your organization is as vital and as responsible as an insurance plan. Use the list of potential crises listed as a starting point for your planning, and enlist outside professionals when needed. You won’t regret the time or resources you spend on crisis communication planning.

Join Dr. Kathie Fleck and Firestorm Chief Marketing and Technology Officer, Karen Masullo, on Thursday, September 13th for a webinar presentation: Creating a Crisis Communication Roadmap:

For Schools – September 13th at 1 p.m. ET: Register Here

For Businesses – September 13th at 2 p.m. ET: Register Here

September webinar invitation

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