Planning for a crisis is nearly impossible. If you have a plan, and the plan works, you have probably prevented a crisis. Crises are surprising, require a quick response, and have some level of threat. We can create risk management plans, but these are never full proof.
Imagine the most likely crisis that can occur in your city. Now imagine the least likely crisis that is still within the realm of possibility (no alien invasions please). Which one are you more likely to care about? Which possibility seems closer to home? Which emergency plan is most forefront in your mind?
On January 28th the city of Atlanta, Georgia received two inches of snow. This slight snowfall caused a transportation crisis in the unprepared southern city.
It was not like the city had not imagined the possibility of snow. In fact, it had snow equipment, and it had a plan. The problem was the recognition of a problem. The snow was falling, but it did not seem close to home.
A Jan. 30th news article from CNN stated:
“At Thursday’s news conference, the director of the Georgia Emergency Management Agency acknowledged having made “a terrible error in judgment” in not opening the emergency operations center six hours earlier than he did.
Charley English said he first talked to the governor about how serious the situation was becoming, particularly around metro Atlanta, as the forecast shifted at 9 or 9:30 a.m. Tuesday. This was some six hours after meteorologists upgraded to a winter storm warning.” (Botelho & Watkins, Jan. 30, 2014) (see more at: http://www.cnn.com/2014/01/30/us/winter-weather/)
English, who informed the governor about transportation issues, was caught off guard. Gov. Nathan Deal claimed to take full responsibility, but the truth is that it was a joint failure. Mayor Kasim Reed also admitted a “lack of experience” when it came to winter weather conditions (Botelho & Watkins, Jan. 30, 2014). They told everyone to go home at the same time, which created a massive traffic jam that lasted for over 25 hours.
How can we call their response to this crisis a failure if crises cannot be planned for? Crises cannot be anticipated, but recognizing when a crisis is happening is possible. In this case the government of Atlanta failed to recognize the crisis.
The streets were not clear, and the street clearing teams were hardly underway. They knew this, but they still ordered half of Atlanta onto the streets. They were not mindful of the situation within the moment, and that is what turned two inches of snow into a transportation crisis.
It is not possible to have good crisis communications until a crisis is recognized.
Botelho G. & Watkins T. (Jan. 30, 2014). “Georgia officials under fire for actions before, during, after snow.” CNN. http://www.cnn.com/2014/01/30/us/winter-weather/