Superstorm Sandy walloped the Northeast in late October 2012. Rain and storm surges inundated houses, businesses, buildings of all kinds. Winds howled. Fires raged. Areas inland—even into the Midwest—as well as near the shore suffered Sandy's deluge and destruction. Tens of thousands of trees crashed to earth. Power lines and the poles that held them snapped, substations flooded, transformers exploded. The world went dark and cold for millions of people.

While there are many lessons to be learned from such a disaster and its long-lasting aftermath, one certainly is worth learning and not that difficult to implement: communicate thoroughly and well.


The foundation of successful crisis communication is that it must address not only facts—acknowledging damage, presenting a plan and timetable for resolution, updating frequently, sharing details and their impact—but feelings.


Before an organization faces a crisis, it should plan for possible scenarios and its reaction to each. It should have a crisis communication team in place to reduce delays in disseminating information. Among the items that the team then prepares are contact lists for its members and senior management but also for media outlets, governmental offices, and regulatory agencies.

The team should assemble backgrounders or fact sheets about the organization and its consumers as well as statements and responses for possible scenarios; each should take into account the diversity of audiences affected and the needs of each. When a crisis hits, a quick response will be mandatory; being ready with thoughtful and sensitive statements and accurate information allows an organization not only to answer the need for information but to present itself as true to its mission.

Map out a media strategy plan that helps the organization gain and maintain control of its messages. Include in this plan procedures for using social media. Some companies prepare a crisis website in advance, bringing it live only if a crisis occurs. Some count on Facebook and Twitter to keep its messages moving. But all designate someone to be in charge and ensure that messages are consistent; all prepare channels for feedback to reach the organization.

Finally, select and train spokespeople in advance. They should be credible and authoritative, able to deliver messages with concern and empathy, focused completely on the audiences suffering or inconvenienced. Training should include anticipating media questions and then preparing and rehearsing responses.


Once a crisis hits, activate the crisis communication team immediately. Its purpose is to present information through clearly articulated messages and then to update that information regularly—even when there's not much new to add. Coordinate the content and flow of information among spokespeople and internal stakeholders, not forgetting what employees at all levels need to know. Shape messages so that various audiences can understand how the content relates to their situations.

Remain available and in close contact with those audiences. Monitor social media and act quickly to correct misinformation or to supply breaking news. Stakeholders—including media—will be reading and posting, so maintain a steady presence.

And your messages? Provide instruction. Express empathy. Be transparent. Announce updates. Keep messages pertinent, accurate, and informative. Stay sharply focused on your purpose, your desired outcome.


Supply new information as it is available—on causes, on progress, on obstacles. Examine your organization's performance in resolving the crisis and communicating effectively, implement ways to improve both, and share that information as a step toward repairing any damage done to its reputation, to its ability to fulfill its mission.

But most importantly, assess your pre-crisis preparedness. Revise, change, strengthen. Make ready. Be ready.