n672533972_6431By Christina M. Loznicka, APR

A few months ago I shared how Allstate responded to a series of tornadoes that terrorized Southlands shoppers last June. Natural disasters create one of the most intense crisis situations for an organization – they are random, personal, primal – and for a property insurer potentially devastating.

But a small tornado in Colorado isn’t major news much beyond the Front Range. Good Morning America may give it a quick mention at the start of the broadcast, but Diane Sawyer won’t likely be spotted at McCabe’s.

However when the largest fire in the history of Los Angeles County threatens tens of thousands of homes, drawing fire department support from as far away as Maine, killing two brave firefighters and sends hundreds of families to Red Cross Shelters you find the stakes are suddenly raised.

And suddenly I was spending my Labor Day Weekend not camping in the Black Hills of South Dakota as originally planned, but in the San Fernando Valley of Southern California to help protect my corporation’s brand (and provide respite for my California colleagues who had spent a week working long hours in the smoky air).

Responding to the situation in LA County was not too different than responding to the thunderstorms in Denver this summer. The basic steps are the same as those I previously outlined. You still want to have a plan in place, keep informed, be accessible and remember those affected.

But when Brian William’s is going live from Incident Command and Gov. Swartzenager is touring afflicted areas, you need to make sure all those elements are executed smoothly, consistently and perfectly.

Constant communication and collaboration were our main cadence. I worked closely with leaders from our California region and our Corporate Relations teammates in Chicago. I had a short time period to learn how the key messages I had shared in Colorado, Kansas and Missouri following catastrophes applied in California. I had to be debriefed on any differences in our policies. I had to learn an entirely new media market. I had to figure out the LA freeway system.

The communication, teamwork and collaboration between regional leaders in California and our Chicago home office allowed me to step into the mix and generate positive media coverage for the corporation and brainstorm outreach efforts for those affected.

In the end, the fire burned more than 160,000 acres and at the time of this publishing is more than 61 percent contained. The amazing and courageous fire fighters kept the flames at bay. In total, 78 homes (mostly cabins) were lost. Tens of thousands of homes were spared. But we were ready. We were there for our customers in their time of need.

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One Response to Responding to the California Wildfires

  1. Gina Seamans says:

    This is a great story about how a solid crisis communication plan should be scalable. The basics are basic even when Brian Williams is on the sideline.

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