Effective Communication

EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION 6

“The Katrina Calamity”

The United States has experienced several hurricanes. It would beexpected that with experience from previous similar calamities, thenation is better placed to respond fast and save lives and propertywithin a short time. However, Hurricane Katrina of 2005 proves thecontrary. In 2005, New Orleans faced Hurricane Katrina, largelyaffecting the Golf coast, and exposing the lack of preparedness tocommunicate during a crisis (Seitel, 2007). During the incident, itwas apparent that the administration was unprepared, and did notinitially view the Hurricane as a threat. Poor disaster response islargely because of ineffective public relation. Public relationsentail acting by effectively communicating to the public about thedisaster as it ensues.

The case study presents the public as the people living in NewOrleans, as well as their relatives. These were the immediate victimsof the disaster. Other publics are the media, the “FederalEmergency Management Association (FEMA)” and “Department ofHomeland Security (DHS)”, representing the individuals dealing withthe Hurricane directly, internal publics. Others are New Orleansgovernor at the time, Kathleen Blanco, president, George Bush and hisadministration, and the National Guard, external publics (Seitel,2007).

The facts and reactions to Hurricane Katrina demonstrate the needfor effective communications between the external and internalpublics. Katrina hit the southeastern region of Louisiana on 29August 2005, during morning hours (Seitel, 2007). It flowed from theMexican gulf landing in Mississippi, as well as Alabama. Due tostrong winds, Lake Pontchartrain, which was full, was drawn to NewOrleans canals. The outcome was a failure in floodwalls to hold thewater causing it to flow over the leeves resulting in floods andenhanced devastation in New Orleans. Thousands of civilians weretrapped, in addition to not having basic needs. The outcome wasthousand dead and millions in damage. When the Hurricane occurred,the president was on a vacation, which he did not stop to respond tothe incident. 31 August 2005, is when he reacted to the Hurricane.The same day, Louisiana’s governor made a request for the militaryto assist in rescue operations. Other responses were from FEMA, whoseresponse was delayed and ineffective.

There are factors that made it difficult to communicate. Theyinvolve communication breakdowns making it hard to find missingpersons. It was not possible to reach restricted regions because oflack of dependable transportation. Katrina resulted in power faults,hence making it impossible for even generators using fuel to work.Facilities that would have aided in communication were not sparedsome were destroyed completely while the remaining wereinsignificant. Cell sites as well as radio stations in the regionsthe Katrina happened could not operate, making it impossible to getreliable and firsthand information.

The case is an illustration of the relevance of effectivecommunication during a crisis. Effective communication begins byhaving a properly planned disaster response approach, one that suitsall kinds of disaster. The approach acts as a guide on how to passinformation amid the different publics involved, and who shouldhandle what sectors in the event. There was a major miscommunicationbetween the external and internal publics. While the internal publicsexperienced the severity of Katrina, the external publics did notunderstand that it was serious until later. The internal publicfailed to exert pressure to the external public, by not convincingthem of the disaster. The external publics were the listeners, whoseimmediate response could have meant saving more lives and property.

There were more communication challenges during Hurrican Katrina. For instance, the use of differing frequencies in New Orleans made itimpossible to communicate to each other. Another issue was theabsence of a single command unit. As a result, area searches weremisinformed impeding and slowing the rescue operation, as some ofthose responding visited some rescue regions more, whereas otherregions were not visited. The first individuals to respondunderestimated the magnitude of the Katrina (Seitel, 2007). This isattributed to poor communication on its severity. An effective way ofcommunicating the message would have been demonstrating theseriousness of the disaster, via more on ground press coverage. Abetter approach would have been having a spokesperson in charge ofinforming on the events as they unfolded, as well as informing andpushing for the needed reaction from external publics. The reactionto the disaster should have been uniform making it easier to rescuemore victims.

PR happens via the internet, media and trade publications. There werediverse public relations communication tools as well as methodsemployed in notifying, persuading and encouraging the public. Themost effective tool during Katrina was the media. Mediarepresentatives from different stations camped at the site, eachgiving their own view of the story. Hence, it was not possible toauthenticate what was true or incorrect. The presence of many mediarepresentatives also resonated to too much information being providedto the public, on different issues of the Katrina. Other toolsemployed involve phones from the first individuals to respond, eithercalling for assistance, or informing of the Hurricane Katrina.

The FCC later implemented an “Internal Task Force” whose roleinvolved providing dogmatic relief, responding to special requestsand engaging in outreach (Seitel, 2007). The FCC was in control ofinformation exchange amid FEMA, NCS and White House. A major failurein PR is that the internal publics lacked a proactive approach tohandle news coverage. To some extent, they also relied on informationfrom the media. Crisis communication is integral in PR. Any effectivePR communications ought to have an approach of dealing with crisiscommunication, which entails employing tools and methods thatreinforce the disaster response efforts.

The American government and civilians have learnt a lot from previouscalamities, and Katrina itself. The lessons learnt involve the needto communicate effectively and respond timely. Supposing the similarsituation happens today, the response will be fast and moreeffective. There have been advances in technology making it possibleto assess the possibility of a calamity happening. However, thegovernment must work on ensuring that communication structures inplace are capable of handling the magnitude associated with disasterslike Katrina. This ensures that there is no communication breakdownbetween the public(s). There ought to be back up power in place,strong power lines and strong radio frequency. Such advances arepossible through using updated technology. In addition is the needfor more training on disaster response, or preparedness. Tools touse, personnel and PR approach should be in place and respondimmediately after a disaster. Crisis communication differs from otherPR approaches, hence the need for a well laid out plan forcommunication methods during disasters. Better communication easesthe rescue operations and avoids stoppable damage and deaths.

Reference

Seitel, F. P. (2007). The Practice of Public Relations. NewJersey: Prentice Hall.