The Next Crisis


(By Mike McVay) The 20th Anniversary of 9-11 took place over the weekend and it was impossible to avoid hearing, seeing or thinking about it. Many media outlets shared memories, aired tribute vignettes, replayed old news reports from that eventful day that changed how we lived before 9-11. On-air personalities spoke about where they were when the terrorist attack took place. Some broadcasters were prepared for any type of crisis, but most weren’t prepared for an attack on US soil.

Twenty years ago, no one had really thought of signing with a news network for Crisis Coverage. I don’t even know if such a service existed on 2001. Stations who were without a news network plugged their audio into a TV and broadcast CNN or other channels, without permission. Some stole what news they could get from the internet, which also wasn’t as smart then as it is today. Cell phones weren’t as smart then as they are now. The 9-11 attack on America was three years before Facebook.

In the months that followed, many broadcast organizations held seminars that included sessions on what to do in case of another such attack, or a weather crisis, or an act of God that takes lives. We were all on high alert. America stood as one. There was a unity, out of necessity, that was palpable. The feeling of togetherness faded with time, as did the belief that we needed to have an action memo handy so that Program Directors, air-talent, engineers, sellers, traffic and management would know what to do. Watching the coverage of this past weekend rekindle in me that feeling that we should always be prepared for times of crisis, regardless of the type of crisis.

You’re at a music, sports or any kind of non-news station when a crisis of 9-11 magnitude happens, or a life-threatening weather event like Hurricane Ida or natural disaster like an Earth Quake takes place, which should bring a response from your management to change the stations programming to 100% news. It may be from your own news department or crisis coverage from a network, but you have to have a source to be able to provide the audience with information. It is understandable that if a listener has access to a video source, they may go to that upon hearing the news from your station, but what you’ve done with that announcement is provide your audience with the comfort that they can depend on you as a source for important or urgent information.

You’re at an All News or News/Talk station. This is your Super Bowl. Go wall-to-wall coverage and provide your community with the survival information that they need. If you’re far from the epicenter of the action, focus on the incidents impact on your community. For instance, gasoline prices went up since Hurricane Ida. When 9-11 happened, all communities found themselves applying new security measures, and travel as we knew it prior to 2001, changed dramatically.

Before your audience can depend on you, you must be ready to react, and that means being prepared and having rehearsed for a crisis. Create a CRISIS FILE on your computer and on your devices, but print it out as a back-up, in case of a power failure.

The CRISIS FILE is a quick reference of how to respond to a variety of emergencies. Each page lists the order of contact for each event. Thus, removing “what should we do” time wasting guessing when minutes count. Make the printed version easily accessible and in an identified area. Put it on-line at your company Intranet. Memo your team where to find this information.

CLUSTER CONTACTS-First, know how to react as a cluster. Talk about what you want your audience to walk away with from listening. Page one should contain the office extension, home phone, cell phone, email info, and probable vacation contacts; especially if not in the same building for the MM, ND, PD, Sales Manager. Call-In Staff, Cluster Personnel, News Network Contacts, Chief Engineer, Other corporate executives in the event your situation involves other markets. Include the Studio direct numbers, just in case. What’s the Hotline number? Do all of your primary team members know that number? Prepare response guidelines for on-air, intercompany communication and for the press so that your words during an emotional period do not come back to haunt you.

LOCAL CONTACTS, ALL DISTRICTS-Police, Fire, County Health Departments, Center for Disease Control, Hospital Emergency Rooms, EMS, Schools, Government, Prosecutors, Roads & Highways cross referenced, Transit, Taxi, Delivery Services, and FedEx.

GOVERNMENT CONTACTS-City, County, State/Regional and Federal.

UTILITIES-all contacts for Gas, Water, Sewer and Electric.

CRISIS FILES-Think-out-of-the-box as you prepare the contents of each of the categories. Pull-in your team for ideation. For example, for an airline crash, include the airport fire tower, control tower, fire stations near airport, airport EMS, rental car service desks, FAA, major airlines, general aviation spokesman …for all airports in your region. Bring depth and detail to each category.

WHENEVER-WHATEVER-Airline Crash, Commercial, Airline Crash, Private, Amber Alert, Amusement Park Accident, Arrest, Company Personnel, Assignation/Death, World, Assassination/Death, Local, Assassination/Death, National. Beach Emergency, Bioterrorism, Blizzard, Bomb Threat, Bridge Collapse, Building Takeover, Public, Building Takeover, School. Drowning, Earthquake, Economic disaster, Epidemic, Evacuation Plans, Explosion, Fires in a Hotel, Public Building, School, Forest Fires, Floods, High Speed Chase, Hostage Situation, Hurricane, Kidnapping, Nuclear Accident, Pandemic, Mass Power Outage, Mass Road Closure, School Emergency, Space Emergency, Spills; Chemical, Oil Tanker, Toxic Waste, Terrorist Attack-Local, Terrorist Attack-National, Terrorist Attack-World, Tornado, Major Traffic Accident, Major Train Wreck, Tsunami, Volcanic Eruptions, War – Declared or Not Declared, Water/Sewage Problems, Weather/Drought, Weather/Extreme Cold, Weather/Extreme Heat, Weather/Severe Warnings.

What can you add to this list that’s right for your market and stations? Precious minutes during breaking news of crisis magnitude is not the time to decide how to respond, but rather to react.

 Mike McVay is President of McVay Media and can be reached at [email protected]


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