Floods, death and fires you can see from space

Last year the vagaries of the British transport system provided a real time crisis management case study on the way to the Comms2point0 masterclass, but this time it was a transport company who offered one of the highlights of the day with their ode to the North.

Back in Leeds to hear from some of the winners of the 2016 Comms2point0 awards, crisis management and emergencies were among the key themes this time. There was some great advice on offer for comms professionals so here are my key takes from the speakers:

A visual world

Mike James talked about a fire so big that it could be seen from space (with the pictures to prove it) and some major flooding that destroyed a key bridge in the town.

Selby Council utilised the power of networks and community groups, particularly on Facebook to help share key information in a much more direct and trusted way during the disaster. They discovered a huge number of Facebook groups dedicated to the market town and managed to tap into this as a key communications channel with residents.

They also offered more proof that the internet is now hugely visual with the way they used video during a serious fire that raged for several days. Their comms plan demonstrated the power of video to communicate with publics and in this instance highlight some detailed information about the fire.

The run of the mill text-based FAQs they put out got around 4,000 views, compared to more than 18,000 when presented as a video.

Building community advocates is just as important, if not more so, during an emergency than in everyday business and thinking slightly differently can help build trust and ensure your messages are heard.

Be emotive and inspire

TransPennine Express also used video but in a completely different context. They worked with a local poet to create a wonderfully inspiring video about the North which you can see here: https://www.facebook.com/pg/TPExpressTrains/videos/

Designed to inspire staff and public at the start of a four year journey to transform services there was something about the piece that really struck a chord with the audience (we were all hopeless Northern romantics I suppose).

The powerful, shareable and emotive content was the visual equivalent of mushy peas and dinner at mam’s (by dinner I of course mean 12pm) and seemed to strike at the heart of what it means to be in the North.

The execution was clever and interesting and is sure to swell Northern hearts. So much about communications now seems to be about how it makes you feel and not what it makes you think.

Remember the fundamentals

Stephanie Collinson from Wyre Council offered some invaluable advice on emergency communications based on her experiences of the extreme flooding cause by Storm Desmond at the turn of 2015.

Her mantra is ‘campaign in peace time’ so people know what to do before it becomes an emergency and ‘keep everything’, so you have an evidence base and reusable materials once the situation has calmed down.

She talked about drone footage and using social video but the key thing that stood out for me was a focus on some of the tried and tested fundamentals of crisis comms and matching the right channels for your audiences.

This meant working closely with partners, meeting people face to face and having the right messages on the ground to help people in the community. These are some of the sound, traditional skills that are sometimes lost in the digital world.

“How you deal with a major incident will make your reputation or destroy it,” she advised.


They say nothing is certain but death and taxes and a wide ranging partnership in Leeds had implications for both.

The group from across the public sector came together to deliver the Dying Matters campaign which urges people to tackle a difficult subject.

The initiative aims to start a conversation about planning for death and helping support those who may need it in times of grief and bereavement. The most impressive aspect of their work was the way agencies across the city including the various parts of the NHS, local authority and public health genuinely worked together.

With falling resources and a need to reduce organisational boundaries to be truly effective it’s something everyone can learn from.

Measure everything

The overall communications objectives of South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue service aren’t focused on dealing with major incidents, but reflect the wider organisational strategy of making people feel safer.

The team puts a major focus on behaviour change and prevention – not simply blue lights and putting out fires. They explained how they don’t really do awareness days or safety weeks, but instead carry out a series of properly targeted and evaluated campaigns that can meet these objectives.

Everything the team does (whether internal or external) must be evidence-based and measureable to show some value to the overall organisation.

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