Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Basic Error 

Among mistakes that occurred during the flood of New Orleans last year, one has apparently been revealed in a new documentary being shown on HBO. This is the former police chief's admission that he passed on rumors of rapes and murders to the media without checking whether any were true. He claims that he "erred on the side of caution. I didn't want people to think we were trying to cover anything up. So I repeated these things without being substantiated, and it caused a lot of problems."

Aaargh. Rule one of any crisis is to know the facts before speaking because one doesn't want to mislead the public.

I don't want to pick on the fellow. He has been through enough, but his admission says something about leadership in New Orleans a year ago. How could a municipal leader have risen so far without crisis training? It is PR 101. What is the state of disaster preparation in other municipalities around the US? Are officials trained in how to handle communications in crises?

It is possible that in a disaster so large and so overwhelming that this fellow's judgment broke down. If so, it is understandable in hindsight, if not forgivable. He admits his bogus reports harmed the relief effort because aid workers were afraid to enter the city and other communities turned back refugees.

New Orleans should become a case study in how not to handle crisis communications -- a case study taught to every municipal official in the US.


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