PR teams in Cumbria join forces to manage safety messages during flood crisis

PR teams in flood-hit Cumbria joined forces this week in a concerted effort to communicate safety messages through the downpour.

Rising tide: flood damage in Cockermouth
Rising tide: flood damage in Cockermouth

The public sector PR operation saw teams from the county council, ambulance service, mountain rescue, army, Environment Agency and primary care trust all come together in a united front led by the Cumbria Constabulary. They have been working 24 hours a day.

The council's four-strong communications team moved into the police headquarters last week.

Cumbria County Council's head of communications Steve Park said: 'We would not have survived unless we joined forces in the way we did. Bringing people together in that situation was right.'

As floods hit Cockermouth and other areas last week, the main priority was to give residents the information they needed in order to remain safe. The communications team relied heavily on BBC Radio Cumbria, which was asked to stay on air for 24 hours.

Meanwhile, dealing with the national press interest was 'incredibly difficult', said Park - although he denied it was a distraction from communicating with local people, saying the media response had been 'fantastic'.

Over the past week, the area experienced visits from both Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Conservative Party leader David Cameron.

Cumbria Police Force head of communications Gill Shearer said the aim was to get information on the floods through to the media within an hour of it being reported by the strategic group.

'The media are incredibly demanding and wanted all information as quickly as possible. The media were coming to us with rumours they had received, and we had to deal with them in a fast and proportionate manner,' said Shearer.

As the danger subsided, the council began to take back control of the communications function from the police. However, this situation could be reversed again as the area braces itself for the 100mm of rainfall that has been predicted to fall during the coming days.

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