Hurricane Harvey’s comms lessons for disaster prep

The weathercasters were calling Hurricane Harvey a "rain event." Citizens prone to flooding took the warning seriously and prepared their homes.

Photo credit: Getty Images
Photo credit: Getty Images

It was your typical August in Texas: hot, humid, and sunny. There was a storm brewing in the Gulf of Mexico, but Texans are fairly cynical about overhyped hurricanes. In Houston, hurricanes are just part of life in the summer. Most people are prepared with canned goods and spare batteries for when the wind blows out the power.

The weathercasters were calling Hurricane Harvey a "rain event." Citizens prone to flooding took the warning seriously and prepared their homes.

Initially, the rain from Harvey was no different from past storms — only it wouldn’t stop. Parts of the city that had never flooded were drowning. Many were unprepared for the outcomes and required rescue. Fortunately, much of the city still had power, and our cell towers were not affected.

Clients were calling from around the country offering to help. The challenge was every major highway to Houston was flooded. We worked with multiple clients to accommodate donations following the storm. Lesson: Have a plan for natural disasters that includes navigation and planned giving for clients.

Offer comms support to local leadership prior to natural disasters and mobilize teams to assist where needed

As the largest independent PR firm in the region, we are well known to local officials. The national media descended upon Houston en masse. The mayor’s office called Pierpont and asked for assistance. We provided two people to work with media at the convention center shelter for a few days.

Our team hosted national media, helped identify evacuees for sharing stories, and assisted the mayor’s team with comms. Lesson: Offer comms support to local leadership prior to natural disasters and mobilize teams to assist where needed.

Each hurricane teaches Americans new lessons, but Harvey gave us a series of different perspectives and lessons to learn.

Nancy Sims is SVP at Pierpont Communications in Houston

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