Crisis Comms Lessons from Cyclone Gabrielle Review

By Nikki Wright

In times of crisis, effective communication is not just important; it's essential. The recent independent review of the Hawke's Bay Civil Defence Emergency Management (CDEM) Group's response to Cyclone Gabrielle has shed light on the critical role of robust crisis rehearsal planning and comprehensive communications guides. As communications practitioners, it's imperative that we draw upon these insights to ensure our clients are well-prepared to navigate any potential crises they may face.

Lessons Learned from Cyclone Gabrielle

Cyclone Gabrielle, a devastating event that struck on February 14th last year, underscored the importance of having solid crisis communication strategies in place. The review conducted by former Police Commissioner Mike Bush revealed some significant shortcomings in the response efforts.

One notable takeaway from the review was the excessive reliance on social media channels for disseminating critical information during the crisis. While social media undoubtedly has its place, it became clear that it couldn't be the sole avenue for communication. Many residents lacked access to power, mobile coverage, or the internet, highlighting the need for diverse communication channels that ensure inclusivity and reach.  Radio has a key role to play in emergency communications as many people have a ‘grab bag’ with a radio in it (solar, wind up or battery powered).

Additionally, the review highlighted gaps in the CDEM Group's preparedness, particularly in the absence of a comprehensive communications plan. Decisions were often made on the fly, exacerbating the challenges faced during the crisis. Moreover, some communication staff were hesitant to engage with traditional media outlets, further impeding the dissemination of vital information.

To address these challenges, it's crucial to prioritise crisis rehearsal planning. By simulating crisis scenarios and rehearsing response protocols, organisations can identify and address weaknesses in their communication strategies proactively.

Furthermore, the development of comprehensive crisis communications guides is paramount. These guides should outline clear protocols for communication channels, messaging strategies, and stakeholder engagement. It's essential to emphasise the importance of engaging with traditional media outlets, recognising their role as vital partners in crisis communication efforts.

Looking ahead, the evolving media landscape in New Zealand presents additional challenges. With the potential loss of key news outlets and programmes like Newshub and TVNZ’s Sunday, Fair Go, midday news and 1News Tonight, corporations must adapt to ensure effective communication during crises.

As television remains a primary source of information, particularly during emergencies and natural disasters (1pm press conferences anyone?), the potential elimination of long-form news programming underscores the importance of our public broadcaster, Radio New Zealand (RNZ). In times of crisis, having access to reliable information through channels such as RNZ can be invaluable.

In conclusion, the review of the Hawke's Bay Civil Defence Emergency Management Group's response to Cyclone Gabrielle offers valuable insights for corporations seeking to enhance their crisis communication preparedness. By prioritising crisis rehearsal planning, developing comprehensive communications guides, and adapting to the evolving media landscape, organisations can better equip themselves to navigate crises effectively.

As leaders in corporate PR consultancy, it's our responsibility to ensure our clients are prepared to communicate effectively, transparently, and empathetically during challenging times.

Latest Blog Posts

Get in Touch

Give us a call, send us a message or call in and see us.  We’d love to hear from you.