While the nation prepares for a holiday weekend, utility communicators in Florida and Georgia are packing bags for the office as they prepare for Hurricane Dorian.

If you lost all communications after an intense hurricane or sweeping earthquake, would you be ready? The steps you take before a crisis hits can make a big difference with how you cope in the aftermath. Do you have phone service from different providers? Have you written answers to common outage questions and added them to Facebook Saved Replies? Do you have backup administrators for your Facebook Page?

We’re releasing a new eBook today (and none too soon) called Coping with a Crisis. This best practice guide helps you prepare for hurricanes, wildfires, snowstorms, and other types of extended outages with insights from two battle-tested communicators who survived losing critical communication channels during a hurricane. To help you write or refine your own plan, the eBook includes sample crisis communication plans from Oregon, Nevada, and Florida public power utilities.

Last week we shared a preview with 3 tips to develop social storm savvy. Today, especially as #HurricaneDorian draws near, we’re stressing the importance of having backup.

Your operations department will call in lineworkers from across the country to help restore power. As utility communicators, we need to have people in place to help during an extended outage, too.

Before a Storm Hits, Phone a Friend (or Two)

During a natural disaster, you may lose more than power. When Hurricane Michael hit Florida last October, it wiped out cellphone and internet service for more than a week.

Pioneer Utility Resources member Kristin Evans, vice president of marketing and communications at Florida’s Gulf Coast Electric Cooperative, needed help. Once she got to a working phone, she called for backup.

Kristin added Christi Scruggs, PowerSouth’s digital and creative services coordinator, as a GCEC Facebook Page administrator. She also added Bonnie Whitfield, communication and community affairs coordinator for Choctawhatchee Electric Cooperative.

Candace Croft, communications and public relations coordinator at West Florida Electric Cooperative, drove to the Alabama state line to find cell service the day after the storm. Once there, she also made Christi an admin on WFEC’s Facebook Page.

Screenshot of drone footage from Hurricane Michael“Facebook was the only way we could communicate with our members,” Candace says. “They couldn’t call us, they couldn’t report their outages, and we couldn’t communicate back with them.”

PowerSouth took drone footage of storm damage—a tool helpful both for sharing the damage on Facebook and for recouping restoration costs from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Christi shared the images and video on each co-op’s Facebook page.

“You need someone to back you up,” Kristin says. “Think of someone you trust that’s not super close to you, then add them as an admin on Facebook.”

Candace cautions that one backup admin may not be enough.

“Christi was helping me, she was helping Kristin and she’s just one person,” Candace says. “I’d encourage you to add two or three Facebook admins.”

Need Backup? Start Here

  • Task 1 or 2 member service representatives with social media duty during an outage.
  • Ask a neighboring utility communicator to be an admin during the outage.
  • Add trusted staff members from Pioneer Utility Resources, your statewide association, and G&T as admins before a storm hits.

Finding your backup is the first step. Next, make sure they know what to say. Draft answers to common questions with Facebook’s Saved Replies feature. Need a place to start? Last week Charlotte Heston, vice president of corporate services at Florida’s Peace River Electric Cooperative, sent us sample answers to the five most common questions fielded during an outage.

Support for Utility Pioneers

During Hurricane Irma, a Category 5 storm that hit Florida in 2017, staff from Ruralite magazine in Oregon handled social media responsibilities for several hours a day to give Suwannee Valley Electric Cooperative staff a break. The 3-hour time difference was useful.

Assistant Editor Pam Blair, who works with Florida co-ops on their monthly member magazine, Florida Currents, flew in immediately after airports reopened following Irma. She helped PRECO with a variety of communication tasks, including social media support, field photography, and writing.

Want to add Pioneer as your social media backup? Reach out to your editor or join Pioneer Social.

Now Available: Coping with a Crisis

Cover of the eBook, Coping with a CrisisOur new eBook, Coping with a Crisis, offers insights from battle-tested communicators who survived losing critical communication channels. Get sample communication plans, answers to common questions, checklists, and templates to help you weather disaster.

Have tips you’d like to share? Add them below or email us. Thank you! Your advice strengthens us all.