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Thursday, November 08, 2007

Communications, Flooring & SoCal Wildfire Update

I promised in California Wildfires to update you on how the flooring industry has been affected by the Southern California wildfires.

First, we confirmed that the Mohawk representative whom we thought had lost his home did not. He was evacuated, but is back.

And, from all reports, the stores we work closely with also made it through. Some closed for a few days, but are back in business.

Floor Covering Weekly reports SoCal fires: Flooring companies deal with the destruction on 10/29/07 that more than 1,300 houses burned down, including the house of the founders of Pacific Solutions - suppliers of management software for the flooring industry.

The situation has radically improved since then, although the Sierra Sun's Firefighters warn of continued wildfire threat in California by Michael R. Blood from 11/06/07 states that "catastrophic wildfires that burned across the state last month and in 2003 were of an intensity that should be witnessed rarely — perhaps once a century, they say. The proximity of those fires has raised fears that furious blazes could become more frequent, threatening lives and property."

The result is a state task force to review responses, preparedness, building codes as well as "issues from radio communications to building codes to aircraft used in firefighting..."

These issues of communications got me thinking about Communication in a Crucible: Imagination vs.Image Control During California Fires by Communication Overtones' Kami Huyse. She says that "as communicators we are increasingly faced with the choice to either build new bridges with people or work to deceive them." She develops these thoughts in depth in Communication in a Crucible: Imagination (Red Cross) Vs. Image Control (FEMA) During California Fires.

I've heard many say that the wildfires brought out the best in people. Kami qualifies in her article that "...the wildfires brought out the best in those who were prepared, and the worst in those who were not." Those who were prepared took advantage of the tools of social media in exciting and creative ways to share information and get it to those who most needed it. Rather than bury the crisis in bureaucracy, rather than worry about controlling the uncontrollable, they rode it, herding people in the right direction with bits and bytes of relevant and accurate information. In so doing, they eased the crisis. [Becky Carroll from Customers Rock! describes how social media positively affected her evacuation.]

Bruce Nussbaum on 10/24/07 shares a different perspective in Inside The California Fires--A Need For Innovation To Fight Them. He says "There may have been systems in place to alert people of various stages of danger, but I didn't see or hear any. Clearly, precise, constant information over the web and landlines is needed. Information that provided odds of your house being in danger given the various variables, especially wind direction, would be especially valuable." The comments point to innovations with specific links and examples, although the state task force will have plenty to discuss.

We have learned lessons since Hurricane Katrina, as Kami describes in her article: crisis communication requires a multitude of ways to reach people with timely information.

Although the same can be said anytime a message needs to be communicated, a crisis creates urgency. And urgency demands immediate effectiveness. That's where creativity and preparation come in.

As you think about communications in your business, prepare. And then consider how to engage the energy, creativity and enthusiasm of those around you to get the word out. Certainly in bad times, but also during good times. You might be surprised at the range of unusual yet effective social media channels available.

Photo courtesy of Greer Leisz, our Wear-Dated Regional Manager for the Central Region, whose cousins both live in Orange county and were affected by the fires. The Santiago fire was within 5 miles of one cousin's home. The other cousin housed family friends who lost their home down near San Diego, yet were able to get their horses safely evacuated.

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