Brand perception: 2017 Hurricane Lessons Learned

The 2017 hurricane season has proven to be particularly trying for many businesses, as they worked around maintaining operations during Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria, and Nate. As a result, many organizations found themselves questioning how to properly adjust policies and practices to mitigate risk and also protect their brand image.

Companies with outbound contact operations have been most susceptible to brand exposure, as they have had to tread carefully to remain efficient while not coming across as uncompassionate to those whose lives have been upended by hurricanes.

So how can companies, especially those with outbound components, reduce the risk to their brand reputation while remaining efficient during disasters? We advise companies to take a compassionate approach to brand and business management.

Look at your risk management strategies
Is your organization proactive or reactive when it comes to brand risk? If recent stories are any indication, it appears that many organizations are still working within a reactive environment, which can cripple brand reputation.

This is especially true for businesses with outbound contact strategies, as a slight miscommunication can cause major brand risks. For example, if your organization is making sales calls when consumers are enduring a hurricane and focused on surviving the disaster, you’re likely to face an unwelcome response. The same rules can be applied following a disastrous event as well. Imagine reaching out to a consumer to inform them that their mortgage payment is late when their house is no longer habitable. In each of these examples, a desire to maintain a “business as usual” approach can cause your consumer to take to the social airways to voice their concerns about your brand. Instead, corporations should focus on proactive outreach during disasters. Key to this process is developing a risk strategy built around both natural and manmade events.

Develop your disaster strategy
To mitigate brand risk, work to develop a strategy that takes a compassionate approach to business operations and your interactions with consumers affected by the disaster. This strategy should look at both outreach efforts as well as internal employee education to ensure that all relevant parties know their role in the strategy. Not only does this help protect your brand integrity and minimize your exposure to risk, but also helps improve customer relations.

I have seen contact centers email or text consumers ahead of a forecasted disaster to ensure that they are properly prepared for the event. I have also seen corporations alter their post-disaster outreach strategies to give consumers proper time to heal and rebuild.

When developing this approach, it is important to remember that not all disasters are forseen, so it is imperative to have distinct approaches to deal with both forecasted (hurricanes) and sporadic disasters (mass shootings, tornadoes), which provide limited-to-no lead time.

The media: your friend or your enemy
With any disaster comes a flood of media attention. Because missteps can cause a brand nightmare, I advise companies with outbound operations to have a story, but not become part of the story. Businesses should build a compassionate brand story that highlights their dedication to corporate social responsibility during disasters.

Coca-Cola, for example, used their brand platform to reinforce their dedication to consumer needs. During Harvey, Coke encouraged local aid workers to break into their Beaumont, Texas plant to pillage for drinking water and other supplies to support the community, which had been ravished by the storm. Not only did Coke take a proactive approach in supporting the community, it also showed that the town’s well-being was far more important than lost revenues.

Compare the positive impact of Coca-Cola’s example to the media scrutiny that Joel Osteen faced during Harvey. Word of his church being temporarily closed to those made homeless quickly surfaced across numerous media channels, placing him and his church on the defensive. Although his church did open soon after this news broke, his compassionate approach remained overshadowed by his negative press.

Time to think beyond revenues
Protecting your brand during disastrous times means thinking beyond revenues and, instead, approaching your prospects/customers as human beings, with an understanding of what they may be going through.

I encourage you to look at your current operating policies and ask if you are taking the steps to become a compassionate brand? If not, it may be time to look at changes that can be made to bring compassion to your operations.

Calif. Debris Removal Presents Health, Environmental Risks

Last week, Santa Barbara, California suffered 20 casualties, countless injuries and millions of dollars in property damage due to the unprecedented mudslides that tore through the city of Montecito. Search and rescue efforts continue in the aftermath of the phenomenon, which was caused by the heavy rains washing away ground laid bare by the Thomas Fire in December 2017. The resulting millions of pounds of debris left behind present biological and environmental risks to the area. Returning residents have been warned to protect against potentially hazardous chemicals and untreated sewage that were swept along with the mudslide debris. Meanwhile, where all this mud and debris will be moved to presents another dilemma.

Public Health Advisory
On Jan. 17, Santa Barbara County’s Public Health Department issued a public health advisory to warn about potential health conditions residents and workers may face as they return to their homes and businesses. The advisory states that “unknown amounts of potentially hazardous chemicals and untreated sewage were swept into the mudslide debris that flowed through impacted areas,” and provided tips for those affected to protect their health amid cleanup and recovery.

The advisory warned that residents also are at risk of wound infections, rashes, illnesses borne from raw sewage mixing into the debris and immersion foot syndrome (also known as “trench foot”), among other injuries.

Although it was encouraged to leave cleanups to professionals, the Health Department recommended Tetanus shots for those engaged in cleanup activities who have not been vaccinated during the past 10 years. It also acknowledged that while the hepatitis A virus could theoretically be spread via exposure to feces or raw sewage, it had not received any reports of that scenario and maintained the probability is low.

Removal Efforts
Temporary solutions for moving and storing the debris are reportedly in place. According to the Los Angeles Times, dump trucks “discarded at least 3,500 tons—or about 7 million pounds—of muck at the Ventura County Fairgrounds, where it will be stored temporarily until crews can sort through it.”

The Times continued:

Up to 1,000 tons more—per day—could eventually make it down to the Calabasas Landfill. To help with cleanup efforts, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday passed a temporary waiver to allow the intake through mid-April.

Santa Paula Materials, which sells rocks and recycled construction debris, will collect the rocks that are hauled out, while Standard Industries, a building material manufacturer, will take the metal and tires, said Lance Klug, spokesman for the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery’s Office of Emergency Services.

Wildfire Cleanup Ongoing
The mudslide debris removal compounds the already daunting task of clearing Thomas wildfire debris in other areas. On Jan. 12, the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES) announced that its cleanup program had moved nearly 1 million tons from the burn scarred areas and had completed work in Yuba, Butte, Nevada and Lake Counties, but “still had much work to be done.” The Environmental Chemical Corporation will continue the massive undertaking of debris clean-up in Sonoma, Napa and Mendocino Counties that were hard-hit during the October 2017 wildfire siege.

The Better Business Bureau issued guidelines for removing both wildfire and mud debris, classifying it into four main categories and recommending disposal in the following ways:

  • Branches, trees and vegetative wastes​ can be separated from the other debris and later can be sent to the community burn pile. These wastes can also be sent to a permitted disposal site.
  • Construction debris​. The structural materials from houses and buildings—such as concrete, boards, shingles, windows, siding and pipes—can be taken to the closest construction and demolition landfill or a permitted municipal solid waste landfill.
  • Other household wastes, ​such as trash and furniture, should be sent to a permitted municipal landfill.
  • Hazardous wastes​. If you believe the waste contains regulated hazardous materials, more care and caution is needed. These wastes should be containerized, labeled, and ultimately sent to a facility that is permitted to store, treat or dispose of hazardous wastes. In these instances, it is important to contact the department to discuss proper disposal procedures.

The guidelines also provide a full list of items that require special disposal, including pool chemicals, tires and commercial and medical waste.

Calif. Mudslides Leave 15 Dead

Heavy rains in southern California have caused mudslides in some areas, killing at least 15 people and trapping hundreds. The deluge of mud now covering homes, businesses and freeways are the result of heavy rains washing away ground laid bare by the Thomas Fire—the state’s largest wildfire to-date—which burned more than 280,000 acres in December.
Many of those who had returned home after the wildfires have been evacuated for mudslides. The New York Times wrote:

As the mud rushed into lower-lying neighborhoods in Montecito, a wealthy hillside community where many celebrities have homes, the power went out and gas lines were severed, said Thomas Tighe, a resident. Officials said Tuesday night that it could be several days before gas service would be restored. They also said power failures were affecting more than 6,000 homes and businesses in the area, adding that many parts of Montecito were without drinkable water.

Driving rain started at about 3:00 a.m. on Jan. 9. By Tuesday, more than 5.5 inches of rain had fallen in parts of Ventura County, the National Weather Service said.  A mandatory evacuation order for about 7,000 residents was issued by Santa Barbara County officials, but many would not leave. As a result, people were trapped in homes and cars and on rooftops by fast-moving rivers of thick mud carrying trees and debris.
CNN reported that dozens of people have been rescued in Santa Barbara County, including a 14-year-old girl trapped beneath a house, and that parts of US 101 in Santa Barbara and Montecito have been closed.

Mudslides are not uncommon in the area, especially following wildfires, and they can be deadly. In January 2005, a landslide struck La Conchita in Ventura County, killing 10 people.

Safe Driving in the Winter ‘Weather Bomb’

The much publicized Weather Bomb, AKA Bomb Cyclone is here in full force. As the storm travels north, much of the northeast is experiencing blinding snowstorms and fierce winds, and states of emergency have been declared in five states. Schools and airports are closed and warnings are in effect for workers to stay home and keep off the roads. Some people must get out and drive, however, and so whether making deliveries, heading to or from work, or running necessary errands, drivers and asked to use heightened caution.

AAA recommends a number of precautions, including this basic tip: Accelerate and decelerate slowly. Applying the gas slowly when accelerating is the best method for regaining traction and avoiding skids, AAA said, cautioning that it takes time to slow down for a stoplight as it takes longer to slow down on icy roads.

From Rear View Safety:
QBE notes that because any hazards are magnified with winter driving conditions, all distractions should be avoided. Check out these tips for safe driving and emergency measures.

QBE’s tips for safe winter driving:

  • Avoid driving while fatigued. It’s important to get the proper amount of rest before taking on winter weather driving to reduce risks.
  • Never run a vehicle in an enclosed area, such as a garage, even if it’s just until it “warms up.”
  • Make certain your tires are in good condition and properly inflated.
  • Keep your gas tank at least half full at all times and full if severe winter weather is possible.
  • If possible, avoid using the car’s parking brake in cold, rainy or snowy weather.
  • Do not use your cruise control when driving on any slippery surface (wet, ice, sand).
  • Always look and steer in the direction you want to go to ensure safe travels and avoid possible hazards.
  • Use your seat belt every time you get into your vehicle.
  • Watch weather reports prior to a long-distance drive or before driving in isolated areas. Delay any trip when bad weather is expected. If you must travel, let others know your route, destination and estimated time of arrival.
  • Have regular vehicle inspections conducted to ensure you vehicle is in peak operating condition.

If you are snowbound:

  • Make sure you have appropriate phone numbers in your cell phone in case emergency phone calls are needed.
  • Stay with your vehicle. The car will provide temporary shelter and make it easier for rescuers to locate you.
  • Tie a brightly colored cloth to the antenna or place a cloth at the top of a rolled up window to signal distress.
  • At night, keep the dome light on if possible. It only uses a small amount of electricity and will make it easier for rescuers to find you.
  • Run the engine and heater just long enough to remove the chill to conserve gasoline.
  • Don’t try to walk in a severe snow storm. It is easy to lose sight of your vehicle and become lost in blowing snow.
  • Don’t over exert yourself if you try to push or dig your vehicle out of the snow.
  • Make sure the exhaust pipe isn’t clogged with snow, ice or mud. A blocked exhaust could cause deadly carbon monoxide gas to leak into the passenger compartment with the engine running.