Recap: Preparing & Managing During a Crisis

By Justine Sutton

Crises seem to have become more the rule than the exception in recent years, with Santa Barbara no stranger to wildfires, flooding, and debris flows. We continue to see increasing weather-related crises all over the world and for the past year, we have all been affected by the crisis of the global pandemic.

On the evening of February 3, members and guests of AWC-SB gathered via Zoom, which is almost starting to feel normal now, with next month marking one year that it’s been necessary to meet this way. After welcoming remarks by President Lisa Osborn came the Member Spotlight.

This month our featured member is writer and editor, Joan Tapper. Founding editor of National Geographic Traveler and longtime editor of Islands, she has since served as editor for several custom publications and is sought-after as a private editor for writers of fiction and nonfiction alike.

After hearing about the exciting career of Joan we then went on to our main event—a presentation on Risk and Crisis Communications by Sheri Benninghoven, APR.  As one of two principals of SAE Communications, she provides counsel to the firm’s public agency clients. Some highlights of Sheri’s career include serving as a member of the adjunct faculty of the USC Annenberg School for Communication, Public Information Officer for the City of Anaheim, and Communications Director of the League of California Cities. Sheri is currently a founder/instructor at the California Specialized Training Institute’s (CSTI) crisis communications program.

Sheri dove right in by sharing her three main takeaways:

  • You almost certainly will be impacted by a crisis.
  • You can often avoid a crisis.
  • There are steps that can help you through a crisis.

She went on to share detailed and varied guidance on communications in such situations.

Principles of Crisis Response:

—Generate confidence and trust

  • Support ongoing decisions.
  • Support in a crisis.
  • Support when you’ve made a mistake.

—Act quickly, strategically

  • Right spokesperson, messages, strategy, tactics, training

—Pull right players together immediately!
—Public feels a right to know

  • Why did this happen?
  • Could it happen again?
  • What will change?

—Tell the truth

  • It will come out… guaranteed!
  • Assume everything you say/do/write is public.

—Say you are sorry if warranted.

“Wow, so much great info,” said AWC-SB Secretary, Lisa Danhi. “Not only about crises, but also about communication in general.”

Sheri mentioned Luz Reyes-Martín as an example of how to handle a crisis by showing a video clip of Luz in action. In February of 2019, during Luz’s first week on the job as Santa Barbara City College’s Public Information Officer, the campus had to officially close due to excessive rain and flooding in the lower parking lots. Despite the challenge, Luz remained calm and composed, getting the information out quickly to those who needed it.

“That’s why Luz is our Woman of Achievement!” said Lisa Osborn. “Join us in honoring her on April 30 at our Women of Achievement event.”

The meeting concluded with a lively Q&A, and then on to the door prize drawing.

The lucky winner of a set of handmade notecards by AWC member Leslie Dinaberg was also-member Julia McHugh Orlosky. “I am so happy to be a winner,” said Julia. “I love Leslie’s work!”

SB Independent columnist and AWC member Starshine Roshell had a unique parting comment. “I’ve never been to a Zoom meeting where so many people left their cameras on. Way to go, communicators!”

Be sure to join AWC-SB on Wednesday, March 3, at 5:30 pm for The Power of Poetry for a Communication Professional. Inspired by Amanda Gorman’s Inauguration Day poem, this program will feature local poets and illuminate how writing, hearing, and even reading poetry can help us be better communicators in all fields of cmmunication.

Justine Sutton graduated from UCSB and has adopted Santa Barbara as her hometown. She’s a freelance writer, certified in Weddings and Funerals as a Life-Cycle Celebrant® and is currently training as a voice actor.

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