Calgary Rises Above Adversity In The Midst Of A Crisis

August 12, 2013

On June 21, 2013, Calgary experienced some of the worst flooding the city has ever seen. More than 75,000 people were displaced, roads were closed, and the entire downtown core came to a halt.

Natural disasters cause havoc no matter the size of the area impacted. They disrupt the normal flow of life and leave people anxious, stressed, and wondering what to do next. What often adds chaos to an already stressful situation is the confusion of information that occurs during the initial hour. The first hour is full of rumours and half-truths. Add social media into the mix and the spread of that false information can become a nightmare.

So how does one avoid losing control and maintaining a sense of normalcy? In the book, Cases in Public Relation Management, Patricia Swann outlines some key points for crisis management. This includes: putting the public first, being honest but not speculating, and being accessible to the media (pg. 115).

So how did Calgary’s crisis communication team measure up?

A leader is only as good as the people around him or her. This couldn’t have been truer in this situation. Although Mayor Naheed Nenshi was the face that most Calgarians saw during this time he was part of a hard-working team that included federal and provincial government representatives, emergency response personnel, city officials, and disaster management personnel, to ensure that Calgary would be able to overcome this disaster. Through Facebook and Twitter, Mayor Nenshi communicated by posting crucial information on Facebook and tweeting more than 160 tweets within the first 72 hours.

Mayor Nenshi is known for interacting with his social media followers and used this medium to answer questions and calm the nerves of concerned citizens. In addition to keeping communication lines open with social media, Mayor Nenshi’s face was ever-present on television as he did numerous media briefings and interviews. The mayor delivered crucial information, fielded questions, and when appropriate, displayed his sense of humour. Most notably was his disappointment for not being able to invoke the Darwin Law for those individuals who took to the Bow River during the disaster.

The damage to homes and businesses was significant, with major damage to the Stampede grounds with less than two weeks to go until the kick-off of the 101st Calgary Stampede. Many citizens were bleak about the future but Mayor Nenshi faced those questions head on.

“We’re heading into tough times,” Mayor Nenshi said. “As people get into their homes and their home is in trouble, people will feel despair… we have to lift them up with our love and support.”

The determination of the city shined as people lent their time and resources to help each other out. Through “Hell or High Water” took off as the slogan for the 101st Calgary Stampede highlighting the resiliency of the city to celebrate its heritage.

Another element that should be noted is showing appreciation for those who helped along the way. Building and maintaining relationships is crucial and Calgary had support from across the country. There wasn’t a shortage of “thank-you’s” expressed by Mayor Nenshi through media interviews, social media, and face-to-face interactions. One of the favourites was the ad that The City of Calgary placed in the Edmonton Journal titled: “Edmonton, your generosity runs deep.”

Now there’s a way to diffuse the cities’ rivalry.

The leadership of Mayor Nenshi resonated with many Calgarians as praise flowed from social media channels including the hashtag #nap4Nenshi and t-shirts with the mayor’s face on it to raise money for relief efforts. Overall, Mayor Nenshi was informative, available, and answered the hard questions with just the right touch of humour. In a situation where chaos could have broken loose, citizens remained calm just like their mayor. The road to recovery is still a long one but based on the leadership of Mayor Nenshi, the citizens of Calgary are in good hands.

What do you think could have been better? We would love to hear your thoughts!

Sources cited:

Swann, P. (2010) Cases in Public Relation Management, New York, NY, Routledge

CBC News/Canada

— Randie Anderson, Communica