I was definitely hasty this weekend, when I blogged that the media overplayed the impact of the bad weather. They went a bit heavy on the blame game (as always), but things have definitely got worse since then, with today seeing the heaviest day’s snowfall in decades in some areas. Christmas plans have now been wrecked for many.
Having listened to the news, seen and heard from people about how ‘we’ are coping, there are two communication-related issues that hit home like a dose of frostbite.
1. Good comms makes a difference: emergency services, highways officers, local authorities and the Met Office have all gone into overdrive to get clear messages to the public – and help take some of the incredible pressure off the front line. Speedy updates on websites, ‘real time’ messages on Twitter feeds, media relations and getting information to front-line staff all play a part in keeping people informed at times like this. There should be a review of this activity after the event to learn the lessons. But the difference getting timely, accurate information out to those who need it can make shouldn’t be underestimated.
2. People hate bad comms: there are plenty of things to lash out at when you have been stuck in a car or on an airport floor for 12 hours: the absence of snow trucks ploughing to the rescue, no emergency food or clothing and just being stuck with no end in sight are bound to drive you mad. But the one issue that came through routinely on TV and radio bulletins from Heathrow today was frustration at the lack of information supplied to people caught in the chaos. Some phone lines and websites were down, people said, and complaints were rife that staff were unavailable to advise on when their nightmare would end.
I’ve often thought that expectations of what’s possible when conditions turn so drastically bad can be unrealistic. But flash crises like this demonstrate that good (and bad) communications, as well as snow ploughs, really do matter.
They have also convinced me, once again, that my family is right not to travel too far over the festive break.