1 Running head: CRISIS COMMUNICATION INCLUDING SOCIAL MEDIA 1 Crisis Communications Plans Including Social Media: A Comparative Analysis of Joplin, Missouri s and Moore, Oklahoma s Tornado Crises from a Public Relations Perspective Bethany Reed Missouri State University
2 CRISIS COMMUNICATION INCLUDING SOCIAL MEDIA 2 ABSTRACT This study conducts a comparative analysis of the Joplin May 22, 2011 tornado and Moore May 20, 2013 tornado implementation of crisis management plans including social media in reaching and informing the mass audiences. Through the narrative paradigm, the two tornado cases will be examined and specific recommendations for formulating a crisis communications plan will be discovered.
3 CRISIS COMMUNICATION INCLUDING SOCIAL MEDIA 3 CRISIS COMMUNICATIONS PLANS INCLUDING SOCIAL MEDIA: A COMPARATIVE ANALYSIS OF JOPLIN, MISSOURI S AND MOORE, OKLAHOMA S TORNADO CRISES FROM A PUBLIC RELATIONS PERSPECTIVE A natural disaster can strike at any given minute to any given person. There is no method to exactly know when, where, how, and who are going to be affected by a natural disaster. People all over the world can attest to these statements. The people of Joplin, Missouri and Moore, Oklahoma are two of the most recent communities that have been greatly affected by the action of a natural disaster, both being a tornado. Specific crisis communication plans are formulated for situations such as these, but the harsh reality of actually having to place one of these plans into action is hard to overcome. Both cities have crisis communications plans that were used in these unfortunate events. Each case quickly saw the evolution of social media and its importance into these plans. Social media has become a part of daily life for many people all around the world. It often is one of the first places people search for news and information. Social media helps to stay informed with different social circles and groups that one has active participation. Social media being such a prominent element in people s daily lives, both Joplin and Moore saw that developing a crisis communication plan that involved social media was essential to providing information and reaching the mass audiences. This requires a different course of action than other types of crisis communication plans. Through a comparative analysis it can be seen in the Joplin May 22,
4 CRISIS COMMUNICATION INCLUDING SOCIAL MEDIA tornado and Moore May 20, 2013 tornado implementation of crisis management plans including social media for reaching and informing the mass audiences. The devastation between Joplin and Moore is harsh to the United States. Each of these cities lives turned completely upside down. These natural disasters showed no mercy during their times of destruction. Both events left massive holes in the lives of many residents, businesses, families, and friends of both locations. Each story is unique. BACKGROUND On May 22, 2011 for Joplin, Missouri, it seemed to be a typical May day with a warm weather, a cool breeze, and expected inclement weather to come in the evening. Joplin High School s graduation was taking place; people were out shopping for groceries, or participating in church activities. Nothing seemed to be out of the normal. Around 5:15 in the evening, the high school graduation was ending with its attendees getting ready to head to their homes for parties of celebration and a tornado warning issued from the National Weather Service. This warning gave the residents with 24 minutes to take the proper actions for safety from the severe weather. The outdoor sirens in Joplin sounded at 5:17 p.m. and again at 5:31 p.m. (Gregg & Lofton, 2011). According to the Chuck Gregg and Lisa Lofton from FEMA, At 5:41 p.m., the EF-5 tornado touched down in Joplin with winds in excess of 200 mph. The path of the entire tornado was 22.1 miles long and up to 1 mile in width. As the tornado moved through the City of Joplin, it was rated EF-4/EF-5, with a damage path 6 miles long
5 CRISIS COMMUNICATION INCLUDING SOCIAL MEDIA 5 and up to ¾ mile wide (2011). The impact of this tornado was great and hit the residents hard. It is estimated that almost 30 percent of the area of Joplin was affected by the incident with 100 percent of the people affected by the tragedy. The tornado resulted in catastrophic loss of life and destruction during its 6-mile track through Joplin. The tornado caused 161 fatalities and 1,371 injuries as of May 27, 2011, making it the single deadliest U.S. tornado since 1947 and the seventh deadliest in U.S. history, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Gregg & Lofton, 2011). This tornado took Joplin by surprise, in the sense that most of its residents were used to typical Spring weather including tornados. No one expected for this storm to be this big and cause this much of an impact on the community. In the picture on the right, this map shows the estimated structure damage that was caused by the tornado throughout its path across Joplin. With the large impact to the community, communication was extremely important and it needed to be done through several Medias to ensure the news and updates reached everyone. Updates could be found on the news, radio, paper, social media sites, and by word-of-
6 CRISIS COMMUNICATION INCLUDING SOCIAL MEDIA 6 mouth. With the extreme chaos of everyone, maintain the same message with correct information was vital. Unfortunately, Joplin s tornado was not the only catastrophic event. On May 20, 2013, Moore, Oklahoma faced an event too similar to Joplin s to sit easy in anyone s stomach. On that Monday afternoon, Moore was hit by at least an EF-4 tornado that was estimated at over a mile wide (Kraszkiewics, 2013). Being a smaller town, the size of this tornado affected the community in the same major. It was major devastation with a death toll standing close to 100, including the 20 children that will killed when taking shelter in their school, Moore Elementary School. This event shook the state and created a bad taste in the mouths of the neighbors from Joplin. The recollection of the horrors they faced just two years ago. Nolan Kraszkiewics reports that over 38,000 residents were left without power after the tornado struck (2013). Due to the lack of power the news and updates were immediately taken to the social media side. This does not include the several hundreds of people in other locations wanting to outstretch their helping hands of familiarity and were searching social media for answers. Both of these events are tragic, not just to the communities at large, but anyone that was affected. Communication can provide much needed comfort to people and during such a vast and destructive event like these, it is vital. Creating crisis communications plans that include social media is essential to everyone. This leads to the research question that is of focus for this case study.
7 CRISIS COMMUNICATION INCLUDING SOCIAL MEDIA 7 Research Question: What specific recommendations for crisis communication management including social media can be taken from the examples of the Joplin and Moore tornadoes? Comparing the two events and their crisis communication management used and what they learned from them will seek to answer this question. METHODS Examining the events and the crisis communication management used through the narrative paradigm theory will really focus on the specific recommendations that can be taken from these examples. The narrative paradigm is expressive to the author, or voice, of the story. Any construct is only as good as it can be applied and provide convincing and useful understanding of actual texts, of real experience (Fisher, 357). Narrative paradigm is subjective to the reader. This meaning that the recommendations one takes from these events, might not be the same as someone else. When looking through the narrative paradigm focus, validity and probability are the key components. Validity is to what degree is the narrative true. Probability is the likelihood of the narrative to be plausible and actually take place. The source must be credible by the reader. Fisher states that narrative paradigm provides a comprehensive explanation of the creation, composition, adaptation, presentation, and reception of symbolic messages (2003). Through the narrative paradigm, each of the tornado events and the crisis communications, including social media, will be examined. Through the narrative paradigm, both sets of crisis communication plans and its social
8 CRISIS COMMUNICATION INCLUDING SOCIAL MEDIA 8 media will be seen more relatable and specific recommendations will be taken away more easily. First, the Joplin tornado event and the crisis communication plans used will be reviewed. Then, the Moore tornado event and the crisis communication plans used will be reviewed. To better compare and contrast the two events, a table will be formulated to show the similarities and differences. With these dissections, the chart will exemplify what worked for both Joplin and Moore and differences the two events had. From that point, specific recommendations will be able to be taken. According to Christine Luelf, this subject has been extensively discussed and examined by several organizations, including PRSA at a monthly meeting (2011). Throughout this study, the examination of the tragic events of the tornado that hit Joplin, Missouri in May 2011 and the tornado that hit Moore, Oklahoma in May 2013 helps aid in understanding crisis communication plans that encompass social media as a key element. Communicating throughout the time of the crisis event and even more so after the crisis is vital to the community and its members. The narrative paradigm allows for a perspective look at each of the communication plans and allows for subjectivity. It is important to include social media, especially in the technological times that society lives in. Formulating a crisis communications plan with social media is needed.
9 CRISIS COMMUNICATION INCLUDING SOCIAL MEDIA 9 DISCUSSION AND RECOMMENDATIONS Through the narrative paradigm and comparative analysis, it can be seen that the natural disaster situations are very similar when handling with crisis communication management including social media. Several key points and recommendations can be taken from both of these cases With the Joplin tornado, the crisis communication plan used was crucial to all of the community members and volunteers. One of the most important elements to a crisis communication plan is promptness. A response to the crisis released as soon as possible is extremely essential for everyone. Christine Luelf stated that after the Joplin tornado, Mercy s hospital centralized communication team gathered immediately after the tornado hit and within 48 hours they had put together a communications war room in a hotel. This is another important recommendation for a crisis communication plan involving social media. Quick responses on all media outlets are most important for all the audiences. Joplin offered several tips and press releases via social media. Several Facebook groups were made for different areas where survivors, community members, and volunteers. Some of those groups include Joplin Tornado Info, Joplin Strong, and Joplin, MO Tornado Recovery. This proved to be very helpful for everyone. It was a central location for information that was easily accessible for everyone with a Facebook. Luelf also said, Mercy offered a great example of crisis communications triage: You do what needs to be done, help your team and support your community in their time of need. This point is important to remember when formulating a crisis communication
10 CRISIS COMMUNICATION INCLUDING SOCIAL MEDIA 10 plan. It is important to know: don t block social media. When other means of communication is down like phone lines, the best and fastest way for Joplin to communicate with parents and students was via Facebook (Williams, 2012). Social media was a great way to stay connected with various sets of people and allowed people from survivors to volunteers to anyone who wanted to donate help to easily get information. The Joplin Tornado taught us several things about crisis communication involving social media. The unfortunate event of the Moore, Oklahoma tornado was too much like the Joplin event. The crisis communication plan for Moore involved more social media and audiences all around the world were able to hear and respond to the news faster after the disaster. Matt Wilson stated this on PR Daily, After the latest in a string of devastating storms slammed Oklahoma Monday afternoon, relief agencies and government officials took to the Web to provide news and opportunities to help. Several trending topics on Twitter went viral within just one day. He continues on to say that the American Red Cross posted a video statement on their website the day following the tornado. This statement directed the viewer to a downloadable application for their smart phone to track and follow the tornado relief efforts. The American Red Cross was not the only group utilizing social media quickly. The National Weather Service s office utilized Twitter and Facebook to make quick posts about upcoming weather for the area and more efforts of relief for the community. Several accounts could be seen on Twitter following the Moore tornado, including Oklahoma s Gov. Mary Fallin. She tweeted about helping victims and
11 CRISIS COMMUNICATION INCLUDING SOCIAL MEDIA 11 gave reports from Moore (Wilson, 2013). Much like Joplin, Moore had several Facebook groups and Twitter accounts made to help track the tornado recovery. With the Moore Tornado, social media was the first means of information. It is a strong recommendation to seek social media, along with other media outlets, to send out immediate information following a crisis. Immediate responses are important and show care for the people that are being affected. With social media, it is important to maintain the same crisis communication structure, with maintaining a single unified message and having a spokesperson. CONCLUSION Social media has become such a major part of everyday life. People seek social media for news and information from several outlets at once for major and minor crisis. Through the narrative paradigm, the stories of the Joplin and Moore tornados crisis communication plans were dissected and examined to find the important elements of the crisis communication plans that involved social media. Several important crisis communication plan elements can be seen from the Joplin tornado and Moore tornado. Strong recommendations can be made from these examples that include social media in a crisis communication plan. Immediate responses and remembering the importance of social media in people s lives is crucial for communication teams for a crisis. Social media was utilized in both cases by major organizations and several different parties of people seeking key information about the event and
12 CRISIS COMMUNICATION INCLUDING SOCIAL MEDIA 12 for long periods of time after the crisis. This can be seen by the activity of the Joplin tornado groups that were formed following the tornado that are still active today. The time following a major crisis, a constant feed of important information is very helpful to not only the people directly impacted, but the people who want to reach out and help. Like it was said earlier, social media has taken over as a source for information and people seek these for news and information. One of the best means of releasing information to mass publics would be through social media.
13 CRISIS COMMUNICATION INCLUDING SOCIAL MEDIA 13 References Cooper, R. (2013). Hope for the best, plan for the worst: Lessons from the tornadoes in oklahoma. National Chamber Foundation. Retrieved from Gregg, C. & Lofton, L. (2011) The response to the 2011 Joplin, Missouri tornado: Lessons learned study. FEMA. Retrieved from %20lessons%20learned%20report,%20fema,%20december%2020,% pdf Fisher, W.R. (2003). Clarifying the narrative paradigm. Communication Monographs, 56, Fisher, W. R. (1985). The narrative paradigm: An elaboration. Communication Monographs, 52, Herrick, B. D. (2012) Joplin tornado case study: Communicating after a disaster [Powerpoint slides]. Retrieved from Kraszkiewicz, N. (2013, May 21). Moore tornado: What happened? And how the sooner state plans to move forward. [Web blog]. Retrieved from
14 CRISIS COMMUNICATION INCLUDING SOCIAL MEDIA 14 Luelf, C. (2011). Crisis communications triage: Learning from Joplin s case story. [Web blog]. Retrieved from ge_learlear_from_joplins_case_story Nelson, L. (2013). Pre-disaster planning: Social media infrastructure. [Web blog]. Retrieved from Williams, T. (2012 March 19). Communications lessons from the Joplin Missouri tornado crisis. [Web Blog]. Retrieved Wilson, M. (2013 May 22). Following crushing tornadoes, help and hope spread on Twitter. [Web Blog]. Retrieved from hing_tornadoes_help_and_hope_spread_14527.aspx