By Deborah Hudson, ABC
Vice President, Member Retention; Past President

Since the outbreak of the Covid pandemic, we’ve seen a catalog of great crisis communications – and some really awful examples. 

In the last week, as the fast-moving Bobcat Fire has threatened Mount Wilson and Los Angeles’ foothill communities, I have seen some exceptional crisis comms from the City of Monrovia. I take as my measure, the Crisis and Emergency Risk Communication Guidelines by the CDC:

Be First: Crises are time-sensitive. Communicating information quickly is crucial. 

Be Right: Accuracy establishes credibility. Information can include what is known, what is not known, and what is being done to fill in the gaps. 

Be Credible: Honesty and truthfulness should not be compromised during crises. 

Express Empathy: Crises create harm, and the suffering should be acknowledged in words. 

Promote Action: Giving people meaningful things to do calms anxiety, helps restore order, and promotes some sense of control.

Show Respect: Respectful communication is particularly important when people feel vulnerable. Respectful communication promotes cooperation and rapport. 

The City of Monrovia’s twice daily updates and virtual town halls meet all of these guidelines. They are factual, transparent, and personal. There is no panic, no empty promises, but a real sense of community.

For example, from Sept. 14: 

As of this morning, the Bobcat Fire has burned 36,366 acres and is 6% contained. There are currently 888 fire personnel assigned to the fire, including 78 engines, 17 handcrews, 5 helicopters, 4 aircraft, 8 dozers and 5 water tenders.

Crews today will be focused on strengthening and improving the fireline between the south end of the fire and the foothill communities. When possible, control lines will be established on the fire’s edge and you can expect to see strategic firing operations. …

Thank you, Monrovians for your water conservation efforts! At this time the need to conserve water for active firefighting efforts is no longer present. Please resume watering your lawns, washing your laundry, and – for the many of you wonderful residents who were so happy to share with us, go take a shower! …

Monrovia remains under an evacuation warning.

As of Sept. 17, the sky is still full of ash, the Bobcat Fire has burned more than 50,000 acres, and it is only three percent contained. But the comms are under control.