Batten Down the Hatches: Crisis Communication is Key to Weather Emergencies

Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman

Recent events have reminded not only emergency managers, but all of us, that devastating weather events can strike at any time – and that comprehensive planning is essential for a quick and efficient response. From ruptured water mains to natural floods, no county is immune from water-related emergencies.

During the 2018 MACo Summer Conference panel “Batten Down the Hatches! Weathering a Water Crisis” attendees learned how Maryland counties are collaborating with industry professionals to ensure that comprehensive crisis management plans are in place to address these emergencies quickly and efficiently.

Art Shapiro, Howard County Department of Public Works, Bureau of Utilities Chief, and Chair of the Maryland Wastewater Agency Response Network, began the session by discussing the recent flooding events in Ellicott City, and the importance of incorporating lessons learned during the first flood into their response to the second event. Mr. Shapiro also explained how Howard County was able to balance the needs of needs of Ellicott City with the needs of the entire county during the recent extreme weather events.

Ellen Coren, CEO, Chesapeake Public Strategies

Ellen Coren, President & CEO, Chesapeake Public Strategies, provided an overview of the “rules for crisis,” and how different crises call for different approaches. Coren also discussed real-life case studies of crisis communications, the role of social media in crisis response, and the importance of preparedness.

David McDonough, WSSC Division Manager, Police and Homeland Security, talked about the importance of communication between local, state, and federal officials/agencies during an emergency. Mr. McDonough also discussed the role of water utilities in incident command, response, and public safety writ large. McDonough concluded his presentation by describing how WSSC communicated with local governments, customers, and the community during recent water main breaks.

Mark R. Weaver, Esq., Communications Counsel, Inc. closed the session by providing a recap of the panelist’s presentations. Weaver, a national communications advisor with nearly three decades of national and Ohio-based experience with public and private sector clients on crisis communications and media relations, also served as the keynote speaker for the 2018 MACo Summer Conference.

The session was moderated by Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman and was held on Thursday, August 16. The 2018 MACo Summer Conference was August 15-18, 2018 at the Roland Powell Convention Center in Ocean City, MD. This year’s theme was “Water, Water Everywhere.”