In 2018 Annual Conference

By: Brandi Gomez, Pensacola Chapter (IG and Twitter: @brandiagomez)

Category 5 Hurricane Irma made landfall to Florida in September 2017. The unpredictable storm had residents and businesses on their toes and ready to take action.

During this time, Sarasota Police Department Public Information Officer Genevieve Judge was enjoying a time away from work, hiking and taking much needed vacation. Disconnected from cell service and media outlets, she caught a glimpse of the news while eating dinner. Reality hit that a storm was about to hit her hometown.

Genevieve immediately switched to high gear and crisis communication mode.

“Vacation or not, when a hurricane hits Florida, you’ve got to get to work,” said Genevieve.

Her advice was to “be a part of that conversation as soon as possible and start sharing and telling your story immediately.”

And that’s exactly what she did.

Sarasota Police Department made outreach to community partners and began sharing weather updates. Key messages included informing the community they were “all in this together” and “we’ll be with you through it all.”

The department posted photos of their officers on duty, local shelters that were open and more. Coverage continued after the storm, showcasing restoration efforts and sharing posts from community partners.

“We wanted people to see the folks that left behind their families to protect the community,” said Officer Ben Tobias with Gainesville Police Department.

Ben and Genevieve worked closely together throughout the storm coverage to leverage support from their channels.

Overall, their goal in crisis communications is to humanize the badge. Through effective communication they were able to keep their communities safe and informed.

Lessons Learned:

  • Leverage technology and social media
  • Know when humor is and is not appropriate and know your audience
  • Watermark your photos and videos. News channels will often pull content from social media so make sure you get credit. A free app you can use is iWatermark.
  • Partner with community organizations and peers to share your message. Collaboration is key!


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