WATER COURSE: What you can learn from communicating the floods

Flooded road and fields

Great floods have flown from simple sources, William Shakespeare once said.

And great cursing will have flown from more than one person caused by the UK floods of 2020.

Few parts of the country have been unaffected by weeks of heavy rain.

But in any emergency there are lessons to learn for all comms people.

In any crisis, people perform well or if they don’t people tell them and they learn quick. It’s been the case since bonfires were built to warn of Viking ships on the horizon.

Forget the emerging channels such as TikTok or instagram. In an emergency, your website, Twitter and Facebook are the three places to concentrate resources.

All this may be flood related. I’m convinced there are approaches you can transfer to your regular comms.

A website done well… clarity is the lesson

Simple information clearly presented.

What warnings there are and where.

Flooding alerts can be found in England, here, Wales here, Northern Ireland here and Scotland here. A map accompanied by clear messages helps point people towards their part of the country so they can read the relevant update.

But aside from gov.uk a page on the council website can be handy to provide extra information. But if the CMS is clunky and you struggle to update it then a pop-up WordPress site ideally you’ve made in quieter times can be useful as a way to get the message out.


Email alerts… sign posting from your inbox is the lesson

If you’ve opted in for Midland alerts through the Met Office here for example then that’s what you get. Which takes you to the relevant webpage.


Again, clarity is the lesson.

Video on social media… real time updates are the lesson

We don’t trust text that much. We trust photographs a bit more but right now in this era of deep fakes we trust video the most. So, updates from the scene in selfie mode are fine.

One of the weaknesses of Twitter is that it has slipped to 7th in the rankings of most popular channel. One of its strengths is that it has a lot of journalists and opinion formers on it. So, if you want to get this out by the regular media let West Mercia Police show you how to do it.


Facebook… sharable content is the lesson

Here, Telford & Wrekin Council give a real time image with a real time date stamped warning. Such sharable content mean it can find its way into community Facebook groups.

On Facebook, people really want to stay on Facebook and never leave. So, chucking the link to the flood warning page won’t really cut it. Post the content in its entirety if you can so you put the information where people are.

You shouldn’t expect people to come to you.

You should be going to them.


WhatsApp… an internal group is the lesson

Email is great but the flexibility of a whatsapp group can cut through really effectively. One for the comms team, absolutely. But also one for people who are on duty. It’s an excellent way to channel back footage and images that help the decision makers and also inform the public, too.

Facebook… reaching the right community group is the lesson

A Facebook group is a digital Parish pump. It’s where people get together and share notes. So, when Ironbridge is at risk of flooding the Ironbridge Gorge Community group is where the community goes.


Social media… Devolving it to the frontline is the lesson

I’ve been banging a drum for this for the best part of 10 years. Police and the Environment Agency are still those who have picked the ball up and run with it best. Give frontline staff training and the tools to access social media and in an emergency you can tap into that. Like this Environment Agency officer.


Web resources… pre-prepare is the answer

Where can you get sandbags? What do I do if my property is flooded? These are part of a list of questions you’d be asking if you were a resident.

Chances are if 500 homes were at risk of flooding there’d be 500 people all demanding answers to the same questions and the phone would be ringing off the hook. If you have a place where people can go for the answers you’ll have the info provided.

Like Gloucestershire County Council here.


What’s extra clever is that they don’t just have it as a web resource but they have it as a printable advice guide, too. Why printable? Simple. Because sometimes the power is out and people don’t have access to the web. If that’s the case then printing of resources can be useful. If your team is thinly stretched friends, family or others can do the task too as its on the website.


With thanks to Heleb Evans, Nigel Newman, Michelle Atkinson, Becky Allen, Mirian Louise Brown, Charlotte Walker and Nicola Davies.

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