Have a Plan Revisited

Greg Diamond – ByrnesMedia

The recent flooding in Calgary/Southern Alberta (and the stations it knocked off the air) got me thinking about an article I wrote in 2007 entitled “Have A Plan”. At the time I wrote it, Hurricane Rita was churning away in the Gulf of Mexico and people feared it could be as damaging as Katrina had been a couple years prior.

Storm intensity and frequency does appear to be strengthening as the years go by. For example, “Hundred Year Floods” are no longer century events, but rather decade(s) occurrences. Also, a storm blew through Ontario the other day with a ferocity I haven’t witnessed in the almost 10 years I’ve lived here. It did a great deal of damage as it tracked north of where I am in Burlington, but we weren’t spared here, either. In fact, I saw something I hadn’t seen since I left the prairies years ago – a green cloud. If you’re ever unfortunate enough to see one, do yourself a favour and get as far away from it as you can! Those things can sometimes spawn tornados.

Now, the last example is weather, which is not the same as climate. The former is short term while the latter is long term. I add that because I’m not interested in entering into a climate change debate, but rather use this as an example as to why it’s more necessary than ever to make sure you have steps in place should something impact your station and with the knowledge that weather is just one potential cause.

Here, then, is the article from 6 years ago, which admittedly is dated as per specific events, but still seems to stand up with regards to the message. I hope you agree.

Have A Plan

Like most of us I watched the events surrounding Hurricane Katrina with a mixture of horror over the loss of life and mass destruction, anger over the slow and ineffective relief response, bewilderment that the world’s richest and most powerful country could be left so helpless, and complete and utter awe of Mother Nature. Personally, it left me asking the question – “Where was the plan?” Professionally, it left me asking the question – “Does your radio station have a plan for the unexpected?”

The “Where-were-you-when?” event of our time is without question 9/11. I think back to that day and how completely unprepared we all were for such a momentous and unforeseen tragedy. Let’s face it, though, outside of the intelligence community, who would have believed such evil even existed, let alone the death and destruction it wrought? In short, there will always be things that go unplanned. Radio (and the media as a whole) did manage to do an outstanding job even though we ended up devising the plan as we went along.

9/11, therefore, is the extreme. There are, however, many events that can and should be planned for. Things that don’t just happen “over there”, but can and do occur wherever you may live.

One of the most obvious is fire. Sure, there are laws requiring posted emergency exit routes and most stations do have specific plans for fire that deal with putting things on “auto-pilot”, etc. but how many on your staff actually know the routes and the procedures? “Hmmm, well there is that door in the back with the evacuation route on it and we have the fire procedures on the pegboard… it’s the one at the top right that’s turned yellow with age… blah, blah” I’m willing to bet good money that a pop-quiz on the subject would turn up some nasty results.  This even goes for stations in buildings that practice regular fire drills. They are more than just impromptu coffee-breaks, y’know.

Beyond human safety, there’s the practical question of keeping the station on the air, should fire (or some other disaster) damage or possibly destroy the building. Are your computer files backed up and stored off-site? These include everything from accounting records to music databases. Does Engineering have a plan to broadcast from an alternate location, even if it means setting up shop in the broadcast hut? Katrina (and Rita) showed clearly which broadcasters had a contingency – they were the ones back up and running first.

Another emergency that is an unfortunate reflection on our times, but nevertheless needs to be planned for is an armed intruder. Having worked in a building that housed both radio and television operations, this was something that, while remote, was still very much a concern. Do you have a system in place to alert staff in case of such an occurrence? Does staff know to quickly (and very quietly) leave by the back door or other alternate entrance?

Weather, as illustrated all too clearly by Katrina is something that must be planned for.

ByrnesMedia has a client station in Corpus Christi, Texas. As of this writing, Hurricane Rita is set to make landfall in a day. I spoke with the station’s PD, Bert Clark, about his storm preparations. Here’s a guy who is prepared. He told me, in his laid-back southern drawl, “When we go into Hurricane-mode, we always ask for six volunteers to stay behind until the last possible moment. That’s done and the rest of the staff has already been evacuated. The music is off the air and it’s nothing but Hurricane info around the clock. We’ve also pulled the book promotion until at least next week.”

It’s understandable and expected that a station on the Gulf Coast would have a detailed hurricane protocol (Bert’s “Hurricane-mode” reference really says it all), but I must admit to being taken aback by how calm and confident he sounded. It seems having a plan makes his job easier… or maybe you just have to live there. By the way, Rita continues to curl away from Corpus Christi and thankfully it appears they will receive at most a glancing blow.

Fortunately most of us don’t contend with hurricanes, but what are the severe weather conditions and/or disaster possibilities inherent to your region? Depending on your location, contingencies need to be formulated and disseminated for everything from tornados to earthquakes.

One thing we in the Great White North have in abundance is snow. Personally, I hate the stuff, but our ByrnesMedia clients in Barrie, Ontario have taken snow and turned it into yet another reason for their considerable success. Their plan is not only very effective and efficient in its execution, but is a ratings-generator to boot.

For years the competition was considered the “must-listen” station when frequent, heavy snowstorms hit the area. Our client stations set about capturing that position by putting in place a “Snow Day” plan that was capable of immediately changing the stations’ direction from music-based to information-based when the situation arose. They coupled this with a supporting marketing campaign, which even included fridge magnets as a constant reminder of who gives the most comprehensive bus cancellations, school closures, highway/street conditions or closures, etc.  It took a while, but perception shifted and now they’ve manufactured a positive benefit out of a negative Canadian weather event.

In smaller markets (and increasingly in larger markets) stations are often empty during overnights, evenings and weekends. What is your procedure for dealing with an emergency while in “VT mode?”

There was a horror story that happened in a smaller British Columbia community. An emergency existed and the mayor wanted the local station to broadcast instructions to area residents. After repeated unanswered telephone calls, the mayor went to the station only to find it deserted. He actually broke in to try and air his message!

Do yourself a favour and give the police and fire departments (and in the above case, the Mayor’s Office) a “Go To” telephone number of someone with authority like the GM or Engineer.

To assist in the planning process you may look at putting together a small committee (possibly headed by your Engineer) to think through what could potentially impact your station and how best to deal with it when or if it does. Department heads would be logical members for such a committee, but look around your workplace as there could be others uniquely suited to offer input. Once the document is completed, make sure everyone reads and knows it, and then add it to your new-employee handbook.

ByrnesMedia brings a great deal of experience to the issue of contingency planning. We would be more than happy to assist you in yours.

In the meantime, I would appreciate hearing about plans you have in place at your station, including the “why’s” and the “what’s” so we may share them with all our readers.  Please email them to me at greg@byrnesmedia.com. Together, we can help each other to “Have A Plan”.