ComPRehension

Professional development and training blog of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA)
September 12, 2008

Defining Crisis


So, I get this invitation to write a blog related to an upcoming panel I’m participating on, Leaving No One Behind. I jump at the chance, not because I have nothing else to get done today, but because writing the blog is a great way to procrastinate from all that work, as I worry about my family members in Houston, hunkered down at home, bracing for Hurricane Ike. The forecast is so dire that city officials declared Friday, September 12, a hurricane-preparation day. No one goes to work; no one goes to school.

Thousands of miles away, in a city where some people don’t even know what rain is, I’m at work, but even the gray skies today in usually sunny San Diego reflect my concern.

The scenario in my Texas hometown this morning contrasts sharply with what we saw in 2005, when Hurricane Rita was aiming for the Houston area. In that event, residents were asked to evacuate, but panic and disorganization resulted in more than 100 deaths in traffic, compared to fewer than 10 deaths caused by the actual hurricane itself. Three years ago in Houston, the crisis was not caused by nature, but by man.

Today, Houston officials hope the story will be different. With the exception of some flood-prone areas of the city, from which about 80% -90% of residents have been evacuated, Houstonians have been told to stay home and shelter in place.Will the real crisis in the next 24 hours be the landfall of Hurricane Ike? Or will it be some other disaster, cause by the poor judgment of people? Will leaving people behind in Houston actually turn out to be the right strategy in this case? We’ll find out, and we’ll discuss it on the panel on October 2!

Bey-Ling Sha, Ph.D. APR, is an associate professor in the School of Journalism & Media Studies at San Diego State University, (home of the nation’s sixth-ranked public relations program). Previously, she taught at the University of Maryland, College Park, and the American University of Paris. She also has served as a public affairs officer with the U.S. Census Bureau and as a communication consultant for numerous public and private organizations. She holds a Ph.D. in mass communication from the University of Maryland, College Park, and is Accredited in Public Relations by the Universal Accreditation Board.

Join Bey-Ling Sha along with Brenda Wrigley, David Keathley, and Steve Kauffman at the PRSA International Conference: The Point of Connection on Monday, October 27, 2008 in Detroit, MI!

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