Peggy Hale, Bill Szczytko, Alan Pentico and Neuvel say nothing beats back crises like a well-coordinated communications plan.

Peggy Hale, Bill Szczytko, Alan Pentico and Neuvel say nothing beats back crises like a well-coordinated communications plan.

Imagine a catastrophic storm hitting the core of your apartment portfolio, or wildfires consuming an entire county and most of the homes and buildings within it. Think it can’t happen to you? Think again, said multifamily veterans at AIM 2013 who have recently been on the front lines of crisis communications.

“Six months ago to this day, Frankenstorm (Superstorm Sandy) was coming up the coast and headed straight for our 60 communities on the coast of New Jersey,” said Morgan Properties vice president of sales, training, and marketing Peggy Hale. “In the wake of the storm, 50 communities had no power or heat, all 60 communities had either flood or roof damage, and three communities were uninhabitable, with our Holiday by the Bay community a total loss of 226 apartment homes and 600 displaced residents.”

In a panel presentation that at times became emotional, Hale joined San Diego County Apartment Association executive director Alan Pentico, Bozzuto director of corporate communications Lauren Neuvel, and Maryland Management director of IT Bill Szczytko for a look at how social media tools and technology have impacted resident communications during crises and disasters.

“In today’s social media age, you very quickly realize that your company has an unlimited list of ‘unofficial’ spokespersons communicating information about your brand, particularly in a crisis,” said Neuvel. “As many residents, employees, friends, vendors, family, colleagues that you have, that’s how many arenas you need to think about communications during a catastrophic event.”

Even with modern technologies, marketers and communicators need to be adaptive to all available channels during a crisis. During the San Diego wildfires, cell towers were incinerated, the Internet was jammed, and the best way to communicate between locations was via fax, said Pentico. “When a wildfire comes in San Diego it goes from an acre to 1,000 acres in under an hour,” Pentico said. “We had 600,000 residents evacuated, relied on faxes until the cell towers were repaired.”

The AIM panelists agreed that a head-in-the-sand approach is the worst way to plan for a crisis or communicate during one. “Don’t be afraid to fail or make mistakes, as it is vital to lean how to prepare the next time,” said Szczytko. “Communicate by using the best channels to get the messages out: communicating bad news quickly is better than not communicating at all. Just keep your sense of humor, because in the heat of the moment people will say some terrible things.”

Download the Order From Chaos panel presentations here.

Session Twitter Feed:

@TonyAtSequoia In a natural disaster texting works but calls and voicemails won’t work. #aimconf

@shashib Constantly update the technologies of your crisis plan as it changes so fast #aimconf

@GraceHill Crazy impressed that @TheBozzutoGroup gives managers a crisis mgmt wallet card. Seriously smart. #AIMConf

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