In Crisis: The Power of Community
|Kristin Johnson | Bio | Posts
24 Nov 2014 | 11:20AM
August, 2011, marked nearly a year to day that I moved into a new apartment. In typical New York fashion, I hadn’t truly met my neighbors yet. Paper-thin walls gave me more than enough of a window into the world of the woman directly next door, and we had exchanged little more than first names and the requisite pleasantries whenever we bumped into one another in the hall. That particular August, however, changed that.
New York City was on alarm for Hurricane Irene.
Neighborhood grocery store shelves emptied and batteries sold out everywhere as local leaders and the media heightened warnings for people to prepare for the worst. When dark came, the public transit stopped and the entire city sheltered in. Living alone at the time, and heeding the caution to stay away from the windows, my only companion and view to the outside world became my television. But I wasn’t alone in that experience.
Transfixed by reporting of wind, rain and water rising, I was startled to hear a small knock on my door. I peeked through the hole and recognized my neighbor, in her pajamas, clutching a bottle of wine in one hand and a glass in the other. She was nervous – terrified, actually – and needed company. I’m not easily distressed, but I am in the business of helping companies and leaders find calm in the proverbial storm. So during this literal storm, it was my nature to help. I invited her in, grabbed a wine glass for myself and got to the business of meeting my neighbor.
Though we never became best friends, there was a newfound security in knowing that there was someone reliable nearby. Someone had my back and I had hers. It’s important to bring humanity and humility into disaster planning. We need each other.
Cities are investing in community as a disaster response tool.
It is ironic that, in the most ‘networked’ age in time we are operating more autonomous than ever. As Sherry Turkle said in a 2012 TEDTalk, we are “alone together.” But that reality presents vulnerability. Relationships and the ability to come together is an essential component of disaster preparedness, endurance and recovery.
Thursday’s Wall Street Journal highlighted that with an interesting spotlight on community resilience programs. The article, titled in the print version, “Disaster Plans Go Hyperlocal,” outlined how San Francisco is taking steps to bring cohesion to the community in order to strengthen emergency-response. This preparedness is part of a larger “100 Resilient Cities” plan started by the Rockefeller Foundation and now in 10 cities, including San Francisco. According to the Foundation:
“We can’t predict the next disruption or catastrophe. But we can control how we prepare for and respond to these challenges. We help make our cities better at adapting to the shocks and stresses of our world and transforming them into opportunities for growth.”
Community can strengthen corporate crisis management, too.
Just as we need each other at the hyper-local levels in neighborhood communities, companies need to foster communities and nurture them at the local levels as well. And, while many companies have a plan in place for ensuring they are prepared to manage and recover from events and issues with the potential to negatively affect operations, finances or reputation among stakeholders – it is less common to test that plan.
Just as community can play a pivotal role in the success or vulnerability of a neighborhood’s response and recovery to an emergency, community can also carry great weight for a company to have the ability to employ a crisis response plan. Community factors that could influence the success – no matter how strong the plan – may include:
- Do employees know one another?
- Do employees communicate effectively with each other?
- Do employees trust one another?
- Do employees care about one another?
- Do employees believe in the mission, vision, values – and leadership – of the company?
At Logos, in addition to helping clients develop plans and processes for issues that affect business, as well as issues unforeseen, we help companies test these plans to ensure that every level of the organization is in a position to deliver on roles and expectations. During these simulations, we often uncover that cultural or hyper-local considerations disrupt assumptions in the plan. That doesn’t mean that the plan has to change, but it does uncover clarity that needs to be addressed at a local, community level. It’s often a simple communication clarification that circumvents the escalation of a local issue into a full-blown corporate crisis.
While the world continues to turn and we whirl through life with our noses in devices and data, it’s important to remember that it’s connectedness – not connectivity – that we seek in the face of life’s greatest challenges. For this reason, be it neighborhood or be it corporate planning, it’s important to remember the importance of community.