Hitting the Target in crisis communication

targetI received this email (right) from the CEO of U.S. retailer Target Corp. (“Expect more. Pay less.”) in January. Target sent it to 70 million past and present customers. I thought it was a scam or spam because I haven’t had a Target account for 20 years. My son got the same message, and he discovered it wasn’t a scam: http://read.bi/LtorDk

Background: Hackers stole card numbers and personal information of maybe 100 million Target store customers (not online shoppers) in a two-week rip-off during the year’s busiest shopping season. New York Times http://nyti.ms/1dEqI8E

Timeline of Target’s “data breach” http://strib.mn/1jsB2lL

I was in Minnesota on 19 December when the theft was announced (Target is headquartered there) and have watched the company’s crisis communication since then. I.T. professionals will know more than I about lapses in Target’s information security, but I think the company’s crisis communication has been remarkably well-organized.

  • Once you know it’s real, the letter is simple and clear. The CEO is apologetic, offers a remedy and a Target website to go to get more information.
  • His email has the company’s logo but no other graphics, and the links in his message are in plain text, not HTML. Someone in Target’s Guest Relations or Press Relations understands the basics of email security.




Why PSA’s don’t work

For preparedness messages, as in stand-up comedy, timing is everything.

After thousands of Public Service Announcements (PSAs) like “preparedness for individuals” (in English and in Spanish), “preparedness for business” and “preparedness for New York City,” and websites like Ready.gov, only 6% of Americans have done any preparation at all, and just 17% say they’re ”very prepared” for disasters. You might conclude, as the authors of this article did, that The Preparedness Message Isn’t Reaching the Public (from the November 2012 issue of EmergencyMgmt magazine).

PSA’s do reach lots of people, of course, but they don’t seem to motivate people to prepare. Why?

No one is motivated by gory pictures or finger-wagging lectures from public figures. I know I’m not – and I’m generally receptive to preparation messages because I make my living spreading them. In fact, images of leaking nuclear power plants, collapsed houses, flooded villages, even distraught victims don’t motivate us; they overwhelm us. ‘Well, it’s hopeless’, we think to ourselves, or ‘I can’t do anything about it anyway.

Yet thousands of people all over the world donate generously to relief efforts for people they’ve never met in other countries- in Haiti, in Japan, in Indonesia – out of desire to help after a disaster. They won’t prepare themselves in advance, but they’ll willingly help others afterward.




Crowd-sourcing haze response in Asia

To stop annual fires that threaten the health of millions of people in Southeast Asia, separate the science of location from the politics of responsibility

A few months ago smoke from illegal burning in Indonesia represented an immediate danger to life and health in Singapore, where I live. On Friday June 21, “haze” originating in Indonesia caused Singapore’s Pollutants Standard Index (PSI) to peg the meter at 401, an airborne contamination level at which it is not only hazardous, but genuinely difficult, to breathe.

I think life-threatening haze from illegal fires fits into any broad definition of the word “disaster.” Haze reaches Singapore most years in the dry season when land in Indonesia is cleared for farming, but the consequences hadn’t been so miserable since the “large-scale air quality disaster” of 1997. There is no reason to expect it will stop until its perpetrators (by whom I mean landowners of palm and pulpwood concessions, not just the farmers who do their bidding) are stopped. Resilience professionals – emergency managers, business continuity managers, risk managers, crisis managers, security managers – could help.

As a downwind resident and as a resilience professional, I really want to know exactly where the burning plot is located so someone can figure out who owns it and who is responsible for burning it illegally. Helpless in the haze, Singapore government agencies pressed officials in Indonesia to make their land-ownership maps public specifically for those purposes.




Designing better emergency procedures

I recently found this two-page sheet of emergency procedures for Chevron House, an office building in Singapore’s Raffles Place. Chevron House has for many years had biometric fingerprint readers for access control, the only building in Singapore at which I’ve seen them. They must take security and emergency preparation seriously. I’m glad the property manager thought it worthwhile to create instructions for tenants (a visitor wouldn’t be answering a bomb threat call).

If you were designing something similar for your workplace, I’d suggest these improvements.

  1. The Office Emergency Procedure side says, “Please keep this in a prominent place”, but the Bomb Threat Checklist side says “Place this card under your telephone.” Both are good advice – for separate sheets of paper. The bomb threat side should be laminated if it is to survive under the phone on your desk for months or years.
  2. The Egress Plan view (upper left corner) is much too small to be read, especially through smoke in a fire (but I can’t read architectural floor plans even with clear light and eyeglasses). It should certainly have a ‘You are here’ label to orient the viewer. It should be posted next to stairwell exits and in elevator (lift) lobbies. It should be larger, of course, but the only sure way to learn evacuation is to practice, practice, practice.




“I regret to inform you”…by text message

A human resources manager in Singapore told me during an exercise she planned to notify next-of-kin of  injured or deceased employees by text message (SMS). I was stunned. If there were a worse way to receive sensitive, painful information, I can’t imagine what it could be.

The rules for ‘breaking bad news’ are:
1. in person: never by phone, email or text
2. in time: anxious relatives want news – good or bad – as quickly as possible
3. in pairs whenever possible: a man and a woman are the best combination
4. in plain language: the facts, frankly and clearly
5. with compassion: as you would want your doctor to tell you.

Here is a page of tips for breaking bad news from Counsellor Suzanne Anderson MSW at SACAC in Singapore. You can learn more about death notification and practice doing it in Suzanne’s Crisis Communications & Crisis Intervention course.




Forbes Kay Parsons Charrette 2022


A one-day exploration of ways to turn risks in the next ten years into opportunities. (Get it? 2012 + 10 = 2022) Forbes Kay Parsons Charrette (FKPC) is an accelerated planning workshop focused specifically on how to get a return on your investment in organizational and community resilience planning.

The FKPC 2022 is an innovative approach to resilience organized by Nathaniel Forbes (Singapore), Robert Kay (Australia) and David Parsons (Australia). As far as we know, no one’s ever organized a charrette on resilience risks and opportunities before. What’s a charrette? It is “an intense period of design activity…organizing thoughts from experts and users in a structured medium that is unrestricted and conducive to creativity and the development of myriad scenarios:’ From Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charrette

FKPC 2022 will be held on Sunday, 24 June 2012, at the Ontario Bar Association in downtown Toronto, Canada. Admission to FKPC 2022 is CAD $395.00, including lunch. Participation is limited to seventy-five (75) people selected from the public, private and non-governmental sectors.

Sunday, 24 June is the Sunday before the World Conference on Disaster Management (WCDM).




Turning risks into opportunities: FKP Charrette June 2012

A one-day workshop about turning risks into opportunities
with the theme “understanding future sources of human-induced disasters”
led by Nathaniel Forbes, Robert Kay and David Parsons

The Forbes Kay Parsons Charrette 2022 (FKPC) is a one-day exploration of ways to turn the risks of the next ten years into opportunities. (Get it? 2012 + 10 = 2022) FKPC  is an accelerated planning workshop focused specifically on how to get a return on your investment in organizational and community resilience planning.

The Forbes Kay Parsons Charrette 2022 is an innovative approach to resilience organized by Nathaniel Forbes (Singapore), Robert Kay (Australia) and David Parsons (Australia). As far as we know, no one’s ever organized a charrette on resilience risks and opportunities before.

What’s a charrette? It is “an intense period of design activity… organizing thoughts from experts and users in a structured medium that is unrestricted and conducive to creativity and the development of myriad scenarios.” From Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charrette

FKPC 2022 will be held on Sunday, 24 June 2012, at the Ontario Bar Association in downtown Toronto, Canada. Admission to FKPC 2022 is CAD $395.00, including lunch.  Participation is limited to seventy-five (75) people selected from the public, private and non-governmental sectors.

Sunday, 24 June is the Sunday before the World Conference on Disaster Management (WCDM).




How to manage a crisis of trust

Is sexual abuse an organizational resilience issue?

It is for Pennsylvania State University, a large, multi-campus public university (“college”) of 44,000 thousand students in the eastern United States. It could be at any organization – not just a school – if one of that organization’s employees were accused of abusing vulnerable individuals, especially children. Sexual abuse of children is a “significant public health problem” in many parts of the world, including the United States.

College (university) sports are a billion-dollar business in the U.S., a source of weekend pride and prejudice for millions of Americans. The top thirty (30) college sports programs alone raked in $5 billion in revenue last year (the 2010-2011 season). Penn State’s football team generated $73 million for the school, and they don’t even pay their players.  So the business impact of losing the trust of a campus, a community or a country because of criminal sexual conduct is enormous.

If you were a trustee of an educational institution at which lurid charges of sexual abuse by an employee had publicly exploded onto every screen in the land, you’d have a right to expect the school’s administrators to have a crisis management plan, and to brief you about it.    The trustees of Penn State have hired a public relations agency, Omnicom Group’s Ketchum agency, to advise them about crisis management.




WCDM Disaster Management Conference

The World Conference on Disaster Management (WCDM) is the leading global gathering for emergency professionals from the public and private sectors. The speakers are from all over the world. The networking opportunities are tremendous; 1,800 attendees are expected next year. And Toronto is a spectacular place to visit in the summer.

The theme of the 18th WCDM from June 15-18, 2008 is “Resiliency – Individual, Community and Business.” If you live in Asia, and you work in emergency response or management, business continuity, risk management, security, disaster recovery or crisis management, WCDM is an opportunity to share what you’ve learned by making a presentation.

Submit your presentation idea by December 2, 2007. You can submit your proposal online: write up to 250 words to describe your presentation, then click on “Call For Papers.”




Where *Is* That?

I receive email warnings from the U.S. National Oceanographic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Pacific Tsunami Warning Center about earthquakes that might cause tsunami events in the Pacific Rim. The service is fast, free and helpful to emergency response authorities.

Just since late July I’ve received alerts for several earthquakes: two in the South Pacific, two in the Aleutian Islands (Alaska), the big one off the coast of Peru. The PTWC warnings are text-based so they can be received on the lowest common technology denominator, I suppose. The alerts contain no HTML links to the PTWC web site where you could see maps showing the locations of earthquakes.

So I can find it hard to place an event’s latitude and longitude in my mind – “2.7 NORTH 127.5 EAST”, for example. Most people can picture “the coast of Peru,” but I must admit I’m a bit hazy about “North Moluccan Sea.”

Where is that, anyway?

You can find out quickly and simply, and in stunning detail, in Google Earth. Download and install Google Earth (15 megabytes) onto your computer. It’s free. And sign up to receive the PTWC alerts by email. They’re free. too. Then wait for an alert message to show up in your mailbox.

Inside each alert you’ll find data for these parameters:









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