Chamber professionals are called upon to wear a lot of hats. Some of those job duties are a lot of fun. After all, who can resist wielding a giant pair of scissors, for instance?
But other times our role as community leaders can be heartbreaking, especially when we’re called upon to help recover from a tragedy that affects our community.
Some chamber professionals will need to rebuild after a devastating dose of Mother Nature, while others may have to work to rebuild a community that’s been hit by something more sinister. Sometimes it’s helping a member business with a company tragedy.
Whatever the cause many people look to the chamber during these trying times.
The chamber is, after all, the voice of business and when businesses or morale needs to be rebuilt the chamber is in a unique position to help with the coordination of resources.
On this blog, we’ve covered a lot of advice on how to get through a natural disaster or help a community in mourning but in each of these cases, there are stages. The chamber can help in different ways as time goes by. For instance, what do you do after the initial coverage is gone? After the interest and help outside of your community has ceased? Where do you look to begin healing and helping outside of the obvious financial needs?
This article provides some ideas on how you can help at each step or stage.
Stages of Recovery from Tragedy
If a tragedy has befallen your community, they’re likely four stages you will go through in recovery. Each has its own set of challenges.
Stage One: During the Tragedy
This first stage is when you’re knee-deep in the thick of it. Whatever calamity has befallen your community is currently going on in stage 1. The help you provide will have a lot to do with what kind of tragedy it is whether a natural disaster, a PR nightmare for a local member such as a manufacturing plant fire, or an active shooter situation.
Stage one is all about communication and resources.
At this level, the area where you can be of the most help is sorting through the vast amount of misinformation that is occurring and making sure that you update all of your communication channels to reflect the most up-to-date and accurate information out there.
This is not a time for rumor or innuendo, even if many people want to go down that road. Instead, provide accurate information and, if possible, immediate resources that people can seek.
For instance, if it’s a hurricane situation posting up-to-date information on shelter vacancies including specific needs like those with medical assistance or shelters allowing pets can be invaluable to your community.
This is not the time to start thinking ahead about what will happen in clean up over the next few days. This stage is all about triage. From a chamber perspective, that means managing and sourcing accurate information.
If you do this, commit to it.
What is it that local newscasters always say? Usually, with ongoing issues, they say something along the lines of “We will be broadcasting live until the storm passes” or “We will be broadcasting live until there’s a resolution.” This instills confidence and helps people feel like they’re not alone. They have a source of information until their immediate needs for this are over.
Let people know what you’re doing for them.
If you’re going to post updates to social media commit to a time frame in doing so such as, “We will post updates every hour on our Facebook Instagram pages” or use a specified hashtag to keep people in the loop.
Stage 2: Immediately After
In Stage 2, the immediate threat is over. While you will still be sorting through the details behind what happened or how many people have been affected, the initial incident is over.
Again, accurate information is essential to recovery.
If you can’t verify the information, don’t share it. If you find out something was not as you described it, make everyone is aware of that as soon as you know. You can be an incredible resource for the community but only if you’re giving accurate information. Nobody needs conjecture at this time.
The next thing you want to coordinate is resources for people who need help. This could be working with FEMA in the situation of a natural disaster or it could be helping people understand what resources there are for their own mental health.
Also, you can serve as a resource for people from other communities who are trying to locate loved ones or understand what happened. While you won’t have the manpower or the phone lines to talk to every out-of-town friend and family member, you can keep your website and social media profiles updated with accurate information and, if appropriate, inspiring images.
Have you seen the meme that is attributed to Mister Rogers? It reads something along the lines of in the middle of tragedy you should always look for the helpers. Your chamber can be one of those helpers and you should highlight others who are doing the same.
While this may feel like a strange marketing tactic, it is actually beneficial for the community and outside interests to see bravery at a time of tragedy.
Stage 3: the Rebuild Begins
Whether it’s a physical rebuild of your town or an emotional one, at this stage people are trying to restore a degree of normalcy. If it was a natural disaster, businesses have applied for assistance, grants, or insurance payouts. The checks may be on their way but they’re always slower then what businesses need.
This is the time that inspirational communication is essential but so is help with processing administrative details.
For instance, if a business owner lost their physical location they may need somewhere to receive mail. The chamber may be able to provide assistance on this matter.
Look for ways you can help community businesses, especially if the chamber was not physically damaged.
If it was, you may be able to pair up business professionals who weren’t as hard-hit by the tragedy as others were with professionals who need assistance.
This may also be a time when you can help with fundraisers or communicating the needs for donations. The chamber has a vast reach. You can use it.
Get specific in understanding the needs of your community members. Don’t use polite generalities like, “If you need something let me know.” They may be so overwhelmed they don’t even know what they need from you. Make specific offerings to them such as, “Do you need a place to meet with your team?”
Stage 4: Navigating Forgetting
Your community will never forget what happened but people providing outside media exposure and financial resources will. After a while, they’ll move on to the next tragedy. You can be assured that they’ll move on sooner than your need for help ends.
While the media can be incredibly helpful in getting quick funds into your community, when they cut off their coverage, you’ll likely still be in need.
This is where the chamber can help in coordinating and communicating the efforts of the organizations and individuals out there that are in a position to make things better.
Chamber pros can do some amazing things but it’s likely for some of the rebuild of your community that you’ll need to rely on the people who do that sort of thing professionally. In those situations, you can again act as a resource to provide that information to the community and also a bridge between people and organizations to make those introductions.
But another thing is needed from you in stage 4 … hope.
It’s a fine line to walk, but as the voice of business, you will need to help communities outside of your own to understand that your community was not beaten. It still exists and it will return to its original splendor.
If it was a natural disaster that occurred, you will need to let people know when restaurants and lodging are open again. Inform on what attractions are available and when the infrastructure has been rebuilt.
If the tragedy that befell your community was a business malfunction like in the case of a wildfire or pollution (like an oil spill), you will need to let people know when it’s safe to visit your community, like when the water’s clear and the air quality has returned to normal. If it hasn’t all returned to normal, be honest about that. If beaches are open for swimming but fishing still isn’t allowed, communicate that.
People will appreciate the honesty.
In a situation like this, you may find that by providing these resources you become an amateur scientist and are able to talk about things you previously thought nothing of.
If the tragedy was a safety issue involving a live shooter, you will need to help people feel confident that your community is safe and that sort of incident will not happen again. To do this, you can interview professionals in the area to help people understand the dynamics behind what happened. You also can talk to security professionals on how they’re helping with preventative measures in the future. Share these on your site and social media.
Overcoming a tragedy in your community is never easy but it is possible.
As a community leader, people will look to you. As they read/watch your response, it will influence their own. If you’re able to provide accurate information and up-to-date resources as they’re discovered, you can make the best of a terrible situation.
It’s not uncommon for even the most experienced decision-makers to go into shock when a tragedy occurs. Many of your community will need you to tell them what to do–or at the very least–where they can seek assistance.
Nobody wants to be in this situation but if you’re able to disseminate information and act as a resource your entire community will benefit.