How to Alert and Prepare Your Team for Threats: Lessons from Weather Channel Correspondents

We all experience organization-wide emergencies; those times when a threat is looming and we need all hand on deck to confront, avoid, or mitigate its adverse effects. On the (hopefully) rare occasion when these incidents occur, how do you call attention to it so your team takes the peril seriously? This may be when you need to activate your Weather Channel storm coverage.

If you’ve ever been through a hurricane, there’s a tradition of Weather Channel correspondents reporting live while being fully exposed to the storm’s wrath. These reporters can barely stand up straight as they describe their surrounding whilst getting assaulted by violent wind and rain. And we have the same conversation every time, “Why are they doing this to themselves?”

Is it really necessary to put people in these potentially life threatening situations? Instead of someone being seen in the field talking to the camera, why can’t unmanned cameras be used with commentary from the safety of the newsroom? The news stations’ reply is pretty convincing. They believe the visuals of a person giving a first-hand description of the storm persuade people to recognize the seriousness of hurricane threats and take proper precautions.

Part of that is that television is all about visual proof. You want to persuade people that what they’re seeing is real and matters to them. And if they can see me standing out there getting knocked around, it’ll convince them that they should not do the same thing.—Mark Strassmann, CBS News correspondent who has covered hurricanes for 25 years

For leaders attempting to call attention to impending threats, hurricane hunters teach us that nothing can replace the impact of a personal message. You can’t rely on your typical “all employee” email to provide the emphasis needed. You and your leadership team need to be in people’s faces telling them why the threat is real, how you plan on addressing it, and what their role is in your master plan.

A few tips include:

Start early. The reporters are on the scene days before the storm, describing how it will affect the surroundings and what the public needs to do to prepare. Similarly, we need to provide time for our team to comprehend and plan.

Be persistent. Just as storm coverage does not stop in the middle of the tempest, your communication cannot stop until the danger has subsided. If the risk is real, you cannot overcommunicate.

Wrap it up. Reporters remain on the scene after the storm has moved on. They show the aftereffects, discuss hazards, and highlight resources for continuing assistance—all things a leader should be doing. Throw in a few lessons learned and recognition for individual/team achievements and you should be all set.

There’s a time to stay in your comfortable newsroom, behind your comfortable desk…but facing formidable risk is not one of those times. Get ahead of the threat. Speak directly to your team. Show them, don’t just tell them, why they need to be aware. And when it gets tough, secure yourself to a lightpost and ride it out.