Stacy Bettison

Stacy L. Bettison is a communications strategist and owner of Bettison Consulting LLC. Stacy focuses on crisis communications, reputation management and media relations. She is also a licensed attorney and has practiced law in both Chicago and Minneapolis.

Posts about Disasters

There, but for grace, go we

Posted by: Stacy Bettison Updated: December 16, 2012 - 7:09 AM
I lay awake at 3 a.m. this morning, wondering if the parents whose children had been killed at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut were also awake, too shocked, too grief-stricken, too afraid to close their eyes, lest they wake up and find this was not a horrible nightmare.
“There, but for the Grace of God, go I" routinely comes to my mind at times like these. Yesterday’s events are a stark reminder that no one is immune from random violence  -- not at our movie theaters (Aurora), not at our places of worship (Oak Creek, Milwaukee), not at our public rallies (Tucson), and not, sadly, at our schools (Columbine, Ricori High School).
While the most impacted and traumatized are, of course, those families and friends who lost loved ones in yesterday’s shootings, this is a crisis for all families, for all schools, for all communities – a national tragedy.
What can we do, amidst the acknowledgement of our precarious nature, that there but for the Grace of God goes each of us?  That any one of us could be a Newtown family, grieving the loss of a little child or a loved one who worked at the school?
For schools, Monday morning will come fast. Parents will say good-bye to their children, releasing them into our uncertain world, trusting that schools are taking care of them. Kids will return to class, many aware of Friday’s calamity. There are numerous things schools can do, including:  
  • If schools haven’t already, acknowledge what’s happened.
  • Remind kids and families that you have procedures that are designed to protect kids, faculty and staff. They might be well-aware of your lock-down drills and the like, but reminders reassure.
  • If there is some aspect of your crisis response plan that needs works, nail it down now. The importance of crisis planning has never been more obvious than now. Back in September I wrote an article here entitled “Dusting off school crisis plans . . .” where I encourage schools to pull the crisis planning binder off the shelf and give it a good, careful look, find the gaps, and fill them in.
There are many great resources for schools such as this resource at the National Association for School Psychologists website
For parents and families, it’s okay to talk to your kids about this, and many experts encourage you to do so. The age of your child or children will dictate how much you say and what you talk about, but giving this issue some oxygen is important.
Parents can access articles at the links I provide below to help guide you through this weekend and into the coming days. Remember, fears linger, and the wounds of trauma do not heal the same for everyone. Check in with your kids and give them the space to talk and ask questions, even well down the road.
Thoughts and prayers abound for the families of Sandy Hook Elementary and the community of Newtown.


The Unfortunate Irony of Fear-Based Decisions

Posted by: Stacy Bettison Updated: October 14, 2012 - 7:51 AM

I was a bit surprised to hear Tokyo Electric Power Co. recently announced the nuclear disaster resulting from the March 2011 tsunami could have been avoided.  What surprised me was not that the disaster could have been avoided (crises so often can), nor that this contradicted earlier statements by the company that the facility was prepared for such a disaster (differing, later statements are not unusual). 

What struck me was the unfortunate irony of this announcement:  the company knew the facility needed improvements, but fear of the political, economic and legal repercussions of making improvements prevented them from getting it done. 
Instead of dealing with the costs of safety improvements before the disaster, the utility is now faced with even greater political, economic and legal problems that will last for years—the very problems it was seeking to avoid by not updating the facility.  What’s worse, the cleanup of the nuclear disaster will take decades, and the full effects on humans and the environment have yet to fully seen and understood.
This announcement reminded me of the rationale Penn State used for not reporting concerns about Jerry Sandusky—bad publicity.  The sad irony here: the thing Penn State feared most was the very result of its decisions — bad publicity, in spades.  More concerning and tragic, Penn State’s decisions perpetuated a cycle of abuse leaving at least 10 victims in Jerry Sandusky’s wake. 
Organizations have a choice: deal with the problems and challenges of your organization now, or deal with them later.
Dealing now admittedly involves costs, strategy and planning.  It requires bold leadership that is willing to do what is ethical and in the long-term best interest of its stakeholders, even in face of head-in-the-sand types who ask, “Is this really necessary now?”  It requires strength in leaders to advocate for smart, safe choices today, and make the case for why now costs so much less than later
The most important costs organizations must consider for later, however, are not those paid by the organization, but those to be paid by victims. The effect of radiation exposure to humans, ocean and atmosphere is still being fully assessed, but the impact is expected to last decades. The boys victimized by Jerry Sandusky, and their parents, and even their yet-to-be families, are all impacted by Penn State’s concern over bad publicity—and they will be for the rest of their lives. 


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