The situation in Flint represents our distrust, disgust and dissatisfaction with government and politics.
For decades the city of Flint bought clean safe drinking water from the city of Detroit which fed into dozens of systems through SE Michigan, from one of the world’s most trusted source of fresh water – Lake Huron.
Due to increasing fees from Detroit, Flint was planning on building their own pipeline to Lake Huron.
The City of Flint however, was in a financial emergency. On the same day the Mayor, a Democrat, was elected, the Governor, a Republican, appointed an Emergency Financial Manager to not only oversee the cities finances but to manage the city – taking the elected mayor’s powers away – even before he got them.
One of those decisions was to switch Flint’s water system from Detroit’s to its own sooner than later – saving $TBD. The pipeline to Lake Huron was not finished, and a decision was made (by the state through the EM) to get water from The Flint River instead.
The City of Flint switches to the Flint River as its water source, away from Lake Huron or Detroit’s system. Water will now come from the Flint River into the city’s water plant where it will be treated.
With the push of a button, the city stopped buying treated water from Detroit and began drinking from its own notoriously polluted river.
Effect: increases in E. coli, coliform bacteria and trihalomethanes, a class of carcinogenic “disinfection byproducts; outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease that has killed at least 12 people And for reasons that are still in dispute and under investigation, workers at Flint’s hastily refurbished and understaffed treatment plant failed to add corrosion inhibitors, chemicals that coat the interior of pipes, providing a prophylactic barrier. Stop adding them, and the coating wears away, the pipes corrode, lead leaches into the water.
Flint residents start complaining that the water smells, tastes bad and looks dirty The water stunk and looked like it came directly from the river and yet despite the calls, complaints and samples of water from their own taps, even after GM took their plant off of city water and after the state of Michigan used taxpayer funds to pay for bottled water for state employees in Flint despite the advice of the state – Drink the water. It’s safe.
A nail after one month of exposure to Detroit water (above) and Flint River water (below) Each nail was rinsed in flowing water before taking the picture. Courtesy of FlintWaterStudy.org
“This is a public relations crises - because of a real or perceived problem is irrelevant – waiting to explode nationally. If flint had been hit with a natural disaster that affected the water system, the state would be stepping in to provide bottled water or other assistance. What can we do given the current circumstances?”
Ari Adler, Snyder Administration Special Projects Manager email to Snyder’s Comm Director Jarrod Agen
Gov failed to treat like human issue.
The Flint Water Crises has to be one of the five worst failures by a government.
9/11 - Despite early alerts of the possible threat, al-Qaeda operatives were able to hijack four commercial airliners on September 11, 2001, and used them as missiles to attack the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers in New York City and the Pentagon,” 2008 Financial Crises - “After years of risky investments and with little regulation, the banking system collapsed under the weight of toxic assets created by risky mortgage loans, poorly understood financial instruments, and a credit crisis that froze the economy,” Hurricane Katrina (2005) - Hurricane Katrina made landfall in Louisiana on August 29, 2005, breaching the levees protecting New Orleans; stranding thousands of residents on rooftops, in the Superdome, and on bridges; and freezing the Federal Emergency Management Agency and state agencies,” Deepwater Horizon (2010) -“An explosion on British Petroleum’s Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling platform killed 11 oil workers, while the failure of a “blow-out preventer” created a leak far below that lasted 87 days and caused the largest oil spill in history, And with the flick of a switch to save a buck - Flint!
In each of those disasters, we learned that When governments fail, people suffer.
Not only did the government fail at a local, regional, state and federal level, Our elected leaders failed to listen to the warnings that could have avoided the crises.
As professionals, we know that “A crisis itself doesn’t always do the most damage— the handling of it often does.”
Before a crisis becomes a crisis, it’s a problem and our government leaders should never ignore a problem -- no matter how big or small. So never ignore the agitators -- the people that attend every council meeting or the Friends of … on Facebook, posting negative comments.
The complainers and what they post are your early warning system. However, while governments plan, prepare and train for various disasters, the department director, Mayor and Governor should have their own blueprint to help guide them through a disaster that they started.
This includes knowing who the stakeholders are, where they are discussing the issue and what they and others are saying about it.
When a problem becomes a crises … Respond don’t react
-- address the issues dead on. -- be visible and accessible -- don’t blame / fix the problem.
When a crisis affects people’s lives – forget politics - The Republican governor failed in include the Democrat mayor in a number of press conferences about the crisis in Flint including when he released a 75 point plan to address the issues – it would have been an easier sell if the Mayor was aware of it. As I am sure there were also times that the Mayor did not include the Governor.
Focus on people and the community, address the short and long term needs of the community -- immediately.
Immediately grasp the emotions involved in the issue and go support the people affected. Gather the facts quickly, tell the media what you know
Accountability -- Question the data - Seek a second opinion if you have to, especially if independent data from another trusted source is telling a different story
As you plan for a crises and as you govern, it is important to know about FOIA. The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is a law that gives you the right to access information from the federal government. It is often described as the law that keeps citizens in the know about their government. But it is not just limited tothe media in securing info -- anyone can get it.
FACE THE PEOPLE OF FLINT TAKE THE CRITICISM -- YOU ARE THE GOVERNOR LISTEN TO YOUR CONSTITUENTS AND FIND A WAY TO HELP THEM, NO MATTER HOW SMALL.
While Governor Snyder retained two PR firms to assist him with the crises develop the messaging and find the right media to engage as to what his administration is doing (Finn Partners and Mercury Public Affairs), he really needed a PR strategy to let people know that he is in charge, that he has a plan and that plan is moving forward.
The Governor needed a PR strategy that informed key stakeholders as to what they can expect of him and the state to help them now and into the future.
The Governor needed a PR plan to let the world know that Flint is open for business and is a great place to live + work + play despite the current situation.
-- It is a city, like Detroit, that is resilient. -- Where grit can turn to glory and it will rise above the ashes found in the city’s infrastructure.
His PR team also failed to leverage social media or respond to the concerns and criticism he faced on line.
However, from a PR perspective the Governor failed: • A sense of urgency in disclosing, sharing and responding to information • Transparency in what information they are using to make the decisions affecting children and their families • A way to engage the community • Face-to-Face meetings • Being more direct and upfront with the affected public
The Governor was not engaged with the people in Flint. He was not visible in the community. He was not seen meeting with key stakeholders, eating lunch in local restaurants, shopping in local stores or touring various museums to let people know that Flint is still open for business.
Instead, he sent his Lt. Gov. to go to Flint every week.
While Kettering University tried to tell their students and their parents that their water is okay to drink, it is difficult to overcome the perception of what people already are thinking. Source; www.npr.org
As a result, the businesses and attractions in Flint, such as Kettering and the University of Michigan-Flint, Mott Community College, Baker College, the Planetarium, Sloan Museum and Flint Institute of Art in addition to restaurants found in Flint suffered. utrmichigan.com
The Flint Crepe Co. and others needed to wage their own PR campaign to let people know that Flint is open for business. And their biggest customer should be the Governor and his staff.
While the firms retained by the Governor focused on coordinating the state’s response, the Governor needed a ground game to find a way to connect with the people who lost his trust - And he failed.
The Governor needed to find a way to make a meaningful connection with the people of Flint and work hard at rebuilding that trust. He needs to confront every issue with direct and no nonsense action - Instead, he turned to blame and focus on politics.
He needed to bring the stakeholders together to make them part of the plan and use their network to get the necessary funding and support -- He failed to include Flint’s Mayor in key meetings and he failed to bring the community together.
So know the Governor faces,
Class Action Lawsuits, and government investigations that are resulting in state employes facing potential jail time.
Constant barage of protests -- This is outside of his home in Downtown Ann Arbor
Source: Michigan Daily
I believe The Way Forward, is to ENGAGE. Through strategic communications, strategic relationships and something valuable to share, the Governor should have focused less on preserving his legacy and work hard at protecting the people of Flint and enhancing the reputation of the City and businesses in it, so that a town in Michigan, also known as Buick City, The Auto City or The Vehicle City can be know again as America’s Most Modern City.
Engaging the public through strategic communications is a vital component of any strategy, in both the public and private sector.
Working in government, it is easy to dismiss the “crazy” people. The people who appear at every city council meeting to complain about something. It is easy to trust the bureaucrats who have become complacent in their jobs, collecting a paycheck and pension waiting for retirement.
The real lesson -- Is that it does not matter if the governor is at fault or someone else. In everything, people matter.
If there is any good that could come out of a tragedy like the one that continues to unfold in Flint, it is how we find inspiration from the people in Flint.
This grabbed global headlines because this crisis was community driven, with the help of:
Dr. Mona Hana-Attisha – local pediatrician who helped uncover the threat of lead poisoningProfessor Marc Edwards - the national expert on drinking water contamination from Virginia Tech who provided high levels of lead in tap water Lee-Anne Walters – the mom from Flint’s south side who noticed hair loss and rashes on her kids and raised hell EPA regulator Miguel Del Toral – who risked his career in memos that told the truth that his superiors tried to suppress Curt Guyette – a former investigative reporter now working for the ACLU who broke the story and the dozens of other journalists who jumped through the hoops to pierce the veil of secrecy and deception
The People of Flint Are the Heroes Nayyirah Shariff - she was a community organizer with the Flint Democracy Defense League.
Neighbors began to organize, Media began to converge and Lawyers began to build a class action lawsuit Congress started an investigation, the governor hired his own lawyer and PR team (from privately raised money) - he started his own investigation and the Attorney General in Michigan began his, telling the Governor (from the same party) to stop his investigation because he was ruining the real one.
Little Ms. Flint Mari Copeny – who wrote the President 8 years old
With the help of these heroes, Flint once again took the world stage. But new issues emerged….an increase in violence in other cities..
Continued bombings and acts of terror
And yet, children continue to suffer in Flint and will for decades to come.
The people of Flint need to keep their story alive. They need to find ways to bring new reporters to Flint, to help tell the rest of the stories already told and stay on top of social media to continue to educate people who can help.
While the Foundations are now engaged, the AG investigation still going on, the people of Flint need to keep their story alive by leveraging social media, videos and new relationships formed with the national media -- not to mention a formal election in just a few weeks time.
Flint Organizers, Progress Michigan Call For More Action On Helping Flint The only way things will get better for the people of Flint is for the pipes to be replaced, local leaders said Wednesday, and the state needs to do more about that while also putting the pressure on the federal government to do the same. "Flint still needs help. I joined Flint Rising when the group first started, and we've been working for over a year to get clean water to our community," said Nakiya Wakes, a member of the Flint Rising coalition that held a press conference with Progress Michigan. "But we can't do it alone. We need help from our elected officials. But nearly three years into this crisis, we still feel like we're not being heard. Sometimes I think maybe we are being heard and they just don't care." Ms. Wakes, alongside Flint Rising Director Nayyirah Shariff and Flint water crisis activist Melissa Mays, said the pipes need to be replaced for residents to truly feel like a change has taken place in Flint since Governor Rick Snyder and his administration acknowledged a lead-tainted water problem in Flint more than one year ago. "We know what the problem is: It's the pipes. Until those are replaced, people won't trust their water and people won't trust the state's response," Ms. Wakes said. "You'd think over two years into the biggest environmental and health disaster in this state's history that we'd be able to talk about the progress that's been made in Flint. Unfortunately that's not the case," Ms. Mays said. "We're having all sorts of issues with bacteria now, like legionella and shigella (see separate story). Peoples' lives are at stake and Congress is sitting on their hands, just like the Republican Legislature here in Lansing. If our elected officials think they can just ignore the Flint water crisis and it will go away quietly, they have another thing coming." The administration touts regularly the $234 million investment in recovery and remediation funding for Flint since last October, but Sam Inglot, spokesperson for Progress Michigan, said that's not enough, especially when compared to other financial commitments the Legislature and Mr. Snyder have signed on to. "This is the largest environmental and health disaster in the state of Michigan's history. Two-hundred-some-odd-million might seem like a lot, but when you consider the amount that is spent in other areas (like) the prison food service contract, roughly $150 million (and) the Capitol View building (for Senate offices) at $134 million, a difference of roughly $90 million between new office buildings and the state's official response to the largest such crisis in our state's history, it's just not enough," he said. Ms. Mays acknowledged that money moving through Congress to help Flint with pipe replacements is a good thing, she said, "but it's not enough (and) it's coming way too slowly." "The level of funding for Flint won't be set until after Congress returns after the November 8 election, because apparently Flint can wait. Apparently we don't matter," she said. "By waiting that long to pass funding, they're gambling with families' lives because new congressional representatives could come in after the election and that can throw a wrench into any progress that's been made in moving this funding forward. We're tired of waiting." Immediate allocation of adequate funding to replace lead pipes throughout the city and funding that reimburses residents for their water bills since April 2014 - when a state-appointed emergency manager in Flint officially made the switch from using treated drinking water from Detroit to using water from the Flint River - was among a list of four actions the Flint officials requested Mr. Snyder and the Legislature undertake as soon as possible. The other actions, included in a letter sent to Mr. Snyder, Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof (R-West Olive), House Speaker Kevin Cotter (R-Mount Pleasant) and Sen. Jim Stamas, chair of the Joint Committee on the Flint Public Health Crisis, included immediate release of the joint committee's report, pressure from the Michigan Republican caucuses on their colleagues in Congress to allocate more federal funding for disaster assistance and an end to the use of public tax dollars for Mr. Snyder's legal defense fund. A request for comment by Mr. Stamas on the status of his committee's report not returned on Wednesday. DOOR-TO-DOOR DISTRIBUTION AND SCALING BACK ON BOTTLED WATER: Also raised Wednesday by Ms. Shariff was an issue with every resident having adequate access to not just bottled water but also filters, as well as how to properly use those filters. As has been previously chronicled by Gongwer News Service, although there has been a substantial distribution of water bottles, filters and cartridges, gaps still exist in reaching the elderly, sick and those with small children (See Gongwer Michigan Report, September 23, 2016). "Many families are dependent on bottled water; many don't have access to filters and most people don't trust the state's response to the crisis," Ms. Shariff reiterated Wednesday. Asked to elaborate, Ms. Mays said access to bottled water and filters is essentially for anybody with a vehicle because the state is not doing home delivery. But many residents do not have a vehicle, and the distribution sites are not within walking distance for many people, she said. "So going to these distribution sites ... is very dangerous, it's very hard for people. ...People don't have filters properly installed or they don't have cartridges because no one told them how to - they just hand people a box and tell them good luck with your safety and your future," she said. And the system to dial 2-1-1 for home delivery has not been set up properly, she said. "There are still people falling through the cracks - they call 2-1-1 but 2-1-1 does not show up," Ms. Mays said. And there is still fear among residents that the state is scaling back on its water distribution, she said. "Whether that's true or not, it doesn't matter, because that's a huge fear. That's our lifeline right now," Ms. Mays said. But Snyder spokesperson Anna Heaton said the state is "committed to providing clean water resources - including filters, filter replacement cartridges and bottled water - until the water meets quality standards," she said. "As we have said all along, we aren't basing any action on calendar dates but on test results and agreement on findings from DEQ, the EPA and independent experts including Marc Edwards." Asked how long of a commitment the state needs to make to satisfy Flint residents, Mr. Inglot said "whatever it takes." "This is an unprecedented crisis and it deserves an unprecedented response. If that's digging up all the pipes and fixing every one tomorrow and working with kids decades into the future to make sure they have the services they need and the support they need, then so be it," he said. "It's our elected officials' responsibility to ensure the public is safe and healthy, and right now it's a dereliction of duty." - See more at: http://www.gongwer.com/programming/news.cfm?article_id=551960104#sthash.YfCbwSUp.dpuf
Overall, risk/crisis managers must work to diminish outrage in order to move beyond the crisis.
Having honest conversations with the public and treating those affected with fairness and general
respect can significantly decrease the outrage from the public and move the conversation to one
Gov’t should be more customer focused - social media, timely response.
Culture where ppl don’t report to him directly, quick to blame others.
Switch to Flint Water
Gov. Snyder’s deputy legal
adviser urges reconnect to
Detroit. Snyder not in email loop.
Advisors deny request.
Flint energy manager says no to
Detroit’s offer to reconnect
MDEQ spokesperson tells
anyone who is concerned about
the drinking water in Flint “to
Relax” - NPR
Virginia Tech Professor Marc
Edwards says his team found
much higher lead levels in water
than city tests
Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha releases
a study finding high levels of lead
in children’s blood
Governor Snyder announces
plans to help Flint residents, and
reconnects Flint’s water system
to the Detroit system
MDEQ Director Dan Wyant
acknowledges his “staff made a
mistake” that led to the crises -
A year and a half after the crisis
MDEQ Director Dan Wyant and
Communications Director Brad
Governor Snyder apologizes in the
State of the state to the people of
Flint - “I’m sorry and I will fix it.”
EPA Region 5 Director Susan
Hedman announces resignation
Flint task force, appointed by the
Governor releases its report
blaming state government, the
governor and especially the
MDEQ for the crisis
Governor Snyder accepts residents challenge
to drink Flint Water – He goes to Flint and
starts 30 days of drinking filtered Flint water
at a resident’s home. He left a few days later
on a European trade mission and stopped
drinking Flint water
Two MDEQ and one Flint water
plant supervisor are charged
with crimes for the crises
The President of the United
State visits Flint and drinks the
Prepare Don’t Plan
Before a crisis, in the public sector ...
During a crises
Ensure the public is safe
Assure them that you are in control
Focus on Solutions.
Give them a place to go to get
updates or keep you informed
Remain visible + accessible
Make your advisors accountable
In the public sector
FOIANOTHING IS PRIVATE, UNLESS IT IS PRIVILEGED
THE WAY FORWARD
- Forget the politics.
- Look at all the issues.
- Keep everyone informed.
- Stay results driven.
- Recognize and embrace the
sense of urgency.
- Find people to speak with you.
THE WAY FORWARD
- Know where you are
- Respond quickly.
- Don’t blame
- Accept responsibility.
- Be visible
- Remain accessible
- People first
Cardinal Rules of Risk Communication
- Accept the public as a legitimate partner
- Listen to the audience
- Be honest and transparent
- Collaborate with credible sources
- Meet the needs of the media
- Speak clearly and with compassion