Event Recap: The Fort McMurray Fires and Crisis Communications

On April 21, 2017, we hosted a PD session with Diane Bégin, vice-president of social marketing & brand communications for ruckus digital, and Jordan Redshaw, recovery task force communications manager for the regional municipality of wood buffalo.

Diane and Jordan shared what they experienced during the May 2016 Fort McMurray wildfire to a packed house. We heard that the scale of how fast changes occurred meant their communications plan quickly became irrelevant. They explained that sitting in the same room with the leaders of the incident command centre meant getting fast approvals for their communications messages. We also learned that their communications team called people and gave them accurate information to combat misinformation.

Diane emphasized that knowing their audience and their tools helped them make the decision to post timely accurate information mainly on Twitter instead of responding to Facebook comments. Fort McMurray has a unique population where 80 languages are spoken and the population’s average age is 32 years old. This average age meant Twitter was an ideal platform for them to share information and get the amplification they needed. This session proved popular with many staying beyond the presentation to learn more.

The key takeaways:

  • be flexible — adapt your processes
  • recognize the importance of existing relationships — particularly with media
  • know your audience and know your tools