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When Government Communications Matter Most

In the past week, Hurricane Harvey brought record-breaking rainfall and devastation to millions of people across Texas. With an estimated 15 trillion gallons of rainwater, 15 confirmed deaths and over 30,000 people displaced from their homes, experts are calling it one of the worst natural disasters to strike the U.S. And the true impact of the storm is not likely to be known for weeks to come.

When devastation occurs, effective government communications is more important than ever. As Hurricane Harvey grew, so did the number of digital messages from local, state and federal organizations to communicate about rescue operations, best practices for safe evacuations, and where citizens could find food and shelter.

In a time when there is so much uncertainty, these types of digital messages can carry great weight and importance to those impacted by natural disasters. And just as important as their timing, key components like strong subject lines and calls to action can make a life-impacting difference.

Here are a few key takeaways for any level of government looking to prepare for emergencies:

1. Planning Ahead is Crucial

When disaster hits, there’s rarely enough time to develop a full communications strategy to execute. As many organizations have emergency response teams set up to plan for just this purpose, it’s always a worthwhile exercise to create emergency communications plans now before disaster hits. This can be as simple as creating a special header or template to use later, but take the extra step to be plan ahead.

2. Subject Lines Can Make a Big Difference

In the world of digital communications, we emphasize the importance of a good subject line often. But when it comes to natural disasters, a good subject line can actually impact lives during critical times because mobile or internet service is never guaranteed. This means that the contents of your message might not be able to load, and that all citizens might be able to see is your subject line.

In the past week, there were a number of strong subject line examples during Hurricane Harvey, including:

  • Dallas, TX: “City preparing Dallas Convention Center to take in hurricane evacuees”
  • Dallas, TX: “Update on Hurricane Harvey Shelters in Dallas”
  • Office of the Texas Governor: “Governor Abbott Announces $25 Million In Federal Funds For TxDOT To Address Disastrous Impacts From Hurricane Harvey”
  • FEMA: “FEMA Encourages Residents to Follow Directions from State, Local, and Tribal Officials and Prepare for Hurricane Harvey”

3. Communicate Regularly and on Various Channels

Sending out regular messages to residents as each phase of the state’s emergency plan is critical, including preparation, transportation, what to do if you lose power, staying off the road, getting help, recovery, and more. It’s important to over-communicate in times of tragedy, and to utilize various channels including email, text messaging and social media to ensure you reach all audiences.


Here are a few bulletins we wanted to highlight from the past week as organizations effectively reached their audiences with key pieces of information to both the public and the media:

From: United States Coast Guard
Subject: “Update: Coast Guard Responds to Hurricane Harvey”

From: Texas Department of Insurance
Subject Line: “Help After Harvey: TDI news, resources”

From: City of Dallas, Texas
Subject: City preparing Dallas Convention Center to take in Hurricane evacuees

Effective communications during natural disasters is critical to the lives of millions of people, and monitoring what others have done can help us set up a path for success in future situations.

Granicus is proud to provide the digital platforms that support so many organizations – from FEMA to local government organizations – in their important work to connect with citizens during these times.

If you’re looking for a way to support these organizations and the citizens impacted by Hurricane Harvey, Text HARVEY to 90999 to donate $10 to the American Red Cross.