Barbara Behling shares crisis communications strategies

Barbara Behling

Barbara Behling of Red Cross

By Kelly Savage, chapter chair of accreditation

It’s always a pleasure to hear about the tremendous  impact the American Red Cross has on our community. I’m so blessed to volunteer for this organization and support its programs through grants on behalf of State Farm®. On Wednesday, May 28th I also had the opportunity to learn from Barbara Behling at a Southeastern Wisconsin PRSA luncheon as she shared details about her role as a PR professional assisting the Red Cross with crisis communications for national and local disasters.

It was fascinating to hear how the Red Cross handles these challenging situations. Barbara has assisted with so many tragedies, from the Sikh Temple shooting to Hurricane Sandy to recent wildfires in California.

One thing that resonated with me was Barbara’s comment that she never forgets the dates of the disasters to which she’s responded. It’s so important for organizations to realize not only that you need dedicated and sympathetic people to handle crisis situations, but also that these situations take a toll on the individuals managing these issues. Since the Red Cross responds daily to tragic events in people’s lives, they luckily have trained professionals to help volunteers and employees through these hard times. I can imagine sometimes organizations might miss how these situations affect the people whose job it is to help others pick up the pieces of their crumbled lives.

The other idea that stood out is that groups shouldn’t join in on a fight that’s not theirs. In other words, stick to the issue at hand. At times the situation isn’t about you or your organization, and if that’s the case, don’t complicate the situation. Stay on the sidelines and do what you do best to contribute. Barbara shared that the Sikh Temple church members wanted to highlight the Red Cross so donations could be made to help the organization continue its great work, but they decided it was best to not take away from the issue at hand. I think that is noble and the public can respect that.

Barbara’s stories help us remember that behind every crisis are individuals and families who have been affected, as well as those who are trying their best to make things better as much as possible in a given situation. As long as transparency, integrity, a prompt response and the consideration of unintended consequences are a part of the process, hopefully everyone involved will be able to move forward quickly and smoothly.