Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Are You Helping the Public “Find Bigfoot?”

As a parent of two boys, I’m allowed the luxury of pretending to be a super hero, using decorative pillows (I’ll never understand them) as weapons, and throwing bugs in spider webs to see what happens. I did all of these things before I had kids, but it’s much more acceptable now. With man-vibes running rampant throughout the house, we watch a lot of “Animal Planet,” which my wife and I deemed an educational way for the boys to pass the time. Until…following an episode of “River Monsters,” which I highly recommend, a trailer aired last month for the season premiere of “Finding Bigfoot.” I was only half paying attention until I glanced over at my oldest son, Lyndon, and saw the transfixed look in his eyes. “Daddy, they are going FIND BIGFOOT.” Thus began our family journey into this “reality” show, setting back my efforts to teach Lyndon how to throw a curve ball.

If you haven’t seen the show, each episode pretty much has the same premise:
  • “Research” team visits every state in the U.S., which are all apparently teeming with sasquatch families.
  • Team sometimes examines blurry photos or video footage the appears to be a gorilla, someone in a gorilla suit, or a tree stump that kind of looks like a gorilla.
  • Team interviews residents of dubious credibility, sanity, and sobriety.
  • Team comes to the conclusion that there’s “something there.”
  • Team “almost” finds Bigfoot.

For my son, this quickly grew frustrating. After just a few episodes, he gave up on the show (I watched a couple more, just to make sure…). Why couldn’t they just find Bigfoot and be done with it? It struck me that for the public, getting clear, accurate information during a disaster can be their own episode of “Finding Bigfoot.” Getting accurate information can be as difficult as getting Bigfoot to hold still for a high res photo. Unfortunately, the local government entities can contribute to the problem via conflicting information, slow response times and lack of communication with other agencies. The result is that our credibility is damaged and they tune out.

The answer? Collaboration, both internal and external. I examined this issue without Bigfoot back in August (he was booked on an out-of-focus video shoot) in a two part series looking at floods in Nashville and Memphis.

For Memphis Light, Gas and Water, our rules for successful collaboration are simple:

         Start with your own team (sharing info with your own department, getting feedback and empowering staff)
         Make sure you’re a part of the emergency response team (ensuring you’ve got a voice in the organization’s response)
         Define roles (at a departmental, company and external level)
         Establish network of key collaborators (both within your company and with external agencies and individuals to obtain key information)
         Share info consistently (timed updates are a standard, but also share media talking points, etc. with your external collaborators)

We're not trying to have all the answers, just provide a good road map for the public to get them. Everyone on my team knows their role when a disaster strikes, and we've got key internal resources who get us essential information about their particular area. More importantly, we've established a network of key external local government communicators and representatives, community leaders, and other allies with whom we regularly exchange information.
You heard it here first, with collaboration, we can all Find Bigfoot. Let’s hear from you. What are collaboration success stories?




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