Communicating winter weather and transportation misery

One of the more difficult things we as transportation communicators face is helping our customers – transit riders, cyclists, pedestrians, drivers – understand why routes are delayed or roads closed.

We can write pithy web updates. We can get the traffic reporter on the phone for a nice chat. We can write an amazing news release that leaves no doubt about the whys and hows of the problem situation. And we should do all of that. It is important and it sets the stage. But for many emergent situations, it just is not enough.

In these cases we must prove the point that while the pen may be mightier than the sword, one photo can completely defeat doubt and shore up your agency’s credibility.

My former colleagues at Washington State Department of Transportation were hit with a massive storm last week that brought snow, followed by freezing rain. They always do a great job of communicating, but I want to focus on one specific situation that arose when ice began falling from the cables and towers of the beautiful Tacoma Narrows Bridges.

The bridges were closed to traffic due to falling ice. Simple to say. Road closed: falling ice. But WSDOT went a step further and posted photos on their Facebook page taken by a state trooper of ice chunks. The chunks were huge. No one in their right mind would want to drive across those bridges ducking those 10 to 15 pound monsters. The photo told the story powerfully.

Video is another powerful and increasingly easier tool to use. Again, WSDOT posted an excellent video last week that gave a first-person view of what it is like to drive a snowplow.

WSDOT is not alone in using online tools to tell their story. I happen to follow their work since much of my family lives in western Washington state and I now live 3,000 miles away. This week I was in the situation of information consumer and I appreciated the work that it took from the field to the screen to get that information to me.

When you are in the midst of crisis due to weather, natural disaster, broken equipment or worse, think about what tools you have in your toolbox to tell the rest of the story. Posting a photo, grabbing a quick video – these are quick and easy to do. And your customers will better understand your business because they can see it with their own eyes.

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Author: Lloyd Brown

I am the director of communications for the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. I enjoy running marathons and triathlons, playing guitar and spending time with family. My professional interest is in how social media and new technology shapes the communication relationship between government and the general public. I have a Master’s degree in Communications and Leadership from Gonzaga University in Spokane and a bachelor’s degree in Communications from Washington State University.

1 thought on “Communicating winter weather and transportation misery”

  1. Hi, Lloyd. Great piece. It flies far in advance of the nasty post by the publisher of The Olympian in Sunday’s editiion that lambasted meteorologists in a demeaning, sexist manner. I wrote a letter to the editor but I don’t know if it will get published.

    Didn’t realize you were no longer with WSDOT. It’s almost 7 years since I bailed out. I miss :some” of the people.

    Best regards,

    Ed Boselly

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