Crisis Management at the Red Cross during Hurricane Katrina

This is an interesting interview with some awkward moments featuring Charles Connor, who got a little weird when I dug too deep into the American Red Cross's response to Hurricane Katrina.

Charles Connor was senior vice president for communications and marketing at American Red Cross. He oversaw internal, external, and stakeholder communication and marketing, including market research, creative resources, governmental relations, advertising, entertainment outreach, events management, historical resources, and their public relations agency.

Previously, Charles was the Principal for Client Strategy at The Dilenschneider Group in Chicago. He also served as the first director of public affairs for the federal judiciary and the chief operating officer for the United States Navy's global communications program.

Charles was one of the three American Red Cross executives named Public Relations Professional of the Year by the Public Relations Society of America in recognition of the strategic communication plan created and implemented during one of the worst hurricane seasons this country has seen.

Crisis Management Insights

3:16 – Chuck Connor discusses being on PR Week's list of the top ten most daunting PR jobs.

3:50 – Connor explains what crisis management is. 

4:49 – Connor on the steps organizations should take to prepare for a potential crisis.  “I'm a believer…that it's very hard to plan for every crisis.  I think you need to keep your head on, I think you need to keep your emotions under control…” 

7:54 – Connor on how to determine whether there is a crisis in a company.

8:41 – Connor talks about whether FEMA's alleged late response to help Katrina victims impacted the public's perception of the Red Cross's relief efforts: “This Katrina matter…took every resource the United States and the United States government could throw at the problem.  It was far bigger than FEMA, it was far bigger than the Red Cross, and it was almost too big for the whole Department of Defense.”

10:14 – Connor discusses how he first heard about the Katrina disaster.  “My deputy Darren Irby…[said] it was as if a nuclear bomb had gone off.”

11:04 – Connor on how he felt when he received the news about Katrina. 

12:12 – Connor talks about his role in communicating on behalf of the Red Cross. 

13:28 – Connor on how the Red Cross uses the internet to communicate with the public: “We take the web and internet very seriously…we're going to put more importance to it”because it is a channel that we can use to let the public know  what the Red Cross message is directly, unadulterated by reporters or other kinds of gatekeepers.” 

14:42 – Connor talks about the importance of the Red Cross's site, and the critical information it offers.

15:53 – Connor offers advice to other corporate communicators who are asked questions they cannot answer. 

17:36 – Connor on what the ambushed, unprepared executive should say to the media.

18:28 – End.

Photo by By Daniel Lobo –, CC0,

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