Gershaneck asked his students to imagine how it would feel
to experience the fear and devastation of a tsunami, with no
comfort or relief in sight. Survivors of the tsunami were left
without the basic necessities of life; fresh water sources
were contaminated by the sea, and all their food, shelter,
and clothing had been swept away. Many people lost loved ones;
many more were missing, and mass communication was disabled.
There were no phones, no television, no way of knowing what
would happen next. The tsunami victims were completely devastated.
“The sight and smell was awful…I threw away the
clothes I wore the first two days I was there,” relates
Gershaneck, who helped to establish the CFS headquarters in
Utapao, Thailand, and organized Colin Powell’s press
conference in Phucket, Thailand. Gershaneck teaches that communications
professionals have two immediate goals in a crisis: to save
lives and to mitigate suffering. Gershaneck and a team of professionals
employed strategic public relations practices in their efforts
during the tsunami crisis. For example, they established a
base of operations and re-established lines of communication
in disaster areas. During this time it was important to “get
everyone speaking with one voice,” said Gershaneck, so
the media and its public would clearly understand the situation
as it developed.
Since the tsunami affected several nations, it was crucial
to establish relations between them and combine relief efforts
with their governments and other international support operations.
Gershaneck reminded his students that cooperation is key
in times of crisis, and it is the job of the communications
to make contact, initiate, and guide these relationships to
bring relief quickly and effectively. The tsunami relief efforts
of the U.S. government had positive and negative outcomes beyond
saving lives. Gershaneck says that a positive outcome was the
U.S. re-establishing contact with the Indonesian military,
which had been prohibited by law since 1994. A negative outcome
was Singapore’s disgruntlement because it did not receive
as much media coverage as other nations.
Overall, the U.S. tsunami relief efforts increased U.S. popularity
around the world, and particularly in areas affected by the
tsunami. And these efforts helped save lives and relieve
suffering. All through effective public relations.