Monday, February 22, 2010

Austin plane crash throws spotlight on federal crisis comms

IRS, FBI convey a sober tone and solid information in a post-9/11, instant-media world

"Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words can never hurt me."

Remember that saying from childhood? Those words filled my ears as I read the ramblings of Joseph Stack—a deranged and disillusioned man who gave up on life Thursday.

Disgruntled and dismayed by the unfair hand that life and the IRS had dealt him, his attack on an Austin IRS facility in a small airplane offers an unusual glimpse into the efficacy of governmental crisis communication in an age of instant information and news gratification.

Let’s look at the crisis itself: News outlets immediately reported that nearly 200 IRS employees worked at that particular building. Any act involving an airplane, a building and a crash profoundly echoes the Sept. 11 attacks, adding a dimension of fear and fascination to the situation.

Add to the mix the relatively bizarre nature of the event—the attacker left behind a suicide blog (so 2010) documenting his list of troubles with the IRS, compete with Shakespearean allusions—and you have a news item that presents a barely manageable crisis communications incident ready to spiral out of control and spread like wildfire among the tweetoblogosphere.

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