On the afternoon of September 13, 2018, a series of explosions and fires impacted three Merrimack Valley towns, including JGPR’s client, the Town of Andover. In some cases, fires were breaking out on live television, as news helicopters hovered overhead. As the Town of Andover immediately activated its Emergency Operations Center, JGPR began providing logistical support to provide critical updates on the situation as it unfolded.
At least one JGPR team member staffed the EOC around the clock from 5 p.m. Thursday and through the weekend. JGPR remained on site at the EOC for the entire 10 days it remained open, providing consultation, strategy, and support, as well as serving in the critical command staff position of Public Information Officer, under ICS. In all, Andover firefighters and their colleagues from throughout the state and region responded to 36 fires in town. Those were in addition to dozens more fires and explosions in North Andover and Lawrence. JGPR emphasized to town and public safety leaders the importance of proactive and consistent communication, which became the hallmark of the crisis over the ensuing hours – and months.
A town-wide evacuation of buildings was announced out of an abundance of caution, as town leaders worked to determine the extent of the damage. Power and gas service were ultimately shut off throughout town and JGPR proactively communicated where residents could go while out of their homes.
Gas service remained off in parts of town for several months requiring significant communication from town leaders via JGPR as time went on. Hundreds of businesses were ultimately impacted, with restaurants and retail stores hit especially hard by the prolonged interruption of gas service.
Throughout the crisis, JGPR emphasized the importance of positioning town leaders as visible, knowledgeable, and trustworthy sources of information. This became increasingly important as Columbia Gas, which had caused the fires and explosions, remained largely silent before ceding its responsibilities to Eversource.
Through our efforts, JGPR was able to maintain and build upon the Town of Andover’s strong credibility with all stakeholders and convey strength of leadership and calm amid chaos by clearly and concisely communicating the steps residents and businesses needed to take to have their gas service restored and damaged appliances fixed.
Once the immediate danger had passed, JGPR took on the responsibility of developing a comprehensive campaign to support town businesses, which were disproportionately impacted by the disaster. This effort required placing a strong emphasis on the importance of the downtown economy to the town as a whole.
In all, JGPR published over 90 press releases with situational updates through the multi-phase crisis, as well as additional content addressing other objectives, including business support efforts. JGPR also facilitated numerous appearances by Andover municipal and public safety personnel on local and national news networks, serving as the first voices to speak on crisis in the immediate aftermath, while also providing valuable insight to the public in the days and weeks afterward.
JGPR worked with town economic development staff to create the inaugural Small Business Saturday event in downtown Andover, including the placement of public safety vehicles and assorted heavy machinery as an attraction for families, as well as giveaways meant to draw people downtown. Finally, JGPR worked with economic development staff to promote a unique raffle program — funded by a regional recovery fund — to help recovering businesses.