Worst case scenarios
And how to handle them in tourist towns
They called themselves “The Dark Overlord Solutions” and this overseas hacking group terrorized public schools across Flathead County in 2017. Columbia Falls Superintendent of Public Schools Steve Bradshaw responded to a barrage of threats by saying, “It’s the first time in my career that I’ve ever moved a gun to my bedroom.”
The heart-breaking ordeal shattered any perceived barrier between isolated Northwest Montana and the outside world as more than 30 schools were forced to close and the FBI swooped in to investigate this cadre of cyber criminals making threats and seeking ransom.
While law enforcement and school administrators managed the investigation, Lisa Jones and Brian Schott went to work on an effective communications strategy.
Jones and Schott will share what they learned from the experience on Tuesday, April 17 during the Governor’s Tourism Conference. Titled “Crisis Communications in a Wild World,” their presentation will outline productive steps toward a solution that helps protect public safety and a resort community’s brand.
Other case studies will include last summer’s raging wildfires in Glacier National Park, the destruction of Sperry Chalet and an unfortunate showdown between neo-Nazis and the town of Whitefish.
The Nazis threatened to stage a march in Whitefish during the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, when skier numbers jump. Racist protests are never a good look for a community, especially a charming ski town during a busy weekend.
Jones and Schott worked with other local organizers to effectively get many in the community to turn away and ignore the neo-Nazis. They did this by staging a separate event and serving 400 bowls of matzo ball soup. Thankfully, the hate demonstrators never showed up and hundreds had their spirits warmed by peaceful fellowship and a delicious winter meal.
“The neo-Nazi march was right in ski season,” remembered Jones during a recent phone interview. “We had to warn visitors because we didn’t want them on the street and we didn’t want them scared.”
Jones added that given Big Sky’s proximity to Yellowstone National Park and ongoing growth, it’s likely there will be some kind of crisis in the future and the community shouldn’t get caught flatfooted when it comes to communicating with the public about what’s going on.
“It could be a tanker spill in the canyon or a wildfire,” said Jones. “You want to be ready.”