Today’s national headlines are nothing short of devastating. Between the Washington D.C. Navy Yard shooting, Colorado flooding, and New Jersey Boardwalk Fire, crisis and disaster to pervade all corners of the U.S.

California is not exempt. This summer’s Rim Fire in the Sierra Nevada’s consumed more than 400 square miles displaced scores of residents from their homes.

In times of tragedy, citizens expect leadership. And one of the first places they look to are their local leaders.

The Institute for Local Government (ILG) has compiled a list of resources that serve as effective crisis management guides for local officials.

While some cities are acutely aware of impending disaster and have embraced this reality (see: San Diego, who has joined together with other local agencies to encourage citizens to take a proactive approach to disaster-preparedness), many have failed to adequately prepare a plan of action for how they would respond to extenuating circumstances.

And preparedness is the sure-fire way of ensuring that your city and city’s leadership is not “caught with its pants down.”

Highlights of the IGL resource include the following suggestions:

  • The number one goal of a public agency during a crisis should be to “counteract feelings of hopelessness and helplessness.”
  • Actions can be symbolic, such as raising a flag, or preparatory, such as hosting a blood drive.
  • Communication is key. Officials fail their constituents and kill operational success by sending mixed messages, releasing info late, adopting paternalistic attitudes, failing to debunk rumors in real time and not coordinating with other local agencies.
  • Rather, a solid communication plan should be in place, the agency should serve as the “go-to” source for breaking information, a sympathetic tone should be evident from the get-go and honesty is the best policy. These steps will illustrate both competence and expertise.
  • Public messages should follow the STARCC principle: Simple, Timely, Accurate, Relevant, Credible and Consistent.

Financial advisor and commentator Howard Ruff once said of preparedness, “It wasn’t raining when Noah built the ark.”

Likewise, public officials commit a grave mistake if they wait to figure out how to navigate crises until tragedy strike. Brush up on some local agency disaster-readiness tips here.

ILG is the nonprofit research and education affiliate of the California State Association of Counties and the League of California Cities.