Matthew Sutton, vice president of the Charleston-based public relations firm Charles Ryan Associates, said a crisis you were not responsible for can become your crisis.
"There are people in New Orleans who still remember businesses that were friendly and helpful during Katrina and are still shopping or not shopping at stores because of the way they were treated," he said. "People will remember if you were or were not there for them.
"Simply tell the truth," Sutton said. "Be honest. Make sure your employees know what's going on as well. They're your advocates."
Even though some people can't get on the Internet and aren't following discussions on Facebook or Twitter now, "the stuff out there lives on forever," he said. "One or two bad things said about you will hurt your reputation for years to come. Word of mouth is going to last in this situation.
"Take this time to reflect and put together a crisis communication plan," he advised. "You may not have created this crisis but you have to deal with it. You don't have to have a 500-page plan. Get a document that has employee names, phone numbers and email addresses all in one binder. Lay out what you'll do if your business loses power. Let the employees look at it.
"Now is the best time to do it because you've just lived through your experience."
Also at the briefing, Tania Hotmer, manager of external affairs at Appalachian Power, explained how the utility's service restoration process works. She said customers might not see power company employees because a lot of the work currently underway is on big transmission lines that typically are not near houses.
Hotmer said people also sometimes have difficulty understanding why one side of the street has power but the other side doesn't. She said examples of this might be seen in St. Albans, where a big substation feeds five circuits. "Three of the five circuits aren't getting transmission in at all," she said. "Three are cold, two are hot."
Appalachian Power is doing all it can to keep the public updated through the traditional media as well as social media, she said.
Charleston City Manager David Molgaard said many people wonder why their street is closed and trees are still down. "It's because there are power lines intermingled with the trees," he said.
Even though the power may be off, "generators that people have at their homes can back feed into those lines creating dangerous situations," he said. "We have not had any fatalities in Charleston and we want to keep it that way."
Molgaard said regularly scheduled garbage pickup will continue this week, even today, the July 4 holiday. "Your regular routes will continue as scheduled," he said.
The city will show some leniency toward businesses that may be a little late renewing their business license or paying a tax if they've been impacted by the storm, he said. "Call the City Collector's Office or the department head or the person at the city you deal with and let them know you are down and need a little time," he said.
The city will try to keep its website updated, Molgaard added.
Also at the briefing:
* Representatives of the offices of U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller and U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito said the state's Congressional delegation is working together and stand ready to assist in all appropriate ways.
* Tim Gibson of the financial services firm Merrill Lynch urged businesses to take advantage of the expertise of their bankers, brokers and advisers. "They are paid professionals for a reason," he said.
* John Calvert of Advanced Technical Solutions said pre-planning is a must to ensure your business has the ability to recover from a disaster. He provided a sheet with tips for helping businesses survive a disaster.
* Kristina Oliver, state director of the West Virginia Small Business Development Center, urged businesses with questions to call the "Business Ask Me! Line" at 1-888-982-7232 or to send an email to AS...@wv.gov
Oliver handed out a packet that included a disaster recovery guide.Contact writer George Hohmann at busin...@dailymail.com or 304-348-4836.