For the 3.7 million people who travel there each year, Yosemite National Park provides a relaxing destination filled with picturesque views of mountains, waterfalls and groves.
But on Tuesday, August 28, 1,700 recent occupants of the park's "Signature Tent Cabins" in Curry Village had their positive memories turn sour as they received letters and e-mails informing them of possible exposure to a potential deadly disease.
A reported two deaths have been linked to the hantavirus pulmonary syndrome and an additional two have become ill as a result.
A crisis involving the health of those who have visited Yosemite has forced swift action and transparency from the park’s PR staff. In addition to the correspondence sent out to those who may have been impacted, communication with the media and the National Park Service has taken place to properly inform the public and future visitors about what’s happened.
"We're very concerned about visitors and employees," park spokesman Scott Gediman said in a report. "But we feel we are taking proactive steps in both cleaning the affected areas and in public education. But it's absolutely impossible to eliminate all risk."
In addition to working with the media, Yosemite has been proactive on social networks, sharing links on Twitter and its Facebook pages. With concern evident in the comments, Yosemite has responded to each inquiry to provide insight and any info it can. Information could also be found on the park’s Web site.
“They are addressing the outbreak aggressively both on-site and in the media, which is exactly what you would want them to do,” says Matt Barkett, managing director and head of crisis communications practice for Dix & Eaton, Inc. “They are talking about what actions they are aggressively taking to identify the source and eradicate the issue. Phrases like 'we take the issue extremely seriously' and references to their ongoing collaboration with public health officials are reassuring to the public."
In this crisis, the staff at Yosemite has no control over the health threat hanging over the park. What they can control, however, is the message they are presenting. And so far, they have done an effective job in presenting information in an honest and transparent way to the relevant parties.
Follow Jamar Hudson: @jamarhudson