“An organizational or community crisis requires an ability to quickly assess the situation and provide communications that are authentic, offer transparency and have the desired outcome at the core of the strategy.”

-Stacy Miller, President & CEO

Case Study: County of Santa Barbara

The County of Santa Barbara experienced its most deadly natural disaster in decades that left 21 dead, two missing and presumed dead, and hundreds of homes and businesses destroyed. An unpredictable amount of rain in a short time that fell on charred hillsides on the heels of a devastating fire caused a deadly debris flow; the likes of which had not been experienced in recent memory. If ever there was a need for strategic communication from an experienced team like SMPA, Inc., this twin set of disasters was it.

Faced with a myriad of major issues to deal with, the County of Santa Barbara brought in SMPA, Inc. just two days after the debris flow to assist with external communications.

The SMPA team worked alongside County staff and mutual aid representatives to create strategic communication tools and tactics including a new website, “ReadySBC,” that provided the community with up-to-date information regarding recovery efforts and future evacuation orders. The SMPA team met with community groups to learn their concerns and helped craft a name for the event: “The 1/9 Debris Flow,” assuring that one community would not be negatively branded with the disaster.

Realizing that the danger was not over, SMPA worked with the County and municipal leadership, Fire and Sheriff departments to help create “Ready, Set, Go,” an agreed-upon messaging among all County agencies for future evacuation and preparedness needs. Working alongside County staff, the SMPA team helped develop critical messaging to be utilized by those speaking on behalf of the County about the emergency response process and procedures.

In the early phases of recovery, SMPA created a comprehensive Strategic Communications Plan that included targeted goals, tools and tactics for short, mid and long-term implementation. From the plan, SMPA followed through and created a 10-page booklet for storm readiness and vital evacuation information for distribution in Montecito, as well as the “Take 5 and Stay Alive” information campaign, including a two-sided postcard and graphic and a comprehensive graphic featuring items for an “emergency kit” for web, press, social media.


The SMPA team is proud to be a part of the communications and outreach efforts the County of Santa Barbara led in the aftermath of this disaster. Because of the County’s emphasis on quality communication with its residents, businesses and stakeholders, the County is able to rebound and rebuild, while still being mindful that preparedness is now a way of life.