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Crisis-free crisis management.

Crisis-Free Crisis Management

On August 7, 1982, several dozen airline passengers were seated in the international flight departure area of Esenboga International Airport in Ankara, Turkey, waiting for their flight to be called. Suddenly, two gunmen rushed into the departure area, fired a submachine gun at random into the crowd and set off a bomb. What had been a normal, peaceful summer day turned into a scene of carnage.

As the smoke cleared from the explosion, police returned the terrorists' fire and managed to capture one of the terrorists. The other fled to the airport restaurant, where he took 15 or 20 people hostage. When one woman tried to escape, he shot and killed her. Police tried to talk him into surrendering, but he refused, setting off another bomb in the restaurant. The police then had no choice but to attack. In the hail of bullets that followed, many people were badly hurt before the terrorist was finally killed. In less than two hours, 71 people were injured, nine were killed and Esenboga Airport resembled a battlefield.

Crisis management has become one of the buzzwords of government and industry. In most organizations, crisis management and contingency planning develops along the same general lines as most other projects. These stages of development are enthusiasm, disillusionment/confusion, search for the guilty, punishment of the innocent and reward of the uninvolved. Although more than slightly tongue-in-cheek, the following example demonstrates the applicability of the stages to the incorrect style of crisis management.

In many organizations, the idea that some type of emergency situation will occur merits little consideration. However, so as not to sweep the matter completely under the rug, the task of emergency planning is usually delegated to a middle- or junior-level functionary. Thus, Stage I is reached and the designated planner begins his work.

A Thankless Task

Initially, all goes well as the planner outlines and lays the groundwork for the plan itself. Eventually, he will require the assistance of other personnel who have specialized knowledge relevant to some facet of the plan or whose seniority is sufficient to make some decision concerning it. At this point, the planner discovers that no one, particularly senior managers, has time to devote to considering events of such low probability. After all, the planner was delegated this task to free others to do the important work of the organization's daily business. Soon the planner realizes that he will have to do the best job possible without much, if any, help.

Stage II ensues as he begins to see the task as a thankless one in which he must develop a lot of information about unfamiliar matters in the absence of any guidance from senior management. As times passes, the planner assembles what information he can into the most comprehensive plan possible. This plan is then copied, distributed as appropriate and filed away by each recipient. Many recipients do not read it. those who take the time to read it often do not comment on its adequacy or completeness and, eventually, move on to other positions. As a result, the plan sits in a file drawer, unread, untested and un-updated. It is not until an emergency actually occurs that the plan is dusted off and used.

As happens in even the best-prepared organization, not everything goes perfectly during the emergency. In fact, a couple of important mistakes are made and the public image of the organization suffers as a result. Even before things completely return to normal, senior management wants to know why.

Stage III commences with the formation of a special committee to investigate the organization's response to an emergency. The planner writes a number of memoranda and attends several meetings to explain the cause of the emergency and why the plan proved inadequate.

Stage IV quickly follows as the planner's reputation within the company suffers as the result of the plan's failure. While his security does not suffer, any career advancement may be capped below what might have occurred.

Finally, to demonstrate to the world that the organization did do a good job of responding to the emergency, the planner's superiors receive some combination of bonuses, promotions and public acclaim, thus fulfilling Stage V.

Proactive Crisis Management

Effective crisis management is a collection of anticipatory measures which enable an organization to coordinate and control its responses to an emergency. It permits an organization to maximize its opportunities and minimize the dangers it confronts. Having a well-considered, well-tested contingency plan is important, but the planning process must stem from the willingness of senior management to make the policy decisions which determine the directions planners will take. The best crisis managers are those who are also involved in the contingency planning process which should precede any emergency.

Developing a good crisis management plan is analagous to constructing a pyramid. Like any construction project, building a pyramid requires a solid foundation. The base of the crisis management pyramid is senior management's willingness to think about the unpopular. Senior managers must clearly recognize that emergencies of various types are distinct possibilities and that preparations for them must begin well in advance of their occurrence.

The first requirement for effective crisis management is the involvement of senior management at the earliest stages of the contingency planning process. The relatively minor demands on the time and attention of senior management at this stage will pay large dividends when a crisis occurs.

When a crisis does arrive, it will often be accompanied by details and diversions. The recognition of dangers and opportunities is immeasurably aided if the crisis managers have been actively involved in the planning process. The job of the crisis manager is to focus on the important matters during the crisis, to distinguish the opportunities from the dangers and to ensure that the proper steps are taken. This requires the defining and control of crisis response(s).

Definition of the response(s) is the product of prior preparation, but controlling them requires that crisis managers harness the environment. This requires a willingness to delegate, an ability to organize and a humane appreciation of the stresses encountered in any emergency situation. Above all, harnessing the environment means providing an atmosphere in which your personnel can do the jobs for which they were selected. It means providing the right facilities, scheduling shifts and providing backups and adding the figurative pat on the back when appropriate.

A major function of crisis management is to contain the damage to your organization. Physical damage is frequently impossible to control, but emotional and public relations damage is not. The same humane appreciation which is so important in managing the crisis is equally important in coping with the emotional and public relations damage which can result from an emergency.

If you are successful in containing damage, you will have gone a long way toward successful resolution of the emergency. The measure of success will vary with the emergency, but it always entails emerging from the crisis in an as nearly identical a position as when the situation began. In some cases, it may even be possible to emerge in a better position than when you started.

Your next task as a crisis manager is to return to normalcy. Planning for an orderly resumption of normal operations is often left to chance. In human terms, the crisis manager must oversee the assistance victims might require. In terms of facilities someone must ensure that equipment is safe to operate and buildings are safe to enter. A complex production process built up over many years cannot simply be restarted by flipping a switch. The successful crisis manager will have ensured that the planning process has addressed and tested this facet of the emergency.

Finally, and in many ways most importantly, you must find ways to avoid repetition of the incident. Disasters that cannot be prevented can, however, often be mitigated. Induced catastrophes can frequently be prevented through more aggressive countermeasures. Your analysis of the emergency--from warning signs, if any, to the resolution of the crisis--will provide you with valuable information to reduce your vulnerability to similar emergencies in the future.

Mayer Nudell, a consultant with Speciliazed Consulting Services of Falls Church, VA, advises governmental, law enforcement and private sector organizations on all facets of crisis management. Norman Antokol is deputy director for political training of the School of Professional Studies at the Foreign Service Institute.
COPYRIGHT 1989 Risk Management Society Publishing, Inc.
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Author:Nudell, Mayer; Antokol, Norman
Publication:Risk Management
Date:Apr 1, 1989
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