Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Crisis agenda control - your organisation must be heard

Do you want the head of a SWAT team, a fire chief, or a corporate watchdog from a government agency speaking publicly on behalf of your company? Very often, many different outside service organisations and government departments can be involved in a crisis response.

 These groups can dominate your organisation’s location and, if not effectively managed, can become the face of your company, at the same time as dictating the mainstream of messages coming out of the event.  It is important to ensure that an organisation’s crisis plans incorporate ways and means of dealing with outside support groups working in the same response.    

In the response of TWA Flight 800 that was bound for Paris and literally crashed into the sea near Long Island, more than 50 disaster and emergency services operations and government agencies came together to initially deal with the disaster.  At least 20 agencies went on to investigate the event, deal with the pollution caused on the coastline, counsel friends and relatives, and work towards recovery.

The mayor of New York became intensely involved in advising next of kin, problems of environmental pollution and getting the message out to the US and international public.  The Coastguard was involved in underwater salvage.  Other Federal officers from a number of agencies were involved in the complex range of investigations.

This disaster became a major news item across the US for several months as many families and members of the public believed the handling of the whole situation was a crisis in itself.  Many of the post-incident evaluation sessions emphasised the need for greater collaboration between emergency services and government authorities.  All these organisations have their separate response plans which eventually need one common planning and communication thread.

Eric Jacoby Jr., Director of the New York State Emergency Management Office,  indicated there will be a number of changes in local government crisis management procedures following the response to the TWA Flight 800 crash.  He is working towards a greater linking of disaster and emergency policies for future crisis planning.

Reading the reports from the Contingency Planning Exchange Incorporated, it identified what TWA had to face was far more than an emergency. 

It was:

·        dealing with distraught families
·        managing an emotional public
·        coping with a huge press response
·        managing rumour and innuendo
·       coping with a large number of government enquiries
·       management of collecting evidence and finding the cause

Agendas run high in crises.  Political agendas, personal agendas, corporate agendas, emergency agendas, legal agendas.  In TWA’s case:

  • New York’s Mayor, Rudolph Guiliani, was concerned about notifying victims’ families, the environmental damage and telling the public.
  • The Coast Guard was concerned about recovering evidence from the water and dealing with retrieval of bodies and managing the area of water where the wreckage was located.
  • The New York Police Department were concerned about the huge security problems at JFK.  In addition to the normal airport traffic, there were literally hundreds of other people making enquiries.
  •  The FBI was concerned about the federal and international implications of terrorism.   
  •  Lawyers from around the United States wanted to represent the families and the businesses affected.
There were in fact 21 agencies involved in the investigation, cleaning up the beaches, security of the airport, investigations at the airport, counselling grief-stricken families.  Twenty one agencies who were dealing with the crisis management team at TWA.  Something like 2,000 people.  Five hundred media representatives set up operations at the airport and coastguard stations. 

The importance of crisis planning and communication was emphasised in all the post-incident evaluations. 

Planning and communication - two areas in which TWA was - quote “woefully inadequate” - said Mayor Guiliani on US television.  

TWA received criticism from many fronts.  As a result of much of the criticism and the Gore Commission for the US Congress, changes have been made to future crisis management strategies.

Pre-empt the worst case scenario for your organisation. Take control of the agenda in a crisis and make sure you are heard early and continually throughout the crisis response.