Thursday, December 8, 2011

Virginia Tech shooting alert system "awesome"

In yesterday's tragic shooting at the Virginia Tech campus where two people were shot dead, the alerts to students were rapid. Four alerts were given in the first hour of the incident following a campus policeman being shot. They started as follows: "From VT alerts (12:37pm): Gun shots reports - Coliseum parking lot. Stay inside. Secure doors. Emergency personnel responding. Call 911 for help." Then several minutes later: "Suspect described as white male, gray sweat pants, gray hat w/neon green brim, maroon hoodie and backpack."

Virginia Tech has an alert emergency notification system for students, staff and faculty that uses a number of delivery methods to reach students via phone alerts, desktop alerts, electronic message boards, broadcast emails, PA systems and the Virginia Tech home page.

Early responses from students and staff say the system worked well. Some students told television media the alert system was "awesome". This immediate and proactive aspect of the emergency response to the university shooting was taking place as Virginia Tech officials in Washington appealed a $55,000 fine levied by the US Department of Education after the previous 2007 massacre which killed 33 people. The fine was imposed for waiting too long to notify students after the attack.

US State actions after the 2007 event included the following recommendations: to integrate campus emergency planning into State Emergency Plans, communicate emergency management plans to all educational institutions, students, parents and workers and develop clear communication plans and tools to communicate rapidly.

The US Federal enquiry key findings that came out of the 2007 event were that:

* Education officials, healthcare and law enforcement personnel are not fully informed about sharing critical information on dangerous persons.
* Parents, students and teachers must learn to recognise warning signs and encourage those who need help to seek it.
* It is essential to keep guns out of the wrong hands.
* Need to fully implement emergency preparedness through practice and communication.

In this week's Virginia Tech shooting, a huge number of social media sites carried student views and videos of the shooting scene - many of the images have been picked up and used by mainstream media.

Pre-planning communication with key stakeholders in a crisis is at the centre of strong crisis management. Effective, up-to-date communication systems typically enhance response effectiveness during a critical incident, and early reports indicate that the Virginia Tech emergency notification system was a valuable asset for campus stakeholders.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Crisis management - Responsive Business Prescription

Managing the constant barrage of crises in today's rapidly changing environment will ultimately rely on the use of the internet, the inter-connectiveness of the business value chain and managing the changing information status.

Dr. John Bates, Chief Technology Officer at responsive business specialist Progress Software, proposes that businesses plug in and profit in the face of constant crisis. In the special abridged edition of his forthcoming book, Business Attention Deficit, he says that organisations need to follow simple rules:

* "Gain real time visibility of business events as they happen.
* Proactively sense and respond to opportunities and threats
* Continually improve your business using 21st century techniques
such as social media, mobility solutions and the cloud."

Dr. Bates identifies recent rapid cataclysmic crises that put modern business on a war footing. He confirms that business has to be responsive and provide a bulwark against the worst case scenario, particularly related to the Flash Crash that wiped trillions of dollars off the US stockmarkets and confounded regulators and traders, the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, escalating from an environmental crisis, and the earthquake and tsunami in Japan disrupting the supply chain in car parts and affecting the global automobile industry.

Identifying crisis threats needs to be constant. As an organisation changes, so do the threats. One year in a period of building, plant accidents may be high on the agenda and in another place, in another country, the threat of kidnap and ransom may be high on the agenda. As the organisation faces larger audiences, the threat of safety and security may be the priority. Once the threats have been identified, the priority is to determine the strategic and tactical responses that would contain, control and then recover from such an event.

Dr. Bates' book, "B.A.D. - How to plug in and profit in the face of constant crisis", was previewed at the Progress Revolution conference in Boston in 2011 and will be published in 2012.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Mine/Resource industry crisis preparedness

The mining resources industry has its fair share of risk. Some of the most sophisticated crisis management planning has been put in place by global mining and resource companies. Mining crisis management is tested, validated and integrated with emergency planning more than in most other industries. But the tragic loss of life in the mining industry continues as we saw in the recent Welsh colliery mining disaster, where the hunt for the miners ended with the news that all four miners were found dead. The tragedy played out typically through extensive live television, radio and press coverage, social media commentary and emotional family and community involvement throughout the escalation of the event.

In April 2010 in West Virginia, 29 miners were killed 1000 feet underground in the worst mining disaster in the US in 40 years. Thirty three Chilean miners were trapped in August last year in a massive cave-in. In this crisis, the miners were rescued in what was an outstanding example of rescue skills, crisis management planning and recovery. The miners were rescued after 69 days at 2,300 feet (700 m.) underground.

Currently, there is a Royal Commission of Inquiry into New Zealand's recent mine disaster in Pike River that killed 29 people. The Inquiry will examine and report on the causes of the explosions at the mine and subsequent loss of life, and all aspects of the safety regulatory regime and rescue operations at the mine.

Accidents will continue to happen. What resource companies and mining management must do is to shore up their strategic crisis management plans to link with emergency management plans, i.e.

* Be ready to make rapid strategic decisions as well as tactical response at site.
* Localise the response, while maximising corporate and strategic assistance.
* Create a tailor made plan around uniform standards.
* Train and validate plans with large simulations and training exercises.
* Start planning for recovery before a crisis occurs.
* Test critical information systems for sharing response actions.

What fundamentally distinguishes crisis-prepared from crisis-prone resource and mining organisations is their overall cultural view of crisis preparedness.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Product sabotage and social media

Criminal contamination is a crisis and this was never more obvious than the recent Nurofen product tampering in the UK.

One of the more popular painkillers, Nurofen Plus was criminally replaced with an anti-psychotic drug. Purchasers of the over-the-counter painkiller faced the serious situation that some packs contained a prescription only drug used to treat conditions such as schizophrenia instead of a simple headache. Reckitt Benckiser (UK) Limited recalled Nurofen Plus, reporting that sabotage was suspected. The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) worked with the company and the Metropolitan Police to investigate.

Initially there seemed to be very little information regarding the recall provided on the Nurofen website or on the Facebook page. Some detail came in a basic statement on the website about ten hours later. Twitter identified public concern was being expressed by the consumer.

Being ready to respond to an escalating crisis via the web is as important as responding on radio and television and in the press. Utilising websites and social media will help control the high ground in an emerging or escalating critical product incident or product recall. This rapid communication tool can correct rumour and innuendo and protect the consumer, retain market share and manage the crisis.

It's almost 30 years since two mothers, two sisters, a bride, a 12 year old schoolgirl and a stewardess all took Extra Strength Tylenol and died from cyanide poisoning. This landmark case was managed very well by Johnson & Johnson, who developed a new tamper-proof package and worked with the FDA and the FBI to take control and virtually save their brand. The social media phenomena was not around then but maybe Johnson & Johnson would have used this tool to waylay fear and apprehension and communicate their product recovery. It is still in its early days for many drug companies and manufacturers.

Monday, June 27, 2011

When is a crisis plan out-of-date?

Recent oil spills, product recalls and natural disasters have identified major critical gaps in crisis planning processes. Systems change, authorities shift, equipment ages, new equipment is installed and, importantly, key people move.

A rapid response will save lives and property and should ensure minimal operational interruption, but there are a number of reasons why this may not be possible:

* ownership of the crisis management program have changed
* organisational changes have occurred across the business
* management expectations of crisis preparedness have altered
* emergency and crisis interface have not been tested recently
* new threats/risks have not been incorporated into the plan
* key stakeholders need reconfirming
* internal communication systems have not been validated recently
* loss of contact with essential agencies - fire, police, medical
* new employees are not familiar with contingency plans
* impact of "social media" in crisis has not been considered
* reputational and brand issues have shifted

A regular, formal crisis audit needs to be applied to confirm that all subsidiaries and contractors maintain the currency of their crisis plans. People become lazy about preparedness for crisis and live training exercises are the only way to ensure that crisis plans are functionally up-to-date.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Asian crisis management

I have just returned from facilitating crisis management workshops and training exercises in Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Sri Lanka and India and there is growing and refreshing understanding of crisis management processes in government and business in those countries.

Recognition of the dramatic effect of the Japanese earthquake, the Indonesian tsunami, the Kashmir and China earthquakes, Cyclone Nargis and other disasters in the region, plus events such as China's national dairy recall crisis over tainted baby milk and the horrendous terrorist attack in Mumbai, have all played a part in convincing Asian governments and corporations that crisis management planning is central to preparing for the unthinkable. There is much more crisis management strategic interaction between national and provincial governments, and the private sector is including crisis management and business continuity as a responsible process in risk management strategy, preparedness, response and recovery.

I experienced top management and corporate leadership in Singapore, Bangkok and Bangalore endorsing crisis management education in terms of training, finance, material equipment and personnel. At one large manufacturing site in Thailand, I was delighted to see their current Crisis Management Team displayed on a wall chart adjacent to the central conference room. The room itself was set up to manage an escalating crisis with phones, whiteboards and appropriate technology in place. They also proudly showed me their crisis incident rehearsal schedule. They are more than ticking boxes - they are passionate about the maintenance of their program.

In Asia, there is undoubtedly a growing awareness of how a local crisis in a small village can now escalate rapidly to global front-page news and how people issues can be the active centre of a critical event.

As Japan moves firmly towards its earthquake recovery, the rest of Asia is reassessing its critical threats with the knowledge that even the worst case scenario can continue to escalate, and serious scenario planning is needed to prepare for such catastrophes.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Corporate crisis exposure in turbulent times

With the turbulent unrest in the Middle East - from Tunisia to Egypt and reaching Jordan, Lebanon, Sudan and Yemen and the current situation in Libya - international corporates and governments become intensely aware that doing business in these countries does require proactive crisis management planning.

As an organisation sends more of their personnel onto dangerous ground, so the security threats, as well as business threats, widen.

Some companies work with international security organisations to monitor security issues in overseas countries and to maintain a watch on evacuation readiness. Many of these security organisations can provide emergency assistance in the event of civil or political unrest. Some even provide specialist services in hostage negotiation and security supported evacuation.

The fact is, as the threats change or escalate, so they need to be prepared for. Assessing the threat and its response is a priority.

It depends entirely on the kind of business you do and where you do it and, to some extent, how you do it, that predicts the threats that may need to be considered in the dynamics of your crisis response.

There is no doubt that damage can be minimised to overseas offices if those offices take their threat identification seriously and review what things could go wrong.

Some of the most common crisis threats at overseas locations are:

• disruption to operations
• change of government attitude or policy
• industrial action
• economic collapse and devaluation
• lawlessness and hostile demonstration
• transport accident
• fatality
• fire or explosion
• environmental damage
• serious bad weather (hurricane, typhoon, flood, tidal wave, fire storm)
• medical emergency
• epidemic

Less common threats, but those that might affect the short and long term prospects of the company, are:

• terrorist activities
• sabotage of plant and operations
• kidnap for ransom
• violent assault
• confinement or imprisonment of employees and families
• extortion
• contamination of product
• drug trafficking
• murder of expatriates
• cessation of commercial international flights

You cannot have a plan for every crisis. You cannot create a plan for ever threat. But preparing a set of basic plans and training for dealing with the most likely problems gives you a chance to get ahead of the problem. Having the decision making checklists to make sure you have covered off the things that have to be done could save lives and protect your brand and reputation internationally.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Anna Bligh - world leader in crisis management

In Australia's worst floods in living memory, unique crisis leadership inspired a nation. The performance of Queensland's Premier, Anna Bligh, represented a global benchmark in managing and controlling the urgency of the crisis response against a background of a devastating, escalating statewide emergency.

Delivering an informative and compassionate performance that leapt ahead of leadership responses to recent crises such as the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, New Orleans Hurricane Katrina and even Australia's own Beaconsfield mine disaster, Anna Bligh stepped forward as the steadfast face of the flood. She led with a message strategy that clarified what was happening and how people would be affected. Rudy Giuliani delivered a similarly focused performance during the response to the 9/11 terrorist attack on New York.

Anna Bligh's response, supported by her senior police and emergency services heads, was much more than spin and her audience knew that. Confronted with a rapidly changing and terrifying environment, she showed understanding of the situation and delivered strong motivational messages to take the high ground and stay there. "The weather may break our hearts, and it's doing that, but it will not break our will, and in the coming weeks and coming months, we are going to prove that beyond any doubt," she said.

Her insightful leadership delivered an orderly and efficient transition from normal to emergency conditions. In the regular two-hourly press conferences, she showed consistency in action, and importantly, what she said under-promised and over-delivered. The internet chatted and twittered with praise and admiration for her as she presented a true picture of the situation to Brisbane and rural Queensland. Virtually every television and radio network suspended regular programs and went live and on the spot as they broadcast the depth of the deadly flood waters destroying people's lives, livelihoods and homes.

There was a strange, uneasy similarity between President Bush during 9/11 and the Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, in this crisis. So many of their stilted appearances during the crisis high points were wooden, robotic and lacking sensitivity and vision. The lesson here is there is room for only one clear leader, and once that post has been established, presidents and prime ministers have to be comfortable with second place and show it.

Now as the waters subside and the recovery starts, Anna Bligh displays a new phase of her leadership, focusing on recuperation and revival. She appears to be deliberately avoiding a political media circus and rules out an early Queensland state election to capitalise on her now popular position. "My commitment to the people of Queensland is this: 2011 is a rebuilding year. 2012 will be an election year, not 2011," she said.

Future recovery will be a telling time for Anna Bligh, who may well be judged now on how successfully the state of Queensland is revived and rebuilt. Britain's inspirational war-time leader and Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, lost the election in 1945 as Britain struggled to recover.