Bent Spear Background


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Augments crisis communication case study of Air Force's reaction to having lost six nuclear missiles in 2007. Find the presentation at

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Bent Spear Background

  1. 1. Lost Missiles, Lost Messages Understanding crisis communication, the high-reliability organization concept and military public affairs A supplement to study’s research proposal, which is also attached to the presentation
  2. 2. What is a Crisis? • “The perception of an unpredictable event that threatens important expectancies of stakeholders and can seriously impact an organization’s performance and generate negative outcomes.” -Coombs – Unpredictable – Threatens expectancies – Impacts performance – Perception
  3. 3. Communicating in a Crisis • Normal rules don’t apply during a crisis – Shortened response times – Impact on all organizational functions – Greater emphasis on accuracy and consistency in messages • Organizations should always be prepared for a crisis – Crisis management plan – Crisis communication plan • Precrisis stage
  4. 4. High-Reliability Organizations • This case study focuses on Air Force response through the HRO lens • HROs are organizations with missions in which failure could lead to potential catastrophe – Concept has been applied to numerous operations • Prisoner transport • Airport security • Naval flight operations • Coal mining • Nuclear operations – Increased importance for crisis preparedness
  5. 5. High-Reliability Organizations • HROs share many of these common traits: – Practice mindfulness • Preoccupation with potential for failure • Deference to expertise – Centralized command with decentralized decision- making authority – Team members share common understanding of goals – Constant operational training – Regular assessment of plans and execution – Redundant operations and safety checks – Highly scrutinized by stakeholders and regulators – Show evidence of organizational learning
  6. 6. United States Air Force • Only military organization in the world to use nuclear weapons in combat (Army Air Corps) – Japan, 1945 • Has played constant role in nuclear weapons- handling and deterrence mission • Two Bent Spear incidents prior to 2007 – 1966 – four bombs lost in Spain/Mediterranean Sea – 1968 – B-52 crashed on Greenland sea ice with four bombs in payload • Three AF units currently charged with maintenance of service’s nuclear weapons – 2007 mission was part of extended campaign to retire 400 AGM-129 missiles
  7. 7. Air Force Doctrine Document 2-5.3 • Governs Air Force Public Affairs – “Maximum disclosure of timely and accurate information as rapidly as possible” – Does not mention crisis communication – Says PA ops should be incorporated in operations – Emphasizes trust with stakeholders • Support operations • Aid in recruitment – Must be a balance between security and transparency • Cannot release sensitive operational information • Cannot withhold information simply because it is unflattering
  8. 8. Military Public Affairs • Military public affairs officers are considered special staff – Have direct ear of commander – Are often several steps lower in rank • For first time in 11 years, current Air Force chief of public affairs is a general officer – Rank gap allows commanders to ignore public affairs guidance in many situations – Other military policies can trump AFDD 2-5.3 (we’ll see this happen)
  9. 9. Military-Media Relationship • Long history of difficulty in relationship heading into 21st century – Vietnam • Some research points to media coverage creating public backlash against the war – Grenada • Journalists weren’t allowed on the ground – Panama • Journalists complained about receiving little notice prior to invasion • Cheney: Information flow was a problem government didn’t trust the media to solve – 1991 Gulf War • Military exercised pre-publication approval process
  10. 10. Crisis Communication? • Considering this information, did the incidents of August/September 2007 constitute a crisis for the Air Force? – Unpredictable event • Redundant safety measures should have prevented this – Negative impact on operations • Nuclear operations immediately halted • Nuclear surety certifications revoked • Firings of high-ranking officers – Exacerbated by later discovery of mistaken shipment of classified nuclear components to Taiwan