Go through the “Tales of Two Shuttle Disasters” to illustrate the four stages.
Crisis communications - Power Point presentation
Public Relations strategies in a crisis
The Storm before the Storm
Almost one year to the day before Hurricane Katrina
ravaged the U.S. Gulf Coast, representatives of local,
state, and federal agencies participated in a mock
disaster called Hurricane Pam. The scenario, developed
by a consulting firm, came eerily close to what actually
happened in late August 2005, when Katrina became
the worst natural disaster in the nation’s history.
The purpose of the exercise was to learn what might
happen if the much-feared “big one” made a direct hit on
New Orleans, considered most vulnerable.
A 109-page report issued a few weeks later recommended
“an extraordinary level of advance planning to improve
government readiness.” Unfortunately, Katrina struck
before government officials had their plans in place.
The dangers facing New Orleans had been known for
decades. Even in the days before the hurricane made
landfall, the Federal Emergency Management Agency
warned that the city’s levees might not hold the storm
surge, potentially resulting in a catastrophe.
What happened has been well documented. Regardless of
whose version of events one may choose to believe, there is
an undeniable fact: a widespread belief that people charged
with the responsibility of protecting their fellow citizens
had failed in their duties when they were needed most.
The Katrina fiasco was not just an emergency management
failure. It was also a public relations failure. At the core was
a failure to manage relationships among key stakeholders,
including public and private response agencies. The
coordination of crisis response fell apart, in part, because
of poor inter-agency communication.
Crises can happen to anyone. History suggests that no one
is immune to crises. “It can’t happen here” is more wishful
thinking than fact. From a scandal involving the world’s
best golfer to a disastrous oil well fire in the Gulf of Mexico,
crises happen with unnerving regularity. Amazingly, most
crises are predictable and can be avoided.
The Anatomy of a Crisis
What is a crisis? A crisis is “a disruption that physically
affects a system as a whole and threatens its basic
Problem vs. Crisis - Problems are commonplace
occurrences, frequently predictable, capable of being
handled with little public attention. Crises tend to be
less predictable, require considerable time and
resources to resolve, and bring unwanted public
Crises are situations often marked by
forewarning and run the risk of:
escalating in intensity
falling under close government or media
interfering with normal operations
jeopardizing the image of the organization
damaging a company’s bottom line
1. Warning stage -- Most crises don’t “just happen.”
There are usually advance signs of trouble. If we can
recognize them and act upon them, the crisis can be
2. Point of no return -- This is when a crisis is
unavoidable and some damage will be done. How
much depends, to a large degree, on the amount of
preparation that has been done.
Four Stages of a Crisis
3. Cleanup phase -- This is the stage in which efforts are
undertaken to resolve the situation.
4. Things return to normal -- This is a bit deceptive.
After all, what was normal before the crisis may not be
normal after. It is a time for introspection and
Key point: Crises don’t have to happen. Management
can take steps to minimize or eliminate crises by either
identifying trouble before it occurs or learning from
the lessons of the past.
A Tale of Two Shuttle Disasters
Engineers had been aware of
the O-ring problem that led
to the shuttle explosion and
had debated it as late as 12
hours before the launch.
NASA officials were aware
that insulating foam had
struck the orbiter on lift-off,
but had determined that it
posed no threat.
Stage 1 – Warning Stage
Stage 2 – Point of No Return
The shuttle exploded 71
seconds into the flight.
As the shuttle began its
reentry, ground controllers
noticed the loss of some data.
It was followed by a loss of all
data and eyewitness accounts
that suggested that the
shuttle had disintegrated.
Stage 3 – Cleanup Phase
Against existing crisis plan
guidelines, NASA was silent
for five hours and left it to
President Reagan to confirm
the death of the crew.
Within minutes of the loss of
all shuttle data, a NASA
spokesman confirmed that it
was likely that the shuttle had
broken up. Within hours,
NASA began a series of
technical briefings on the
Stage 4 – Things return to normal
NASA’s poor response to the
accident led to a loss of
public confidence and an
external investigation. That
panel was of critical of NASA,
and the situation resulted in
the end of many careers.
NASA’s quick response won
public praise. The agency was
allowed to conduct its own
internal investigation of the
accident. A traumatic
restructuring of the agency
Crises Bring Opportunity
Potential benefits result from crises:
Heroes are born
Change is accelerated
Latent problems are faced
New strategies evolve
Early warning systems develop
Step One: Risk Assessment
Risk assessment is the identification of the various
threats under which an organization operates. Some
risks, such as weather and on-the-job accidents, are
common to many organizations. Others may be
specific to either what business an organization is in or
where it is doing its business.
Step Two: Developing the plan
Develop a precise definition of what constitutes a crisis
within the organization. Everyone should be using the
same terminology, and that terminology should have
the same meaning for everyone.
Develop a crisis management team, the people whose
job it will be to respond.
Identify where the response will be coordinated.
Identify where reporters can go to get information.
The role of the Internet
Step Three: Response
This is the stage in which the crisis plan is executed. If
the necessary steps have already been taken, especially
employee training, this is where the organization
benefits from all of that hard work.
Like any other plan, a crisis communications plan
must be flexible to address any changes in the
Step Four: Recovery
This is a time for evaluation and learning from what
was done right and what could have been done better.
It is a time for asking key questions:
Were our actions during and after the crisis consistent
with our organization’s values?
What aspects of the crisis did our plan anticipate? How
can we build upon these successes?
What aspects of the crisis did our plan fail to anticipate?
What changes do we need to make?
Crisis Planning Ethics
Crisis planning is not just a practical matter; it is an
ethical matter, as well. Considering the consequences -
- to those inside and outside the organization – of
being ill prepared, there is a moral obligation to plan
for the worst.
Many organizations plan only technical contingencies
required for responding to a potential crisis. They
should also be prepared to address the public
perceptions that will arise.