CRISIS MANAGEMENT AND RISK MANAGEMENT
Plenary III, 13h30-14h15
YEO Pre-convention Meeting
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A.
Friday, 17 June 2005
Presenter: John Weting
SLIDE ONE- CRISIS MANAGEMENT AND RISK MANAGEMENT
Good afternoon, I am honored to offer this presentation on Crisis and Risk to a group of friends
from around the world representing 72 countries and even more cultures. As chairman of the
Central States Rotary Youth Exchange Program I would also like to welcome you to Central
The first thing I would like to clarify is that I am NOT an expert on the topic I am presenting on.
I am an architect by training and have been involved in Rotary Youth Exchange since 1987.
Seven years ago I changed profession and am now the Director of International Affairs at a
Midwestern university. Essentially, I import and export university students. So what we all do
for Rotary for free, Northern Michigan University pays me to do! Between my Rotary Youth
Exchange experience and my work in international education I have developed some experience
in crisis management and risk management, but I would certainly not define myself as an
Like many of you, I have been involved in Youth Exchange for many years and unfortunately
have had the experience of dealing with a few crises over the years. These have ranged from
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helping an inbound deal with the suicide of a boyfriend back home, to a bus accident involving
38 students from 17 countries, to the successful suicide of a student – this was one of my
university students. While some may argue that helping a student deal with the death of a
relative or friend back home is not a crisis- it is a crisis to the student. The proper
“management” of this crisis would simply be to keeping others informed to best deal with the
My “expertise” in crisis management would be defined by having written a research paper 0n
crisis management planning, as a part of a Masters program, I am responsible for the Northern
Michigan University International Affairs Office Crisis Management Plan and I developed the
Central States Crisis Management Plan.
Individuals in the audience may well be more qualified to present on this topic. I will leave
ample time at the end of this presentation for questions and answers as well as for others to
voice other opinions, provide additional input or correct what they feel is incorrect information
SLIDE TWO- IS A CRISIS PLAN NEEDED?
With the tsunami that devastated Southeast Asia this past December, can anyone really say that
they do not need to have a Crisis Management Plan?
Crisis management plans are necessary because eventually, a crisis will occur, the only variables
are when and how sever the crisis will be. WHEN a crisis occurs, your program needs to have a
plan in place. As the crisis begins to unfold is not the time to develop the plan! I would agree
that many of the crises that we have dealt with in our program have been dealt with without the
benefit of a developed crisis management plan. Thanks to very dedicated Rotarians, many of
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these past crises were dealt with very well. With a crisis management plan in place the same
crises could be handled in a less stressful manner and without “details’ falling through the
cracks. Therefore the goal of any crisis management plan should obviously be to best serve the
people affected by the crisis. Prior planning will help to minimize the unknown elements and
therefore reduce the confusion and stress when dealing with the crisis. Fortunately we are
involved with a program that is generally very positive and we do not need to deal with a crisis
frequently. Unfortunately, this can lull us into a state of being unprepared to deal with a crisis
when it occurs.
In our lives there will be times that will require us to react quickly and decisively to a set of
adverse and constantly changing circumstances. How we react, both individually and as a team
member, will determine how effective we will be in dealing with the issues. Simply put, this is
crisis management. Being well prepared in advance will help us to react decisively and
positively to the crisis when it emerges. The primary focus of crisis management must be to the
effected individual or people most impacted by the crisis. In time of crisis, our primary concern
is not how our exchange program will be impacted; our primary concern MUST be the
individual or individuals that have been impacted by the event. If we properly address the needs
of the individuals the image of our program will be enhanced.
A crisis management plan need not be complicated; indeed the best plans are general and
flexible in nature. Such plans can best address the wide variety of crises that we may need to
deal with over the course of time.
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SLIDE THREE- WHO SHOULD HAVE A PLAN?
All levels involved with the Rotary Youth Exchange program should have a Crisis Management
Plan in place, this includes the local Rotary Club. While it may be unrealistic to expect that each
Rotary Club would embrace this concept, it is none the less a good goal that would be beneficial
in the event of a crisis. As a minimum, the local Rotary Club and Club Youth Exchange
Counselor should be aware of an excellent and valuable resource. The “Youth Exchange
Handbook” published by Rotary International and available at the RI website has an appendix
titled, “Guidelines for Youth Exchange Emergencies”. This is an excellent resource that all
Rotarians involved in Youth Exchange should be thoroughly familiar with. It provides excellent
advice but when the crisis occurs, this is not the time to familiarize yourself with the guidelines
contents. If you are not familiar with this document, I would strongly encourage you to obtain a
copy and become very familiar with its contents.
In reality, it is likely the District who will play the primary role in managing any crisis.
Therefore, as a minimum, each District must have a well thought out plan to deal with crises
when they occur.
It is also critical for multi-districts to have an effective crisis management plan. While the
District will likely play a lead role in dealing with a crisis, the multi-district will likely have a
secondary and supportive role in dealing with the crisis. The role of the multi-district and level
of involvement they will play in the event of a crisis is heavily dependent on the structure of the
multi-district. Defining the roles that Districts and the Multi-District will play avoids confusion
and unnecessary delays at a very critical time. If this is not accomplished in advance one may be
waiting for the other to act or react, the result being a delay in the proper actions being taken
resulting in an increased level of frustration and stress for the crisis management team and
more importantly for the management of the crisis itself.
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SLIDE 4- WHAT IS A CRISIS?
So what makes an event a crisis?
A crisis can be natural or man made, it can be physical or emotional, it can be where the student
is physically located or emotionally located (in other words, back home), it can be political in
nature, it can be any number of things and the definition of crisis will vary from culture to
culture. A crisis can be monumental affecting hundreds or thousands of people or it can be an
isolated event affecting only a handful of individuals. But these all hold one thing is common,
for the individuals affected, the crisis is measured by the stress, disruption and pain it causes in
their lives- not by the numbers involved. Our job is to assist them through the difficult time and
help them to get their life back in order.
When a crisis occurs, it may be at home “here” or home “there” or in both “homes”. The crisis
that involves the student where they are physically located is generally obvious. But we must
also be watchful of a crisis back home where the student is emotionally located. Events make
occur back home that may generate great emotional stress and a “crisis” in the student’s life.
These are more difficult to be watchful of but can have a significant impact on a student’s
exchange. These could be medical or emotional problems back home or, as many Asian
students found in 1997, an economic crisis resulting in the devaluation of home currencies.
The crisis may impact an individual or many people. It may be the death of an individual
student or an accident involving many students. In any case the crisis will impact many lives
emotionally and your crisis management plan must deal with the extended emotional impact.
A crisis could involve the death or serious illness of a student. These issues could be further
complicated by religious and cultural differences.
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On 17 January 1995 a powerful earthquake struck Kobe, Japan. This was a crisis with wide
impact, over 5,000 souls perished and over 300,000 were left homeless. This event was a cause
for concern for Rotary students hosted in Japan and their families located around the world,
and of Japanese students hosted throughout the world worried about their families back home
in Japan. The event was in a relatively isolated location- however the impact of the crisis was
felt throughout the Rotary world. At the time I was the Asian Correspondent for Central States
and was honored to “work” this crisis with many wonderful and dedicated Japanese Rotarians
who in light of a national disaster worked tirelessly to keep us all informed of the status of our
students and the family’s of their Japanese students. Their efforts help hundreds of people
around the world better deal with a very difficult situation.
Over the years we have had to deal with civil unrest in various countries, sometimes involving
the non-violent and sometimes violent changes in governments. In the cases I have been
involved in, I have always been impressed by the level of caring and attention given to Rotary
Youth Exchange students by the Rotarians watching over them. I often use these examples to
help students, parents and other Rotarians understand what makes our program so special.
When the government of Ferdinand Marcos was being overthrown, my Rotary Club had a
student hosted in Manila, The Philippines. She’d had two host families- one host father was a
General that aligned himself with the Marcos regime and the other was a General that aligned
himself with Corazon Aquino, the opposition. The two Generals called each other on the phone
and agreed that however the pending revolution turned out, Tanya would have a safe home to go
to. So as the revolution was about to start, the two opposing Generals put aside their political
difference to agree that in the end Tanya would be safe. Upon agreeing that Tanya would be
safe, the Generals went out to do battle. Not knowing it would be a bloodless revolution.
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A crisis can also be monetary in nature as we saw during the Asian Economic Crisis of 1997.
This event while generally not life threatening created stress and concern over economic
hardship around the globe.
In recent years our program has had to deal with crises concerning SARS and avian flu. In some
cases it meant that Rotarians reacted to protect the students and thus the program by retuning
students home early.
Rotarians have handled these and other past crisis events in an exemplary manner but not
always with the benefit of a crisis management plan. So it brings us back to the question- Do we
need a Crisis Management Plan?” I believe that YEO’s who have dealt with crises in the past,
with or without the benefit of a plan, would agree that it is better to have a plan in place to help
guide you through the process and to prevent various details from being omitted by accident.
SLIDE 5- ISSUES AND CONCERNS
So the decision is made to develop a crisis management plan for your Youth Exchange Program.
What are some of the basic elements the plan should include? For me it is helpful to draw on
past experience when developing a crisis management plan. A crisis involving the death of a
student is one event that will draw upon a very broad range of issues and concerns that any plan
should encompass. If you have not experienced the death of a student in your program be
grateful, but it is not difficult to imagine the impact it might have on individuals and the
program. So lets us assume the death of a student.
In the event of any crisis one of the first things you will need to do, and one of the most difficult,
is to notify the natural parents. The time back in the student’s home country will need to be
considered, but most importantly you need to consider the barrier of language. Stressful news
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should always be delivered to the parents in their native language when possible, even if they
speak your language very well. Their minds will be thinking more clearly in their own language,
they can better absorb and retain the information you will provide and they can ask better
questions. In many cases, this will involve the use of a translator. This is a very emotional time
and if at all possible, you should avoid using another exchange student to provide the
translation. While they will know the language and culture they will likely be too emotionally
connected to do the job well. It also puts a great deal of stress on the student translator. There
are a number of translation services available in our communities- professional translators,
telephone services, universities, community members, etc. Now would be the time to build a
database of these resources and how to contact them so that when the need arises you are not
searching for the information.
There will certainly be cultural and religious considerations to think about. What if the death
occurs in a culture that requires and autopsy but the student is from a culture that considers an
autopsy a violation of their religious teachings or their traditions require burial within a short
period from the time of death. These may or may not be issues that you will have much control
over but being aware of them will make you more sensitive in dealing with the parents and the
officials pressing for the conflicting policies to be followed. Persons in your community from the
student’s culture or a member of the same religion could prove to be a valuable resource in
helping distant parents deal with a traumatic and stressful experience that conflicts with their
religious and cultural norms.
Student health and accident insurance has been a long standing and ongoing point of discussion
in our program, I will not enter into the discussion of who should pay for what insurance. With
respect to crisis management we simply need to be assured that our students have the proper
health and accident insurance and that the information includes who to contact in case of an
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emergency. While insurance contact information will not likely be needed in the first hours of
the crisis, it is information that will be needed as you deal with the crisis.
Medical issues can also be a source of conflict and confusion. There is of course the language
barrier that medicine provides even within our own language much less being translated into
another language. In addition there is the possibility of medical procedures being proposed that
conflict with the student’s religious beliefs, for instance the prohibition of some religions against
the transfusion of blood. Again a local resource could prove to be very helpful in dealing with
religious and cultural matters.
There will likely be legal issues that need to be considered. Again, the laws of one country may
make no sense to the parents in another country. Some cultural sensitivity in dealing with legal
matters may be very helpful
The news media can be particularly challenging during your crisis management. Your district’s
crisis is news and their job is to report the news! No, you will not keep the crisis quiet, so you
must be prepared to deal with the media regarding your crisis. With text messaging, e-mail, the
Internet, CNN and other tools of the media no event of interest will go un-noticed. In the bus
accident I mentioned at the beginning of my remarks, simply dealing with the very persistent
news media proved to be a significant challenge for the crisis management team.
At one point, we were contacted by a German news team who wanted to send a crew to
photograph the accident scene! By the time they were contacting us the site had already been
cleared, traffic was moving again and nearly all traces of the accident had been removed. Still
we had a difficult time getting them to understand there really was nothing to photograph, they
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felt we were hiding something from them. Their persistent calls were a recurring source of
frustration as we attempted to deal with significantly more pressing matters.
The Japanese Consulate in Detroit was also very insistent. They wanted to know that their
Japanese students were alright. Despite our assurance that the students were fine, they kept
calling wanting to speak to one of the students. At a conference with 1,200 people in attendance
and dealing with a crisis, it was not a simple task getting any of the Japanese students to the
crisis center to talk to the Consulate. At one point my daughter was manning the phones when
the Consulate called once again, she again assured them the Japanese students were uninjured
and fine. They explained that they needed to hear that the students were alright in Japanese. So
my daughter who had spent two separate years in Japan told them in Japanese that their
students were uninjured and fine. The Consulate saw no humor in this and still insisted in
speaking to one of the Japanese students.
The point being, the media can be a source of additional stress at a very stressful time. Any
crisis management plan needs to give consideration as to how the media will be dealt with.
Meeting the needs of the effected people must be the driving force in your crisis management
plan. Hiding or coloring the available information to alter its appearance will in all likelihood,
have a negative impact in the end. Your plan needs to protect the privacy of the people involved
but yet be transparent in the dissemination of information to the public. This can be a very
difficult mission to accomplish.
One important element that should not be overlooked is the recording of a chronology of the
events relating to the crisis. The chronology should start by detailing whatever background
information can be provided and then proceed to provide a time sensitive step by step of what
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occurred, decision that were made, contacts that were made, etc. Even details that seem
meaningless at the time could be important latter on. Could such a chronology be used against
you in a future legal battle? Possibly. But I would propose that the chronology would hold more
details that will help you than hinder you if a legal battle ensued.
SLIDE 6- THE CRISIS MANAGEMENT TEAM
Who serves on your district crisis management team will very from district to district, culture to
culture and may very even by the event. But you plan should include the following people or
provide the following expertise- the District Youth Exchange Chairman, the district inbound
coordinator, the district outbound coordinator, a media coordinator, an insurance coordinator,
a cultural coordinator, a religious coordinator, a counselor, a legal coordinator and a language
coordinator. This is not to say that your team needs to have each of these positions filled by an
individual, one individual may serve the team in a number of capacities. Some of these
positions may be part of a database of contacts within the community who can be called on as
the need arises. But having these individuals identified and ready to act as a part of the crisis
management team in advance of the event will save critical time as the crisis begins to unfold.
But your team also needs to have depth so that there is a broad range of input from others and a
number of members who can deal with the crisis on a rotational basis. During the bus incident,
having a rotation of individuals to deal with the persistent media was very helpful in reducing
the stress. The initial hours and days of a crisis are very stressful and demanding. It is very
good to have team members who can rotate on and off duty to remain fresh to best deal with the
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SLIDE 7- WHO TO KEEP INFORMED (STAKEHOLDERS)
There will be a number of people who you will need to keep in touch with and updated on the
crisis as it develops. These too will change depending on culture, conditions, crisis, etc. and
some will be constant. You will of course need to keep the natural parents well informed. In
addition you have the Sponsor District Youth Exchange Program, your own district youth
exchange personnel and students, the District Governor, Rotary International Intercultural
Programs, the student’s Embassy, the student’s insurance carrier, etc.
Some of this contact needs to be made by phone and some can be done by more impersonal
forms of communications such as e-mails, faxes, etc. But it is important that you keep the key
people informed as the crisis occurs and continues to unfold.
SLIDE 8- AFTER THE CRISIS
After the crisis has passed the crisis management teams need to take the time necessary to
unwind from the stress of managing the crisis and in some cases it may require the team have
access to a counselor to help them deal with the experience.
Once some time has passed and life is more normal again, the team should be brought back
together to critically review the crisis management plan and assess just how well the plan
preformed. The purpose of gathering the team is not to praise the team for their good efforts,
the purpose is to conduct a critical review of the crisis management plan to identify the
strengths and weaknesses of the plan. Then you need to revise the plan to strengthen the
weaknesses. This will allow you to be better prepared the next time you need to implement the
crisis management plan.
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SLIDE 9- RISK MANAGEMENT
Before a crisis is the time when you want to review your District insurance coverage- what is and
is not covered? Are there conditions that can be covered for a minimal expense? Are there
certain activities that should be avoided? Are there certain procedures that must be followed to
keep the policy intact? These are all questions that need to be investigated and addressed before
a crisis tests them.
A critical review of the variety of insurance policies and coverage that the students will bring
with them is not practical, but you can assure that all of your students are insured and that you
have collected the necessary contact information for the student’s file.
SLIDE 10- (THERE IS NO TITLE)
In conclusion, I would like to say, A Crisis Management Plan is like an insurance plan- you hope
you never have to use it, but if you do, you want the plan to be the best plan possible!
SLIDE 11- THANK YOU
I want to thank Arne Jensen and the Youth Exchange Committee for the opportunity to present
this topic and hope that you have found it beneficial.
Thank you, I will now open the meeting for questions.
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