Anatomy of a crisis – whatever can go wrong, probably will


Nobody likes to pay for Crisis Management preparation and training. It’s a bit like house insurance – an expense you can do without – until the fateful day when a hurricane takes off your roof or fire reduces your home to ashes.

crisis management“We’ll deal with it when and if we need to,” Is the most common response from business leaders.

It really amazes me how many really serious international companies, often operating in crisis-prone industries, still rely on good luck and their ability to ‘make it up as we go,’ when something goes badly wrong. And go wrong it will, someday, somehow.

I’ve seen many examples of companies being totally unprepared for the consequences of what was basically a predictable disaster, followed by massive bills for the ‘emergency’ crisis management advice that is suddenly needed, and the clean-up operations that can sometimes last for years. Senior heads often roll, wishing they had had the foresight to do some proper preparatory planning.

I was going to use a ‘real-life’ experience of such a situation as an illustration, until I found this one, courtesy of Gary Gibbon at UK’s Channel 4 News. A crisis doesn’t come much bigger, and nor does the organizational mess it uncovered:

“The Cabinet Secretaries were asked about their most memorable says in the job. Lord Wilson talked about the day of the 9/11 attacks in 2001. He said he heard about the second plane going into the Twin Towers on his way back to the office. His then junior, Sir Jeremy Heywood, rang to ask if No. 10 should be evacuated. Lord Wilson asked if there was anywhere they had planned to evacuate to? Sir Jeremy said there wasn’t so Lord Wilson said to stay put.

He discovered on returning to Downing Street that the Civil Contingencies Unit were away in the countryside in Easingwold at a bonding event. Likewise the Overseas Defence Secretariat was on its way to a bonding event in Herefordshire and had to be turned back. The switchboard newly installed in Downing Street the previous weekend collapsed.

When they checked on whether they could get into tunnel connecting Downing Street to the Ministry of Defence it turned out the man who normally guarded it was on holiday and nobody knew where he’d left the key.”

You couldn’t make it up. But you could have Plans A, B, and C in place and tested, if you are prepared to invest in some basic insurance.

Author: David Dowse, Senior Partner at Webb Dowse Intelligent Corporate Communications

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