Crisis Management: Do Something! : Crisis Response – From the archives
Three signal moments following Hurricane Katrina lingered: 1) On the often pro-administration Fox News Channel the hyperbolic Geraldo Rivera struck an authentic chord by holding a 15-month old baby still stranded 5 nights in New Orleans after the storm and cried, “I got a baby… there are so many babies here… it’s not a question of objectivity it’s a question of reality.” 2) His usually cool colleague Shepard Smith complained of inaction and incompetence and stood down Fox anchor Sean Hannity. Hannity suggested keeping some perspective when Smith replied, “(This situation) IS perspective. That is all the perspective you need.” 3) A sobbing Louisiana parish president told NBC how his emergency management official kept calling his grandmother trapped in a flooded nursing home and promised, “Someone is coming to get you, momma.” She drowned after five days. Barely able to speak through his tears president Aaron Broussard said, “Nobody’s coming to get us. I’m sick of the press conferences. For God’s sake shut up and send us somebody.” This was one week after the storm.
The best crisis manager on earth would be overwhelmed coping with 90,000 square miles of wind-blasted flooded land, and yet Katrina’s aftermath defined government inaction. President Bush conceded it was unacceptable. Eventually we’ll know whose delays added unnecessary misery and death, but rather than identify villains, let’s look at principles violated with staggering consequences.
Act. When all hell is breaking loose and lives are in danger just do something. Crisis expert Jim Lukaszewski once said crisis management is “Common sense at lightning speed.” Speed saves. Work out the details as you go, but go! Lack of fast action is hands-down the most common failure I see when things begin to go awry. The US Army’s 82nd Airborne, a rapid deployment force at Fort Bragg, was on the ground in Grenada within 17 hours in 1983 and en route to Vietnam to fight the Tet Offensive in 1968 within 24 hours. This country can move astonishingly quickly if political leaders have the foresight and the will.
Protect. As I have said many times, people just want to know “Am I safe?” Our job is to reassure them that they are safe through our words and actions. We sure had words after Katrina. Psychologist Abraham Maslow with his Hierarchy of Needs said human beings will not feel human unless the following needs are met in this order: 1) Physiological: hunger, thirst, bodily comforts. 2) Safety/security: out of danger. 3) Belongingness and Love: affiliation with others, accepted; and 4) Esteem: permitted to achieve, be competent, gain approval and recognition. The most primitive of basic human needs were unmet for thousands.
Lead. Who was the national Rudy Giuliani for Katrina making things happen and rallying our emotions? No one. Texas Governor Rick Perry with the support of the citizens of Houston came close by throwing open the doors to his desperate neighbors.
Plan. 90% of CEO’s expect a crisis and fewer than half do anything about it. Research by the Institute of Crisis Management in Kentucky says almost 3/4ths of crises smolder before they blow up. We saw Katrina coming for years and did nothing. Since the mid-1990’s scientists had predicted the New Orleans disaster and a 2004 hurricane drill confirmed it. Yet no one fully prepared, which underscores another crisis statistic. More than half of all crises are caused by management failures.
America’s global reputation, already blemished, is further tarnished. Overseas headlines read “Anarchy in the USA” and “Apocalypse Now.” One article asked, “How can the US take Iraq, a country of 25 million people, in three weeks but fail to rescue 25,000 of its own citizens from a sports arena in a big American city?”
Another headline read “Third World America.” We’re not, are we?
“All are punished.” – Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare.