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Media and Crisis Management

Save Employee Lives – Drill

Posted on: July 28th, 2012

Crisis Management: Save Employee Lives – DrillCrisis planning

When US Airways Flight 1549 slid to a stop in the Hudson River in 2009 and Captain Chesley Sullenberger avoided a land crash, flight attendants rapidly evacuated passengers from the flooding cabin.  US Airways later told the Wall Street Journal that its flight crews spend 80% of their FAA-mandated evacuation practice time drilling in aircraft mockups.  Only 20% is in a classroom.

When a Northern Illinois University graduate student went on a shooting spree in 2008 that killed six (including himself), ten campus police – ten – were on scene in 1 minute 59 seconds and likely prevented further deaths.  The NIU president said, “We had a plan.  We practiced that plan.”

Drills matter!

Therefore it’s significant that N.C. A&T State University held an active-shooter exercise last week.  In fact all 17 UNC system campuses must do so.  UNC went to school on the slowly unfolding horror of Virginia Tech”s 32 deaths by shooter in 2007.  Drills were one outcome of the study.

The value of drills is almost incalculable.  Studies show that people under enormous stress think poorly and lose fine motor skills.  Therefore, basic physical actions practiced repeatedly are pressure-proofed so they can be executed when disaster strikes.  You can react almost without thinking.

One of the greatest examples comes from 9/11 as told by Amanda Ripley in her book “The Unthinkable.” Morgan Stanley Security Director and ex-military veteran Rick Reskorla had frequently trained firm employees to react to fires or even a terrorist attack.  When the first plane struck World Trade Center One, Reskorla ignored “stay put” commands and implemented his training.  He safely evacuated 2700 Morgan Stanley personnel from 20 floors of Tower Two and 1000 more from Tower Five.  When warned that he should leave too, he replied, “As soon as I make sure everyone else is out.”  He died in Tower Two.

Drills expose unknown weaknesses.  A chemical company exercise revealed that calls from media or concerned relatives during an emergency got caught in voicemail hell.  Stuck in an automated loop they could not talk to a live person.  Another drill elsewhere demonstrated that seemingly rapid internal communications were actually too slow.  The mock media team ate the company for lunch.

In a different case, a drill showed that the designated spokesperson rattled easily when talking to media under pressure.  Another found that property could be easily penetrated by intruders.  And, in one final example, exercises persuaded a client to train first line supervisors to deliver a few simple, repeatable messages to media at the gate should disaster strike in the middle of the night.

Seems simple doesn’t it?  Have a plan for worst case scenarios and practice it.  Well, it’s not quite that simple.  Overly complicated drills can bog down and confuse people.  Avoid overly vague plans and update them regularly.

Ultimately, drills and plans are only as good as those who implement them.  The NY Times said New Orleans had one of the best hurricane evacuation strategies.  The city held a full-scale drill one year prior to Katrina.  What happened?  The team failed.

So, go to school on A&T State.  With a trained team, contingency-specific plan, and drills you might save lives.

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