Crisis Management: The Golden Hour – A lesson from the sniper attack: The need for speed
When the Washington area sniper shot a 13-year old school boy in the chest, rapid action by the boy’s aunt followed by equally fast-acting medical experts saved the child’s life. The Washington Post said, “His aunt, a quick-thinking nurse… rushed him to the nearest medical help rather than obey a 911 operator’s instructions to wait for an ambulance…” The Bowie Health Center staff just 1.5 miles down the road stabilized the boy within 20 minutes and within an hour he was in surgery at Children’s Hospital. The boy got critical treatment within what is known as “the golden hour.”
“The Golden Hour” was coined by modern trauma care pioneer Dr. R. Adams Cowley. He believed that he could save most trauma patients if he could stop the bleeding and restore blood pressure within 60 minutes. Survival chances plummet after that. The clock on the golden hour for a medical patient starts at the moment the injury occurs.
The same principle applies to saving your company’s good name in times of crisis. The clock on your reputation starts the minute a crisis strikes. Every correct action you take in the moments after trouble hits could very well determine survival of your reputation, your job, even your company.
Since virtually all I do is crisis/critical issues public relations management, I cannot begin to tell you how much easier it is to manage a situation where executives immediately recognize unfolding trouble and act. Unfortunately some let controversy smolder for days and even weeks before acting. In these latter cases, even if we turn the situation around, a negative perception has already taken hold and some people will never forget those initial days of dithering.
Let me extend the medical metaphor.
Doctors racing to stay within the golden hour in emergency rooms follow the ABC rule – Airway, Breathing, and Circulation.
For crisis management, let me give you two rules to follow for rapid reputation protection – one for action, one for communications.
For fast crisis action, remember “Victims – Fix – Stakeholders.” 1) Take care of victims – the victim is where the news story is. If you eliminate the circumstances that either make people victims or make them believe they are victims, then you often eliminate the need for a news story. If no one is complaining, what is there for reporters to do? 2) Fix the problem – when did you learn about it and what did you do about it.Remember how slowly Firestone and the Catholic Church addressed their problems. If you don’t tackle the fundamental trouble, then, like a cancer, it eats away at all else that you do. 3) Notify stakeholders – and don’t use the media in most cases. Regardless how well you may be managing a crisis externally, internal audiences might be even more important to your long-term well-being. Media come and go, but stakeholders are with you always. Directly and privately inform them of your strategies. Do it before the reporters do, or, if you have no alternative, at the same time. Important! If the public is a stakeholder, then use reporters as your communications conduit.
For fast crisis communications, remember “Regret – Investigate – Fix.” 1) Express regret or concern about what has happened. 2) Announce what you are doing to investigate the situation or take control of it. 3) Vow to try to fix mistakes, if any, that are uncovered.
These two templates work well with clearly defined incidents and crises such as major accidents or mistakes. Issue-based crises are more complex with much gray to them, so action and communications plans will probably be unique.
Regardless the strategy you choose, remember the need for speed, the golden hour. Speed saves – in the operating room – and in crisis management.