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Media and Crisis Management

Miracle on the Hudson – Lightning Speed the Crisis Norm

Posted on: July 28th, 2012

Crisis Management: Miracle on the Hudson – Lightning Speed the Crisis NormCrisis communications

If your organization gets into public trouble are you ready to react quickly: I mean really fast?  News is rocketing into our world at a pace that makes a response considered groundbreakingly swift just18 months earlier look like the needed norm.

In January 2008, Northern Illinois University set something of a reaction-time benchmark after the shooting that killed six people.  Within 29 seconds of the first shots two officers were on the scene.  After another 90 seconds eight more campus police had arrived.  That’s 10 officers in two minutes!  The university raced out the first campus-wide warning within 14 minutes and sent multiple updates until the scene was secure a little more than an hour later.  The university president credited having a crisis plan that was practiced.

Now consider US Airways flight 1549 where Captain Chesley Sullenberger slid his Airbus A320 into the Hudson River safely in early 2009 after birds knocked out his engines.  All 155 on board survived.  You think things were moving swiftly at NIU?  Look at this timeline following the January 15 ditching as reported in The Strategist magazine:

3:29pm            Flight 1549 down

3:30 (+1 min)  First mention – on Twitter

3:31 (+2)         Cable and network news first reports

3:35 (+6)         On Associated Press newswire

3:38 (+9)         On a blog

3:46 (+17)       Reuters says airline unaware of a problem

3:51 (+22)       First streaming video

Of course the incident’s unfolding in the number one media market greatly enhanced its being noticed, but the breathtakingly rapid “Miracle on the Hudson” media response offers at least four huge lessons for all who protect the organization’s reputation:

Crisis management is indeed “common sense at lightning speed.”  Many in my line of work have been saying that for years but I don’t believe we thought lightning speed would go from necessary exaggeration to mandatory.

  • Social media are now the “eyes of the world”.   Twitter and others can shotgun information to so many so fast that they must be part of your planning.
  • US Airways apparently was not closely monitoring traditional or social media.
  • Drills are more important than ever. A Wall Street Journal article after the Hudson crash examined how US Airways trains crews to evacuate downed planes.  US Airways’ Bob Hemphill said, “Now over 80% of the day is in simulators evacuating aircraft, with very little time spent in the classroom.”  Translation: discussing crisis procedures is no substitute for rehearsing them.  Remember too that Northern Illinois’ president attributed his fast response to his university’s practicing its plan.

So do this.  Form a crisis team.  Write a concise, uncomplicated crisis plan and drill it. But the team is key because the plan is only as good as those who execute it.   Dwight Eisenhower once said, “…plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”

Larger companies should monitor Internet mentions 24/7 and have a social media presence so employees are comfortable with it and can leverage it in a crisis.

Again, lightning speed is now the crisis response standard.

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