Crisis Management Starts Long Before the Crisis Occurs
Because crisis management is sometimes referred to as “business firefighting” the best way to demonstrate this article’s point will be with an example involving firefighters. Most people know that in addition to putting out fires, firefighters also respond to all sorts of other emergencies.
I was the captain in command of a team of firefighters responding to a traffic accident. Upon our arrival, I observed two cars that appeared to have collided in an intersection at a high rate of speed. Each driver looked injured, and one of the cars had struck a fire hydrant causing a continuous geyser of water to erupt 50 feet into the air.
As I made my way to each of the cars, to get an update on the severity of each driver’s injuries, I was confronted by a woman who was extremely upset. She was very animated as she explained to me that the “geyser of water” was filling her back yard and was getting ready to flood her house.
I assured the woman that we were working on getting the water shut off. I had a firefighter searching for the hydrant shut off valve, which is usually in the street under a steel cover. Moments later, he informed me that the car that struck the hydrant had also come to rest on top of the shut off valve, and that we needed to move the car in order to access the valve.
That seemed fairly simple to me, but when I approached the medic caring for the woman inside said vehicle, he reported that she had numbness in her legs, and that she would not be able to be moved until the rescue ambulance arrived. This is because her numbness was potentially a symptom of a spinal cord injury, and that meant a high level of precautionary care – thus the geyser would continue.
By the time the ambulance arrived and the injured woman was carefully removed from her car, allowing my team to shut off the flow of water – it was too late. The water had flooded the frantic woman’s house, resulting in a great deal of property damage.
This woman was so irate with me, and I couldn’t blame her for feeling that way. I tried to explain how our actions came down to a woman’s medical needs over saving her property. She only wanted my name and badge number so she could report my “incompetence” to our fire chief. I obliged, as my team continued to dewater her house and to salvage her property the best they could.
This example is representative of the type of difficult situations firefighters deal with every day. It is because of the fire service culture that I was able to quickly apply principles that ensured my team would get the right things done, for the right reasons, and at the right time – under these circumstances. I was confident that the fire chief would have handled this situation in much the same way.
In your experience, how often does everything go exactly as planned? I think the answer might be somewhere between never and rarely. Because problems almost always arise, it is critical for every organization to empower their people with a culture capable of crisis management – long before the crisis occurs.
Take the time to infuse crisis management, leadership and success principles into your culture. Then, when a crisis occurs, you will have confidence that your team of capable “business firefighters” will respond – in much the same way as you would – by getting the right things done, for the right reasons, and at the right time.