A Systems Approach to Crisis Preparedness and Organizational Resilience

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Phases of Crisis Management

Source:The Essential Guide to Managing Corporate Crises: A Step-by-Step Handbook for Surviving Major Catastrophes by Ian I. Mitroff, Christine M. Pearson and L. Katharine Harrington (Oxford University Press)

(1) signal detection

monitoring and heeding of early warning signals that point to the possible occurrence of a crisis. The explosion of the space shuttle Challenger is a prime example of a crisis whose early warning signals were ignored. The Report of the President's Commission on the Space Shuttle Accident uncovered a comprehensive trail of memos before the event clearly explaining that the O-ring was improperly designed and hence could cause a catastrophic failure of the shuttle.

The difficulty, of course, is that organiza-tions are bombarded with signals of all kinds. However, it has been found that organizations that are crisis prepared make a point of con-stantly probing and scrutinizing their opera-tions and management structure for warnings of potential crises. In other words, they do not leave the detection of important signals to chance. Instead, they put in place mechanisms to increase the chances of early detection.

(2) preparation/prevention/probing

doing as much as possible to avoid crises and to prepare better for those that still manage to occur. This phase does not imply that all crises can be prevented; instead, it emphasizes that the adage "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" has no place in CM.

Those organizations that can be classified as crisis prone exhibit a very different "mind-set" from those that can be classified as crisis pre¬pared. As in the phase of signal detection, preparation/prevention/probing in crisis-pre-pared organizations is the careful and con-stant probing of operations and management struc¬tures for potential "breaks and cracks" before they become too big to "fix." An example of a lack of attention to preparation/ prevention/ probing is Union Carbide's chemical explosion in its Bhopal, India, plant, during which thou¬sands of people died because they had not previously been made aware of a basic safety response (i.e., covering one's nose and mouth with rags to avoid ingesting methyl isocyanate gas).

(3) damage containment

intended to keep a crisis from spreading to other, uncontaminated parts of an organization or its environment. A tragic example is the environmental costs of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, which were intensi¬fied by both poor damage containment mech¬anisms, such as inefficient oil-skimming equip¬ment, and ineffectual damage contain¬ment activities, as well as the time lost in communi¬cating among divisions of Exxon. A critical point regarding damage containment mechanisms and activities is that they are virtually impos¬sible to invent during a crisis.

Rather, effective CM requires the continued development and testing of CM capabilities before a crisis. In short, effective CM is proac¬tive, not reactive.

(4) business recovery

During the recovery phase, crisis-prepared organizations implement short-term and long-term business recovery programs to facilitate the resumption of normal business operations. Programs designed for this purpose include the identification of minimal services and procedures needed to resume business, the reassignment of people to new jobs, and the designation of alternative operating sites.

(5) learning

reflection on and examination of the lessons that have been learned from the organization's own crisis experiences, as well as those of other organiza¬tions. Many organizations gloss over this phase because of the mistaken belief that an exami¬nation of the past will "only reopen old wounds." But almost exactly the opposite has been found to be true. Following a crisis or near disaster, crisis-prepared organizations examine and compare the factors that enabled them to perform well with those that impeded their CM performance, without assigning blame. By contrast, crisis-prone organizations emphasize finding blame instead of learning lessons.

A valid CM audit assesses how well an organization is performing on each of these phases. (The scoring system used is a relatively simple one. Every yes that an organization gives to a particular component adds a one to its score. In comparison, the scoring system for the preceding variable types is much more complicated and is explained in Chapter 5.)




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Date Page Created: Feb 9, 2013 Last Page Update: Feb 9, 2013