Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Crisis management and resilience thinking

I came across this post (thanks William) on Homeland Security Watch by Mark Chubb. Chubb is also responding to the article in the New York Times about crisis management, the BP spill, Toyota and Goldman Sachs. I offered my humble opinion about this article and a similar one in Washington Post at crisisblogger.

Unlike my screed about the hypocrisy of the media who play a big part in creating crises and then say, why can't anyone fix these things?, Mr. Chubb's reaction is much more thoughtful. He points out that while Mr. Goodman of the Times seems to think that crisis managers are those people who come and try to clean up after a mess, the real crisis managers are busy far before things go seriously wrong:
Real crisis managers though are closely related to risk managers and emergency managers, both of whom take a comprehensive approach to their fields, which requires them to consider ways of preventing and mitigating harm before things start to become unwound.

He's absolutely right of course. This is why I am enthusiastic as a professional involved in crisis management to the shift in thinking toward the issue of resilience. Crisis response is only one part of the resilience equation. In our way of thinking there are four key elements: preparation, response, communication and recovery.

Preparation is more than coming up with a good crisis plan, although that is important. As Mr. Chubb points out, preparation includes a comprehensive look at all factors that lead to a crisis, including the internal dynamics of an organization, for the purpose of first of all preventing them from happening in the first place.

The lesson to be drawn from the gulf spill for example, is not the PR crisis management is a failure. There is a far more significant lesson. As was said I believe in Apollo 13: what we have here is a failure of imagination. Not just BP, but the entire industry and its regulators clearly did not conceive of an event the size of what has happened in the gulf. It simply was inconceivable. Not it is not. Reality has replaced the necessity for imagination when it comes to preventing and preparing for a major deepwater spill event.

But where is our imagination failing us now? What events could occur in our communities, cities, businesses and organizations that we reject out of hand. Will it require us, like it has the oil industry, to have a disastrous reality teach us because our imagination has failed us.

I know in the drills and exercises that I will be working on in the future, I will not try to make that mistake. It is so easy to rely on the tried and true scenarios. Mr. Chubb has done as big favor by pointing us in directions where we need to look for where the failures are most likely to occur, and that is deep within our own organizations. We should not be afraid to dig deep, ask hard questions, and most of all, let our imaginations fail us again.

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