Crises can be divided into three categories:
1. Creeping Crises – foreshadowed by a series of events that decision makers don’t view as part of a pattern.
2. Slow-Burn Crises – some advance warning, before the situation has caused any actual damage.
3. Sudden Crises – damage has already occurred and will get worse the longer it takes to respond.
It is not uncommon for what seems to be a sudden crisis to have actually, first, been a creeping crisis that was not detected. Appropriate measures, early in the process, can often prevent or, at least, minimize the damage from slow-burn and sudden crises.
Below are some examples from the healthcare industry. From this, readers in other industries should be able to develop comparable lists.
1. Creeping Crises
- Lack of a rumor-control system, resulting in damaging rumors.
- Inadequate preparation for partial or complete business interruption.
- Inadequate steps to protect life and property in the event of emergencies.
- Inadequate two-way communication with all audiences, internal and external.
2. Slow-Burn Crises
- Internet activism
- Most lawsuits.
- Most discrimination complaints.
- Company reputation
- Lack of regulatory compliance – safety, immigration, environment, hiring, permits, etc.
- Major operational decisions that may distress any important audience, internal or external.
- Local/state/national governmental actions that negatively impact operations.
- Official/governmental investigations involving your healthcare organization and/or any of its employees.
- Labor unrest.
- Sudden management changes – voluntary or involuntary.
- Marketing misrepresentation.
3. Sudden Crises
- Patient death – Your healthcare organization perceived to be liable in some way.
- Patient condition worsened – Your healthcare organization perceived to be liable in some way.
- Serious on-site accident.
- Insane/dangerous behavior by anyone at a location controlled by your healthcare organization.
- Criminal activity at a company site and/or committed by company employees.
- Lawsuits with no advance notice or clue whatsoever.
- Natural disasters.
- Loss of workplace/business interruption (for any reason).
- Perceptions of significant impropriety that damage reputation and/or result in legal liability, e.g., publicized involvement of company employee in a group or activity perceived to be a threat to the U.S. government or society; inappropriate comments by a “loose cannon;” business activities not officially authorized by management.
Typically, reviewing a list like this triggers thoughts of other situations that need to be addressed during the crisis planning process. Know what constitutes a creeping, slow-burn or sudden crisis for your organization and have plans in place to address them!
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[Jonathan Bernstein is president of Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc., an international crisis management consultancy, author of Manager’s Guide to Crisis Management and Keeping the Wolves at Bay – Media Training. Erik Bernstein is vice president for the firm and also editor of its newsletter, Crisis Manager]
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