Tag Archives: crisis

Crisis Communications: Imperial Sugar Case Study

At approximately 7:15 pm, on February 7, 2008, a large explosion at the Imperial Sugar refinery rocked the area of Port Wentworth, Georgia, killing 14 people and injuring 36, and although, the incident was found to be the fault of Imperial Sugar, this discussion will focus on the crisis communications and public relations surrounding the event (Bauerlein, 2010; U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board, 2009). According to a report from the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA; 2009), although John Sheptor was appointed Chief Executive Officer merely nine days earlier and did not enjoy the support of a crisis communications team, he was thrust into the spotlight having to deal with this particular crisis.

According to a local television station, the people of Savannah and Port Wentworth responded admirably at the first hint of trouble (“Sugar refinery explosion,” n.d.). This is more of a testament to the community than to Imperial Sugar; however, it promotes a sense of good-will and community trust that Imperial Sugar was able to leverage. Almost immediately, Sheptor, in conjunction with Imperial Sugar partner Edelman, was holding regular news conferences, disseminating press releases, and correcting the record. The only delay is seemingly the time required to work with first responders and investigators (“4 found dead,” 2008; PRSA, 2009; U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board, 2009). According to the PRSA (2009), Sheptor and Edelman immediately instituted a program to communicate to “employees, stakeholders, investors, elected officials and the media, and to engage the public in helping the company support the Imperial Sugar employee family” (p. 1).

As the crisis wound down to the recovery phase, it is important to note, as Chapman (2008) chronicles, that all displaced employees were still being paid by Imperial Sugar. All employees that were able were used to help in the clean-up efforts and ultimately maintained their employment status with Imperial Sugar. Within a week of the incident, Sheptor reported that the company was looking to rebuild and, in just over two month’s time, the decision to rebuild was official (Securities and Exchange Commission, 2008).

Sheptor leveraged Edelman’s communication philosophies which allowed communications to be prioritized, correct, honest, and abundant. While also providing much needed information to employees and families of missing employees, especially, this mode of communication also allowed Edelman, and Imperial Sugar, to cultivate media relations that will benefit them in the future.


4 found dead in Ga. sugar refinery blast. (2008, February 8). Associated Press. Retrieved from http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/23059948/ns/us_news-life/t/found-dead-ga-sugar-refinery-blast/

Bauerlein, V. (2010, July 8). Imperial Sugar to pay fines in deadly Georgia explosion case. Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703636404575352782366026008.html

Chapman, D. (2008, April 13). Sugar refinery near Savannah determined to rebuild. Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Retrieved from http://www.ajc.com/metro/content/business/stories/2008/04/12/sugar_0413.html

Public Relations Society of America. (2009). Crystallizing a response to a crisis (Product # 6BW-0911A05).

Securities and Exchange Commission. (2008, April 17). Current report: Imperial Sugar Company (Form 8-K). Washington, D.C.: Author.

Sugar refinery explosion (Collection of news reports). (n.d.) WTOC. Retrieved from http://www.wtoc.com/category/125278/sugar-refinery-explosion

U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board. (2009, September). Investigation report: sugar dust explosion and fire (Report No. 2008-05-I-GA). Retrieved from http://www.csb.gov/assets/document/Imperial_Sugar_Report_Final_updated.pdf

Crisis as Opportunity

Through the last few weeks, we have explored various means of saving the reputation of an organization in crisis. From reframing arguments to apologizing and promising to making it right, we have many tools at our disposal to turn the conversation in a way that is, at most, beneficial to the organization’s reputation or, at least, less harmful to it. But, what happens when the crisis is so detrimental to the organization’s reputation due solely to flagrant immoral or illegal conduct? Can a crisis communications plan be of any help?

On November 5, 2011, former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky was arrested facing 40 counts of criminal activity, including a number of counts of sexual assault on a minor for incidents relating to Penn State’s association with The Second Mile charity, founded by Sandusky, over the course of 15 years (Garcia, 2011; “Sandusky,” 2011). Two days later, Penn State athletic director Tim Curley and senior vice president for finance and business Gary Schultz surrender to police to answer charges for failing to notify authorities for suspicions of sexual abuse of a minor (“Officials,” 2011; “Sandusky,” 2011). In two more days, football legend, Joe Paterno, head coach of the Penn State football program, resigns amidst the controversy surrounding the university and its football program (Garcia, 2011; “Sandusky,” 2011). Within days of the arrests (and, before all the facts are known), the university is being excoriated in the news (Zinser, 2011). This, I believe, constitutes a public relations nightmare.

Trivitt and Yann (2011), of the Public Relations Society of America, present the case of the Penn State crisis as a reminder that public relations and crisis managers cannot fix every problem: “we think it’s important that, as a profession, we don’t overreach and try to uphold our work as the savior for every societal tragedy and crisis. Doing so makes us look opportunistic and foolish considering the gravity of the situation” (para. 13). In the case of Penn State, there were a number of opportunities for the assaults to be reported to the authorities, yet Sandusky was allowed to remain in close unsupervised contact with young boys until, finally, one of the victims contacted the authorities in 2009 and an official investigation was initiated (“Sandusky,” 2011). The best thing that Penn State could have done was to report the accusations to the proper authorities as soon as they were made aware, saving the administration from allegations of a cover-up or their collective morals being called into question (Sudhaman & Holmes, 2012). The perception, now: cover-up and morally corrupt. There were a number of moral obligations that representatives of the university failed to abide over the preceding years, and the reputation of Penn State will suffer for it.

Immediately following the break of the scandal, the Penn State administration scrambled to make appropriate efforts towards repairing the poor reputation of the university, including donating $1.5-million of football profits to sex crimes advocacy programs, suspending the school newspaper’s sex column, and holding a town hall type meeting where students can pose questions and concerns directly to school administrators (Sauer, 2011). Though these steps are good, ultimately, the only means of recovering the reputation that Penn State once held is time and a changing of the guard; however, this does not mean that Penn State is suffering. According to Reuters (Shade, 2011), applications to attend Penn State are up from last year, and the current school administration, as well as alumni, are coming together to strengthen the trust between the school and students. Further, Singer (2011), a crisis communications and reputation management specialist, describes the steps the university can take in the coming years to truly restrengthen its brand. Singer emphasizes <em>cleaning the slate</em> by firing any other employees directly associated with the scandal, <em>creating a team-centric leadership culture</em> by limiting the political power of any one person within the university (especially the head coach), and <em>living the values</em> put forth by the university (e.g. “Success With Honor”). So long as the crisis is handled appropriately since the mass firing of school officials, the school’s reputation will be judged on the response to the crisis and not the crisis alone.


Garcia, T. (2011, November 9). Paterno announces retirement, says Penn State has bigger issues to address. PRNewser. Retrieved from http://www.mediabistro.com/prnewser/paterno-announces-retirement-says-penn-state-has-bigger-issues-to-address_b29902

Officials seeking alleged abuse victims. (2011, November 9). ESPN.com. Retrieved from http://espn.go.com/college-football/story/_/id/7203566/penn-state-nittany-lions-sex-abuse-case-officials-arraigned-police-seek-alleged-assault-victim

Sandusky, Penn State case timeline. (2011, November 9). ESPN.com. Retrieved from http://espn.go.com/college-football/story/_/id/7212054/key-dates-penn-state-sex-abuse-case

Sauer, A. (2011, December 1). Penn State bogs down in PR crisis, but a turnaround already showing. brandchannel. Retrieved from http://www.brandchannel.com/home/post/2011/12/01/Penn-State-Bogs-Down-In-PR-Crisis-120111.aspx

Shade, M. (2011, December 1). Penn State officials say applications up despite scandal. Reuters. Retrieved from http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/12/01/us-crime-coach-students-idUSTRE7B00GD20111201

Singer, J. (2011, December 7). The Penn State scandal: crisis as opportunity. The Business of College Sports. Retrieved from http://businessofcollegesports.com/2011/12/07/the-penn-state-scandal-crisis-as-opportunity/

Sudhaman, A. & Holmes, P. (2012, January 25). The top 10 crises Of 2011. The Holmes Report. Retrieved from http://www.holmesreport.com/featurestories-info/11377/The-Top-10-Crises-Of-2011.aspx

Trivitt, K. & Yann A. (2011, November 9). Public relations won’t fix Penn State’s crisis. PRSay. Retrieved from http://prsay.prsa.org/index.php/2011/11/09/public-relations-wont-fix-penn-states-crisis/

Zinser, L. (2011, November 9). Memo to Penn State: Ignoring a scandal doesn’t make it go away. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/10/sports/penn-state-fails-a-public-relations-test-leading-off.html?_r=1&ref=sports

Public Relations and the Media

Using a fictitious scenario about an international airline company addressing the media after one of its planes had crashed, I will examine the usefulness and limitations of a crisis communications plan. It is also worthwhile to note that although the messaging is important, the manner in which the message is delivered is also important. Battenberg (2002) lays out a compelling case of which tactics to use and which to abandon when dealing with a media frenzy.

Media Questions

As a member of the media, there are some very specific questions that need to be addressed. For instance, was the crash a result of weather, aircraft maintenance, or was this a terrorism event? In addition, recent layoffs of its mechanics coupled with its aging fleet of aircraft might have contributed to the crash and needs to be addressed. Other employees were laid off in addition to some mechanics. It would be important to know if more experienced members of the flight crew were among the lay offs, as this flight was trans-Atlantic and might require some specialized expertise.

Public Relations Response

According to Coombs (2012) and Fearns-Bank (2011), the response to the media needs to be truthful and humble. The cause of the crash will eventually be determined by the federal investigators, and any assumptions now would be premature. This should be clearly stated to the media along with a statement that every effort to assist in the investigation will be made. In regards to the lay offs, it should be made absolutely clear that, along with our dedication to safety, the lowest performing mechanics and pilots were the ones laid off, keeping the most experienced and skilled mechanics who would never sign off on any unworthy aircraft. An example statement might include: “In our corporate culture of safety, we allow any of our employees to trigger a grounding and complete safety check of any of our aircraft for any reason, even with our recent financial difficulties. If we do not fly safe, then we do not fly.” If the company would ground all similar aircraft for an immediate safety check, it would be helpful to reinforce the ideals of the corporate culture of safety.


As the public relations officer addressing these media concerns, I would be sure to answer these questions as humbly and honestly as possible. I would try to rely on the messaging provided in the crisis communication plan. However, in light of recent financial difficulties and layoffs, the plan may prove partially inadequate, though it will provide, at least, a framework to ensure the messaging is consistent (Coombs, 2012; Fearns-Bank, 2011). Obviously, information will be limited as the crash just occurred; however, the concerns of the recent layoffs and service expansion still need to be addressed. Any assurance of safety that is less than matter-of-fact might not be convincing enough to the flying public (Stevens, Malone, & Bailey, 2005). Fortunately, I am able to cite the impeccable safety record and award-winning corporate excellence and customer service. Additionally, other sections of the communication plan, such as messaging involving lay offs and other financial issues, might prove useful to help the public and the media further understand the company’s dedication to safety, ensuring that any problems identified will be quickly rectified (Coombs, 2012; Stevens, Malone, & Bailey, 2005).

Though the position of defending the corporate image in light of tragedy is not an enviable one, a strong and ethical corporation deserves to enjoy business continuity even after such a tragedy (Stevens, Malone, & Bailey, 2005). Having an effective communication plan in place and utilizing the plan in an honest, humble, and transparent manner can promote the corporate image even while suffering crises (Coombs, 2012; Stevens, Malone, & Bailey, 2005).


Battenberg, E. (2002, December). Managing a media frenzy. Public Relations Tactics, 9(12), 1, 15. Retrieved from http://library.waldenu.edu/

Coombs, W. T. (2012). Ongoing crisis communication: Planning managing, and responding (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Fearn-Banks, K. (2011). Crisis communications: a casebook approach (4th ed). New York, NY: Routledge.

Stephens, K. K., Malone, P. C., & Bailey, C. M. (2005). Communicating with stakeholders during a crisis: Evaluating message strategies. Journal of Business Communication, 42(4), 390-419. doi:10.1177/0021943605279057

Crisis Counseling: Senior Management

As a crisis management professional, it would be my job to assess the situation, define the crisis, and develop a plan that would address stakeholder concerns allowing the company to move forward with, hopefully, minimal negative and maximal positive impact to the organizational reputation (Coombs, 2012). The Intel Pentium flaw did not impact Intel’s reputation in 1994 as much as preceding inattention to quality that modeled consumers’ perceptions and production and marketing irregularities that computing insiders were quite aware (Mihaiu, 2001). Even as recently as last year, Intel has been plagued with poorly performing processors (Fontevecchia, 2011). I believe that many of the processor issues were merely a result of being cutting-edge in a fast-paced competitive environment, though Intel’s reputation need not suffer from inattention to that fact. The problem: convincing the CEO that a) there is a crisis, b) this crisis needs to be dealt with (costing money), and c) it needs to be dealt with openly and ethically in order to maximize the reputation of the company.

Previously, as a computer programmer and analyst, I was intimately familiar with Intel line of processors, and I can attest to the overall positive reputation Intel has enjoyed since moving into the consumer computing arena; however, as stated above, the company’s reputation was not always seen in a positive light. Using my familiarity with Intel, my primary suggestion to the CEO regarding the Pentium debacle would be to remain honest and open with external publics while making the situation right. The honesty of the situation should be accepted by many consumers so long as Intel garners a net positive reputation. This net positive should be reinforced with the professed willingness of correcting the situation. The message should be: “We are on the cutting-edge of computing and consistently push the envelop in leaps and bounds, and we cannot always get everything right, but we can make it right… and, we will!”

The CEO, however, may decide that the situation is minimal and not unlike others that the company has faced in the past. Dealing with these issues previously may have created an air of complacency that needs to be countered in order to prevent further cumulative effect on the reputation of Intel. Regardless, as Coombs (2012) points out, if implementing a crisis management plan “improve[s] the situation and benefit[s] the organization, its stakeholders, or both” (p. 125), the situation should be approached and handled as crisis. The ethical dictum of “do the right thing” should provide for, at least, the fundamental guiding principles in responding to any issue, which would help to ensure that negativity is deflected and minimized appropriately. A CEO who has no appreciation of the gravity of the circumstances may need to be reminded of this in order to prod him into action.


Coombs, W. T. (2012). Ongoing crisis communication: planning, managing, and responding. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Fontevecchia, A. (2011, January 31). Chip recall hurts Intel’s reputation, tablet fears a bigger problem. Forbes. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/afontevecchia/2011/01/31/chip-recall-hurts-intels-reputation-tablet-fears-a-bigger-problem/

Mihaiu, R. (2001, July 3). Intel’s tricks! Retrieved from http://mihaiu.name/2001/intel_tricks/

Messaging as an Ongoing Process

Just after midnight on March 24, 1989, the Exxon Valdez ran aground in the Prince William Sound off of the Alaskan coast causing the 36th largest oil spill in history (Baker, n.d.; Fearn-Banks, 2011; Holusha, 1989; Moss, 2010). Though the initial ecological insult was severe, Exxon’s poor response to the emergency is noted as having the most significance (Baker, n.d.; Holusha, 1989). According to Fearn-Banks (2011), the initial public relations response was swift, but the public perception, especially with the obvious absence of CEO Lawrence G. Rawl from the public spotlight, was that the company did not view the incident with the importance that it deserved (Holusha, 1989). “The biggest mistake was that Exxon’s chairman … sent a succession of lower-ranking executives to Alaska to deal with the spill instead of going there himself and taking control of the situation in a forceful, highly visible way” (Holusha, 1989, para. 6). Rawl made comments about being technologically obsolete as a reason for not responding to the incident personally, and in a later television interview, Rawl explained that it was not the responsibility of the CEO to read specific response plans, then he went on to blame the media for the crisis (Baker, n.d.; Fearn-Banks, 2011).

According to Fearn-Banks (2011), Don Cornet, Exxon’s Alaska public relations coordinator, rushed to the scene and instituted a plan focused on the clean-up upon hearing of the incident; however, resources were scarce and the plan was slow to implement. Alaskan oil industry regulations held that the Alyeska Pipeline Service Company, an oil company consortium, was ultimately responsible for the initial response, which was soon taken over by Exxon. It was Alyeska’s involvement in the incident that introduced George Mason, an experienced crisis communications public relations expert for the company that represented Alyeska, into the spotlight. Mason worked with Cornet to streamline the media response and did much to limit the impact of Exxon’s poor media relations, even in light of Rawl’s disastrous commentary. Without the efforts of Mason, Cornet, and a few others, it appears that Exxon’s reputation would have suffered much more.

The primary issues identified in Exxon’s response to the Valdez incident, according to Baker (n.d.), are 1) a lack of resources and preparedness for a crisis of this magnitude, 2) failing to commit to prevention efforts in the future, and 3) the perceived indifference to the ecological shock.

According to Holusha (1989), Exxon’s response to the Alaskan spill was immediately identified as highlighting what not to do in responding to a crisis. Holusha compared Rawl’s messaging and response with that of the Ashland Oil spill and the Union Carbide incident in Bhopal, India, in which both CEOs responded immediately, availing themselves to the media to answer questions and respond to scrutiny.

The Exxon Valdez spill was significant, large, costly, and affected many industries and lifestyles in Alaska. Rawl’s response should have been immediate, and he should have taken responsibility to be apprised of all efforts being undertaken to rectify the situation. Legitimizing Rawl’s concerns of being a distraction to local efforts, he could have held frequent press conferences in the mainland United States, which would have limited the media’s need to send so many representatives directly to Alaska. This would have helped to show cooperation with the media as well as allow Rawl to address any concerns that the public might have. The messaging should have been that Exxon will do everything needed to return Alaska back to pre-spill status no matter the cost or manpower required.

Today, social media presents a unique opportunity for companies to address their public. Recently, Connecticut Light and Power utilized Facebook and Twitter, two popular social media programs, to provide real-time updates to their affected customers during a freak early snowstorm that put most of Connecticut without power for weeks (Singer, 2011; State of Connecticut, Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection, 2011). Though there are still concerns that Connecticut Light and Power were unprepared for such a crisis, without the deliberate effort to maintain communication with customers, the corporate image would have been much worse, as Exxon experienced.

It is a common precept in crisis communications that crises will occur and hopes can only be made to minimize their effect (Fearn-Banks, 2011). While preparing for such a crisis, a focus on communication and messaging should be paramount. The more the public trusts that the company will respond to the emergency effectively, the more apt they will be to acknowledge the difficulties involved in such a response. Messaging should be open, honest, and realistic. Every effort to use a multitude of media (e.g. radio, television, print, internet, telephone, et al.) to maintain a sense of transparency should be used to promote messages that accept responsibility and sets realistic goals. These communications, however, should not be unidirectional. A conversation needs to take place where the public can have their concerns and curiosity addressed in a fair and open environment.

By addressing the concerns of all stakeholders in a timely, open manner, corporate images will fare much better even in light of the worst crisis imaginable.


Baker, M. (n.d.). Companies in crisis – What not to do when it all goes wrong: Exxon Mobil and the Exxon Valdez. Retrieved from http://www.mallenbaker.net/csr/crisis03.html

Coombs, W. T. (2012). Ongoing crisis communication: Planning managing, and responding (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Fearn-Banks, K. (2011). “Textbook” crises. Crisis communications: a casebook approach (4th ed; pp. 90-109). New York, NY: Routledge.

Holusha, J. (1989, April 21). Exxon’s public-relations problem. New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/1989/04/21/business/exxon-s-public-relations-problem.html

Moss, L. (2010, July 16). The 13 largest oil spills in history. Mother Nature Network. Retrieved from http://www.mnn.com/earth-matters/wilderness-resources/stories/the-13-largest-oil-spills-in-history

Singer, S. (2011, November 4). CT utility takes heat over winter storm response. News 8 WTNH. Retrieved from http://www.wtnh.com/dpp/weather/winter_weather/ct-utility-takes-heat-over-winter-storm-response-

State of Connecticut, Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection. (2011, November 8). Winter storm October 29, 2011 (Situation Report #49). Retrieved from http://advocacy.ccm-ct.org/Resources.ashx?id=802e4723-2e4a-4a61-896e-f51eafbbd4c0

The Importance of Planning

To borrow from the motto of the Boy Scouts of America (2011), “Be prepared!” There is no possible way to fully predict with perfect accuracy when and where a crisis will develop. However, with some foresight, the adoption of a comprehensive crisis communication plan will allow an immediate response to any emergency, disaster, or other crisis that might arise. Gray (2008) discusses how JetBlue might have benefited from such a plan. JetBlue, if they had focused on developing a crisis communication plan, might have uncovered the not unlikely possibility of a major storm grounding many of its passengers. In this case, JetBlue would have been in a more proactive position to mitigate the effects such a storm might produce on passengers and their east coast operations. According to Fearn-Banks (2011), the impending storm prediction would have been a warning sign, or prodrome, that JetBlue could have responded to in order to prevent the crisis. Had JetBlue contacted the passengers prior to their arrival at the airports, they might have been able to secure better and more comfortable accommodations than the airports had to offer. Additionally, the company would have presented themselves proactively instead of taking the defensive posture noted by Gray.

In December 1984, Union Carbide, a pesticide production company, was the subject of the worst industrial accident in history. At their plant in Bhopal, India, an employee purposefully allowed water into large tanks of a chemical called methyl isocyanate (MICN) which caused a chemical reaction (according to Union Carbide management), bursting the tanks and releasing MICN gas into the environment killing more than 3,000 people (some estimates exceed 25,000 dead) and injuring 100 times that amount (Venkatasubramanian, 2011). According to Muller (2001), MICN was stored in large above ground tanks, a water valve was connected to the tanks, and employees had largely unrestricted access to these tanks and valves. When liquid MICN and water are mixed, MICN rapidly expands to a gaseous state and can quickly overwhelm holding tanks. Had Union Carbide conducted an investigation of potential crises while constructing a crisis communication plan, these circumstances might have been uncovered and considered prior to the accident, allowing company officials the opportunity to mitigate the potentially deadly situation and avoid the catastrophe in 1984. Additionally, had this crisis occurred regardless of mitigation, the company would have been poised to provide helpful instructions and recommendations to public safety officials and the public to minimize the loss of life. Union Carbide was eventually sued for billions of dollars, which it has never paid.

Another incident that might have benefited from a crisis communication plan is the Massey Energy Upper Big Branch mine explosion that occurred in West Virginia on April 5, 2010. Venkatasubramanian (2011) describes this explosion as the worst mining accident in four decades, killing 29 people. Like the Union Carbide example above, Massey Energy initially tried passing the blame to employees and single system failures, but eventually the company closed its Kentucky Freedom Energy Mine #1, and the CEO, Don Blankenship, stepped down. This after being confronted with the over 600 safety violations in 2009 and 2010. Again, the implementation of a crisis communication plan would have focused on potential accidents and allowed a window for mitigation and prevention. Upon completion of the effort, when the accident occurred, there would have been clear directives on how to proceed, which might have helped to save the company’s reputation; although, in this case, that is unclear.

Only when a company’s management realizes that safety is important and that crises do occur can they set forth means of mitigating their risk. One important way to mitigate risk is to consider that no matter the attempts at prevention, errors and failures can always occur and it is best to be prepared for the worst-case scenarios in hopes that they never do occur. By being prepared for the worst case scenarios, mainly by having drafted crisis communication plans along with incident action plans, the company representative has focus and direction on how to proceed with response efforts both publicly and internally. The benefits are appearing with a unified message of adequately responding and recovering from the crisis, and bringing a sense of strength and direction to that effort that the public, employees, and shareholders alike can appreciate and find faith. It is always best to be prepared.


Boy Scouts of America. (2011, March). Overview of Boy Scouts of America. Retrieved from http://www.scouting.org/About/FactSheets/OverviewofBSA.aspx

Fearn-Banks, K. (2011). Crisis communications: a casebook approach (4th ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.

Gray, S. (2008). Without crisis plan, your reputation could be at risk. Las Vegas Business Press, 25(8), 22. Retrieved from http://www.ebscohost.com/academic/regional-business-news

Muller, R. (2001). A significant toxic event: The Union Carbide pesticide plant disaster in Bhopal, India, 1984. Rural and Remote Environmental Health, 1(10). Retrieved from http://www.tropmed.org/rreh/vol1_10.htm

Venkatasubramanian, V. (2011). Systemic failures: Challenges and opportunities in risk management in complex systems. AIChE Journal, 57(1), 2-9. doi:10.1002/aic.12495

Defining Crisis

A crisis is any problem that has a significant impact. Most simply, a crisis is a decision-point of change, for better or worse. For example, a new father seeing his child for the first time might have a crisis of faith. A beautiful and healthy child may trigger thoughts of awe and trigger a divine revelation; whereas, a seriously ill child may bring feelings of doubt and religious contempt. In the field of crisis management, Coombs (2012) defines crisis as “the perception of an unpredictable event that threatens important expectancies of stakeholders and can seriously impact an organization’s performance and generate negative outcomes” (p. 2). In this definition, Coombs suggests that crises are both negative and unpredictable events that effect others. While I agree with the scope of the definition, as I stated above, crises do not necessarily have to be negative events, and frequently, they can be predicted. Predictable negative crises are usually caused by negligent management, such as economic crises (Berg & Pattillo, 1998; Compagnon, 2011; Feldstein, 2010; Roubini, 2010).

A crisis usually develops from a less significant issue and, if understood and contemplated, can be mitigated early (Coombs, 2012). A crisis stemming from an issue finds a causal relationship with risk. Risk can be categorized by human, systematic, and process or random (Youndt, Snell, Dean, & Lepak, 1996). Human and systematic risk can be mitigated easily; however, process risk is inherent and requires substantial process change to minimize.

The British Petroleum Deepwater Horizon event, which occurred on April 20, 2010, was said to have been fraught with risk of all three types. A New York Times article by Barstow, Rohde, and Saul (2010) describes the event and attempts to elucidate what went wrong. Initially, according to the article, there was a blowout of the Macondo Prospect well, a risk that is inherent to drilling, especially in deep water. Next, every single “formidable and redundant defenses against even the worst blowout” (para. 10) failed. This was certainly a failure of process errors (geological “bursts” causing the well blowout), systematic errors (“One emergency system alone was controlled by 30 buttons” [para. 18]), and human errors (“members of the crew hesitated and did not take the decisive steps needed. Communications fell apart, warning signs were missed and crew members in critical areas failed to coordinate a response” [para. 15]).

On a micro-organizational level (the rig), these failures are evident and allowed risk to develop into an issue, which developed into a crisis. On a macro-organizational level, however, the response seemed to be swift, but the focal response to the incident and the public relations response appeared very disjointed, which was compounded by both the media and the federal government, that is, until the U.S. Coast Guard took control. It was apparent very early that both British Petroleum and the federal government were concerned with reputation over response and recovery from the focal incident. This translated to poor support for both by the public. I believe the U.S. Coast Guard is the only managing entity involved in the response to have managed to maintain dignity throughout the effort.

Crisis management is promoted as a multifaceted approach to mitigate, alleviate, respond to, and recover from crises of different types and scope. Although there are many aspects to organizations that require attention during these efforts, it needs to be understood that some have higher priorities than others, and reputation is a culmination of all of these.


Barstow, D., Rohde, D., & Saul, S. (2010, December 25). Deepwater Horizon’s final hours. New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/26/us/26spill.html

Berg, A. & Pattillo, C. (1998). Are currency crises predictable: a test (Working paper #98/154). International Monetary Fund. Retrieved from http://books.google.com/

Compagnon, D. (2011). A predictable tragedy: Robert Mugabe and the collapse of Zimbabwe. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Coombs, W. T. (2012). Ongoing crisis communications: planning, managing, and responding (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Feldstein, M. (2010, June 14). A predictable crisis: Europe’s single currency was bound to break down. The Weekly Standard, 15(37), 1-3. Retrieved from http://www.weeklystandard.com/articles/predictable-crisis

Roubini, N. (2010, May 17). All crises are predictable: Contrary to beliefs, history shows there’s nothing new in debt or inflation. Gulf News. Retrieved from http://gulfnews.com/business/features/all-crises-are-predictable-1.627708

Youndt, M. A., Snell, S. A., Dean, J. W., & Lepak, D. P. (1996). Human resources management, manufacturing strategy, and firm performance. The Academy of Management Journal, 39(4), 836-866. doi:10.2307/256714

“Disaster Response and Management – IT” (DRAM-IT)

With the growing focus of disaster mitigation, response and recovery, companies that rely on information systems need to prevent and minimize the impact of disasters (whether natural or man-made) to their infrastructure. Society’s focus is to regain a sense of normalcy which requires a functioning economy, thereby increasing the need for companies to recover quickly.

By providing expert philosophies, procedures, systems and tools, DRAM-IT can ensure that the client will transition seamlessly from pre-disaster to post-disaster with no negative long-term effects.

We start with employee-focused health, safety and security. We believe that the employee is the first defense against failure. Employees should be healthy and not have their minds occupied by other domestic problems (e.g. family welfare) which is why in times of a disaster affecting the community, we contract with armed security agencies to provide force security for key employees and their families. This focus allows other employees to take care of their own before returning to work. The same security force will provide on-site perimeter security allowing employees to feel safe while aiding in recovery efforts. But, before the incident occurs, we will create processes to assist each employee in staying healthy and fit, both physically and mentally, including the creation of medical response teams to manage on-site medical emergencies until EMS can arrive.

Data loss can be immeasurable and therefore cannot be tolerated. After performing a forensic analysis of current IT practices, DRAM-IT will offer methods of securing data with redundant distributed arrays with cryptographic and hashing intelligence ensuring the data has not been and cannot be manipulated. Along with distributed storage, we can offer distributed processing to ensure the business keeps running without a need for direct input by employees.

During a disaster, the focus needs to be on initiating recovery processes and requires interfacing with local authorities to be part of the solution. We will provide the internal Incident Command structure which will integrate with the local, State, and Federal efforts to ensure pooling of resources. We are also committed to the community. The faster the individual entities of a community can recover, the faster the community as a whole can heal.

With DRAM-IT Systems Mitigation, Response and Recovery, we can ensure that you can concentrate on what is important… we’ll take care of the rest.

By providing an all-encompassing approach to disaster management, our clients can be assured of continuous critical systems processing, ensuring business continuity throughout the disaster.

Table Title: Examples of Structure and IT needs
Functional Area (See Figure 7.23) Supporting Information Systems (See Figure 1.6)
Example: Human Resource Management Example: Transaction Processing Systems
Command Executive Information Systems
Operations Decision Support & Strategic Info Systems
Tactical Knowledge Management & Expert Systems
Logistics Specialized / Transaction Control Systems
Finance Specialied / Transaction Control Systems

Subject: Investment Opportunity – “Disaster Response and Management – IT (DRAM-IT)” 02/25/14
To Whom it May Concern

I am writing you as an entrepreneur in support of the community. We have faced a number of disasters recently and our economy continuously suffers. I hope to provide a host of services to companies which are key to the community infrastructure. My goal is to be able to assist these key companies in recovering from the disaster internally and allowing the economy a maximized benefit in a minimal amount of time.

As a critical care paramedic who has worked with FEMA response teams in the past years, I have the experience and education to know what is crucially important during a disaster. As a computer programmer and IT professional, I know how to apply my knowledge to critical business systems ensuring a smooth transition during the various phases of a disaster, whether large or small, internal or external.

I wish to be able to provide mitigation training, on-site employee health programs, redundant communications, secure data storage and retrieval with distributive data processing, personal and protective security and adaptive processes and philosophies that can overcome even the most destructive of forces. We will initially be focused on consulting with the promotion of best-practices in mind. During the disaster phase, we will respond directly as Incident Command Teams that will be fully self-sufficient for over 72-hours to ensure the response and recovery are as smooth as possible.

The unfortunate reality is that this endeavor will require a large amount of start-up capital. We must first hire and train appropriate personnel who can then consult to client companies and ensure they can operate effectively during and after a disaster. We also need access to distributive networks with which to operate. These will undoubtedly be fee-based services, but initial investments of processor-time and storage would be invaluable. Investing in this opportunity is investing in the community.


Michael Schadone