1 Crisis Management Best Practices: A Content Analysis of Written Crisis Management Plans Barbara S. Gainey Kennesaw State University IPRRC This study, through a content analysis of written crisis management plans and accompanying survey research, seeks to establish a best-practice framework for meaningful evaluation of written crisis management plans in educational organizations. This research will propose additional ways to improve the crisis-ready status of public school districts, with implications for other organizations. The body of literature and research on crisis management, while expanding, has been limited and primarily focused on the for-profit business sector. Educational institutions, particularly kindergarten through twelfth-grade public schools, are affected by a broad range of crises, from the more common inclement weather crisis to the more high-profile crises of Columbine or educating students in the shadow of the terrorist-targeted World Trade Center. Because schools are public institutions serving local communities and their youngest and arguably most vulnerable citizens, and because public schools are democratic institutions charged with promoting the principles of a free, democratic society, public school districts are an appropriate focus for further crisis management research. In a recent research project, crisis management in one state s public school districts was studied. The research focused on crisis management preparation in South Carolina school districts and the extent to which these districts are crisis-ready organizations. Crisis-ready was defined as being prepared to respond to crises through (1) development and implementation of formal crisis management plans, (2) plans for two-way communication that build relationships with internal and external stakeholders, and (3) strategies for providing effective leadership within the culture of the school community. Crisis management plans, communication with key stakeholders, and cultural leadership the new three Cs were defined as essential components for organizations to be considered crisis-ready organizations. This research contributed to the body of crisis management knowledge by expanding research into the public sector. A natural next step would be to conduct a content analysis of public school district written crisis management plans and, through accompanying survey research, to examine the way these plans are used in their respective organizations. This research could shed additional light on ways to improve the crisis-ready status of public school districts, with implications for other organizations. Crisis management elements cited in the literature resolve around key components: crisis prevention and preparation steps, formal crisis management plans, crisis management teams, actions during a crisis, media relations, communication with key publics (internal and external), and postcrisis activities such as evaluation. If school districts, or any other organizations, are to be considered crisis-ready, they must address basic crisis management elements. This research will develop a comprehensive framework of (1) basic crisis management components and (2) crisis categories (natural disasters, structural/physical problems, environmental hazards, and human situations such as shootings or hostage situation) that should be present in formal crisis management planning. The first phase of this ongoing research will center on the literature review, developing a framework of pre-crisis, crisis, and post-crisis activities.
2 IPRRC Crisis Management Review The discipline or practice of crisis management (Rudolph, 1986; Burnett, 1998) has been making headlines for slightly more than 20 years, with Johnson & Johnson s handling of the first Tylenol-related crisis marking its 20 th anniversary in While Johnson & Johnson, like most other corporations at the time, had no formal crisis management plan in place in 1982, the welldocumented crisis clearly pointed to the need for such planning. A review of crisis management literature points to a continuing need for formal crisis planning. In 1985, Business Week reported that most companies are abysmally prepared for crisis Even at companies that boast a plan, it often boils down to the CEO telling his PR department to be ready for dealing with it, according to Gerald J. Voros, Ketchum Communications, Inc., president (Business Week, 1985, p ). Since 1982, corporate crises have involved defective products or product tampering, environmental crises, terrorism, workplace violence, or other crises that threatened a corporation's reputation or future. In some cases, organizations have been responsive, but many organizations have found they were ill prepared. In a study by Fink (1986), 89 percent of the chief executive officers of Fortune 500 companies reported that a business crisis was almost inevitable; however, 50 percent responded that they did not have a crisis management plan. Even so, 97 percent felt either very confident or somewhat confident that they could respond adequately to a crisis (Fink, 1986). According to a 1986 Time magazine article, Despite the new popularity of crisis management, executives who are fully ready to respond to emergencies are still in the minority. When a disaster unfolds, many corporate chiefs shake their heads and refuse to acknowledge the gravity of the problem (Rudolph, 1986, p. 2). A 1994 study by Tiller found that fewer than 60 percent of the Fortune 1,000 industrial and 500 service companies had operational crisis management plans (Gonzalez-Herrero and Pratt, 1996). A public relations professional s job may be even more difficult if the crisis is not at the full-blown crisis stage yet; It s often hard to convince top management to mobilize resources to combat the crisis while it is still emerging, according to Reinhardt (1987, pp.43-44). The familiar reactive try-and-fail method, the muddling-through strategy, is ill suited to the present situation, according to Pauchant and Mitroff (1992, p. 32). Considering the dangerous technologies used nowadays, industrial disasters now have global impacts We can no longer afford to muddle through. We need to become proactive and anticipate as thoroughly as possible the lessons for the future. According to one study, the majority of costs associated with a crisis are not the initial costs of creating a plan or even legal or judgment costs but rather market costs the cost of lost sales and market share (Stocker, 1997). The crisis management field has developed, at least in part according to Reinhardt, in response to the growth of electronic media as a primary news source, the increasing media savvy of special-interest groups, and the rapid rise in instantaneous global communication (1987). In other words, crisis management for some organizations has been a reactive or defensive response to the potential for a local crisis to go national quickly through the electronic media. High profile cases may have provided the impetus for crisis planning in corporate America. As Caponigro has observed, This is a new way of thinking in business (2000, p. xiii). Crisis planning is also a new way of thinking for educators. The crisis at Columbine High School demonstrated to public educators the need for formal crisis planning in the public sector. Public schools were not insulated or immune to crisis situations. According to Karen H. Kleinz, associate director of the National School Public Relations Association, Educators took their crisis plans off the shelf, dusted them off and reviewed their procedures in response to school shootings that culminated with the Columbine tragedy, which shook us all to the core, and seems to have at lat
3 IPRRC galvanized the nation into serious action and community discussion and engagement about youth violence and other related social issues (Kleinz, 1999, p. 28). As Columbine High School motivated educators to plan for the unthinkable, the events of September 11, 2001, drove home the need for crisis planning for corporate America. According to a CEO reputation survey by PR Week/Burson-Marsteller, 21 percent of 194 CEO respondents said they had no crisis plan in place on 9/11. In the aftermath, however, 63 percent said they started to address crisis planning (Schoenberg, 2005). However, other studies have found that more progress is needed. According to a study by the International Profit Associates Small Business Research Board, 79 percent of American small businesses indicate they do not have a disaster-recovery plan in place (The Central New York Business Journal, 2005). The American Management Association study in August and September of 2005 found that, while more than half of the United States companies surveyed had crisis management plans, the percentage with crisis plans had dropped from 64 percent in 2003 to 60 percent in Those with crisis plans are also addressing different concerns. In 2005, the greatest concerns were natural disasters (77%), technology system failures (73%), industrial accidents (65%), risks from crime (31%), terrorism (46%), and major fraud (18%). The AMA study also found that 56 percent of respondents said their organization had designated a crisis management team and that 50 percent had conducted crisis simulations. Thirty-eight percent of AMA respondents had provided crisis management training for key personnel ( AMA 2005 Crisis Management & Security Issues Survey ). Other organizations are evaluating if their crisis plans cover enough possible scenarios. For example, according to one report, spokepersons for a half dozen multinational firms could not locate any specific plans for responding to major flu outbreaks or the avian flu, although some said such illnesses would be covered under their general crisis plan (Brickey, 2005). According to the head of two firms in Ohio, Unfortunately that s symptomatic of business today. There are so many demands and so little time, so we re not able to do as much forward planning as we need to (Brickey, 2005). Dana Corp. indicated that it is adding avian flu provisions to its crisis plan, including possible travel restrictions, changes in meeting sites and employee education programs; other companies are adding telecommuting options, requiring passports updates in case of evacuations, and stocking respiratory masks for employees and guests in Asian facilities (Brickey, 2005). Another study notes that while progress is being made in the area of health emergency preparedness, the nation is still not ready to respond to a major health crisis. The report, Ready or Not? Protecting the Public s Health from Disease, Disasters, and Bioterrorism, by the nonprofit Trust for America s Health, says not enough has been done to plan for serving extra patients by using nonhealth care facilities such as community centers, to encourage health care workers to report for work during a major infectious disease outbreak, and to ensure adequate funding and resources to respond to health crises effectively (American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy, 2006). Crisis Management Defined Numerous definitions of a crisis have been offered by researchers. A crisis has been defined as an event that, at a minimum, is a threat or challenge to an organization's legitimacy or image (Coombs and Holladay, 1996) or has the potential for endangering an organization s reputation, future profitability, and even its survival (Lerbinger, 1997). Weick (1988, p. 305) defines crises as "characterized by low probability/high consequence events that threaten the most fundamental goals of an organization." Pauchant and Mitroff define a crisis as "a disruption that physically affects a system as a whole and threatens its basic assumptions, its subjective sense of self, its existential core" (1992, p. 15). Silva and McGann (1995) describe a crisis as a violation of vision, a disruption in the ability to accomplish one's mission, and an event that affects values and has the long-term potential
4 IPRRC for damage to the organization and its relationships. Fearn-Banks describes a crisis as a major occurrence with a potentially negative outcome that may affect an organization and its publics, products, services and reputation (1996). Crises may "permanently redefine an organization in a new and unexpected light," changing an organization's culture and business (Murphy, 1996). Crises are often unpredictable but not expected; crises have the potential to disrupt or affect the entire organization (Coombs, 1999). Crisis management, on the other hand, proposes strategies for preparing for and handling crisis events. Crisis management, according to Stocker (1997, p. 189), is the preparation and application of strategies and tactics that can prevent or modify the impact of major events on the company or organization. Kreps defines crisis management as the use of public relations to minimize harm to the organization in emergency situations that could cause the organization irreparable damage (1986, p. 247). Coombs says crisis management seeks to prevent or lessen the negative outcomes of a crisis and thereby protect the organization, stakeholders, and/or industry from damage (1999, p. 4). Fearn-Banks says crisis management is the strategic planning process that removes some of the risk and uncertainty from the crisis, allowing the organization greater control of its destiny (1996). Crisis communication, according to Fearn-Banks, is the communication that occurs between the organization and its publics before, during, and after the crisis. According to Stocker (1997), the evolution of crisis management parallels the rise in the practice of public relations. The three objectives of crisis management, Stocker says, are to prevent a crisis when possible, to modify the negative effects of a crisis on an organization and to, through its behavior, provide a platform for the organization's future. Effective crisis management is a process, not an event, according to Caponigro. It is an ongoing, systematic, and disciplined process that a business should follow to help identify vulnerabilities, prevent crises from occurring, plan for those most likely to occur, communicate effectively during and after a crisis, monitor and evaluate the situation, and make adjustments as necessary (2000, p. 29). Crisis management history offers lessons for public education. Johnson & Johnson, its chairman James Burke, and the company s corporate culture are generally credited with providing one of the best and earliest handlings of corporate crises in history (Benson, 1988; Fink, 1986; Small, 1991; Fearn-Banks, 1996). Seven people in the Chicago area died in 1982 after unwittingly taking Extra-Strength Tylenol capsules that had been laced with cyanide; even though Johnson & Johnson was a victim of unanticipated product sabotage, the company was faced with a crisis that threatened the future of the Tylenol brand (Fink, 1986). Although the company did not have a formal, written crisis management plan in 1982, it was guided by a corporate credo that recognized responsibility to four groups in the following order: consumers, employees, communities served by the company, and stockholders (Fink, 1986; Fearn-Banks, 1996). Johnson & Johnson was well served by the following: The company had an established reputation of dealing fairly and honestly with the media. The company practiced full and swift disclosure of information during the crisis (Kaufmann, Kesner, Hazen, 1994). Burke and his company were perceived as sincere and compassionate. The public relations department was an important part of the crisis response team (Fink, 1986; Small, 1991; Fearn-Banks, 1996). When the company was confronted by poisoned capsules again in 1986, Johnson & Johnson responded quickly to cease production of Tylenol capsules and replace them with a new product, Tylenol caplets. Again, the company received high marks for its crisis response (Seitel, 2001).
5 IPRRC The important roles played by Burke as the organization s leader and public relations professionals during this crisis and the model Johnson & Johnson demonstrated for working effectively with the media are examples that have implications for crisis management in public schools. Other companies have not always fared as well in times of crisis. Exxon spent more than two billion dollars in clean-up fees alone after the Exxon Valdez accident released almost 11 million gallons of oil along Prince William Sound, Alaska, on March 24, 1989, and yet it is perceived as having been unsuccessful in salvaging its public image and reputation in the face of the environmental disaster (Small, 1991; Harrison and Prugh, 1989). Exxon was criticized for corporate arrogance and being slow to demonstrate concern and accept responsibility for the accident (Lukaszewski, 1993). Exxon Chairman Lawrence Rawl was perceived as unable to view the situation from the media s and public s perspectives; the corporate culture was unable to overcome the personal culture of its leader (Small, 1991). Exxon suffered by not taking charge of the news flow and not providing a credible and empathetic chief executive officer as spokesperson (Lukaszewski, 1993, Harrison and Prugh, 1998). Other steps that would have been advisable for Exxon include having a healthy relationship with the media prior to the crisis, a crisis management team, a crisis audit, crisis training, and forums to receive internal feedback (Williams and Olaniran, 1994). This crisis demonstrates that public perception of how an organization is handling a crisis may matter more than the facts, and that a rapid apology-fact-action plan should be initiated to help gain public support in a crisis (Lukaszewski, 1993, p. 208). According to Small (1991, pp ), a number of lessons can be learned from the Exxon Valdez crisis. These lessons are as relevant to public school districts as they are to the corporate sector. Show candor and repentance. Move quickly when a crisis hits. Prepare a crisis plan. Make a conscious decision about whether the CEO should go to the scene of the crisis event. Identify the CEO as the spokesperson, unless the CEO won t be perceived as forthright and sincere. Have an ongoing media evaluation program in place. Centralize communications, both internally and externally. Be aware of creative ideas, such as involving critics in solving the problem. Build relationships with those who will matter in a crisis (the media, special interest groups, and other external publics). Build positive relationships with politicians never attack them. Evaluate the appropriateness of paid advertisements and handouts. Lukaszewski (1993) stipulated that the more complex the planning process, the less management appeared willing to tend to issues of visibility and reputation. If an organization is worthy of its reputation and interested in maintaining its credibility, then emergency preparations are an absolute necessity. When bad news happens, critical audiences, including employees, have expectations of a company s behavior and its ability to manage problems. Every organization and business is vulnerable to mistakes, mishaps, unanticipated events, and human error. We are all vulnerable. The prudent organization studies its vulnerabilities, identifies those most dangerous to the organization, and prepares to manage them (Lukaszewski, 1993, pp ). The credo in place at Johnson & Johnson and the organization's follow-through on a policy of truthfulness and honesty won the company widespread respect in the wake of two separate episodes
6 IPRRC of product tampering. At the time of the first incident, the company did not have a formal crisis management plan. Similarly, McDonald s faced a crisis imposed on it from the outside following a shooting at a California McDonald's in The company, with no formal crisis plan in place, demonstrated concern and compassion by communicating with community leaders and seeking opportunities to help the victims and their families. McDonald's formed a crisis team but credits the company's effective crisis management as being guided by a management philosophy to "do what was right" (Starmann, 1993; Marra, 1998, p. 468). According to Fink (1986, p. 40), A lesser establishment, one without so much image credit at the bank of public opinion, might not have weathered the crisis. Building goodwill and credible relationships in advance is one of the best crisis tactics and one that is nearly impossible to do in the midst of a crisis (Stocker, 1997). Credibility with an organization s publics must be earned over time; the positive relationships that have been built can be valuable when confronting a crisis. Reinhardt (1987) said, "No matter how perfect the timing of your communication during an emergency, you cannot repair a poor past relationship with the media or with your target audiences. In that sense, crisis communication really begins in your day-to-day employee, community and media relations, before there's even an inkling of trouble" (p. 44). School districts should recognize that building strong school-community and school-media relationships, while crucial to supporting the central mission of educating students, also is vital in effective crisis management. Pauchant and Mitroff (1997) identified 142 incidents that could turn into accidents or crises for organizations, ranging from deaths (or injury) of a customer (or student) or employee, to rumors or scandal, to layoffs and special interest group attacks, scenarios familiar regardless of the setting, corporate or public sector (p. 26). Organizations fall on a compendium ranging from crisis-prone to crisis-prepared. Four factors influence how crisis-prone or crisis-prepared an organization is: Organization strategies, i.e., plans, mechanisms and procedures for crisis management. Organizational structure, which either contributes to or inhibits crises. Organizational culture, i.e., the organization s unwritten rules, codes of conduct, belief systems. Character and experiences of the individuals working for the organization (Pauchant and Mitroff, 1997). Crisis prepared managers do their best to reduce the likelihood of crises and their effects when they do happen. Crisis-prone managers completely deny the possibility of crises; they believe they can manage them perfectly through an increase of control and technology or else invoke fate as an excuse for doing nothing about them (Pauchant and Mitroff, 1997, p. 33). Elements of Effective Crisis Management The crisis management research literature identifies numerous elements important to effective crisis management. Authors such as Fearn-Banks (1996) and Fink (1986) and editors such as Gottschalk (1993) provide extensive detail about the crisis management process and crisis case studies. For example, Fearn-Banks proposes five stages of a crisis: detection, prevention/preparation, containment (to limit the duration or spread of the crisis), recovery, and learning (1996). Coombs (1999) offers a comprehensive approach to crisis management, promoting the four steps of prevention, preparation, performance, and learning (evaluating and the creating institutional memory). Pauchant and Mitroff explore five phases of crisis management: signal detection, preparation/prevention, containment/damage limitation, recovery, and learning (1992). Other sources
7 IPRRC offer insights through research studies, case studies and how-to-do-it approaches to crisis management. Reinhardt (1987, p. 44) recommends: Communicate swiftly and as completely as possible. Fill the information vacuum or others will do it for you. Implement a crisis management plan through a steering group (crisis management team). Notify top management of a crisis situation. Use a designated, trained spokesperson. Establish a center for the media. Demonstrate the organization s concern but avoid causing panic. Notify (train) personnel how to direct media inquiries (without responding themselves). Katz (1987, pp ) recommends: Gaining top management support for crisis preparation, taking into account the CEO s personality and corporate culture. Designating employee roles in a crisis. Performing risk assessment audits. Conducting issues management programs. Developing a communication plan that includes identification of team members in a crisis, communication strategies with key publics, designation of one spokesperson to present a unified message, and updated media and other audience lists. Conducting surveys of key publics to ensure that the organization s messages are focused on the concerns of its publics. Conducting mock crisis drills. Training for making appearances before the media and government agencies. Planning for direct communications with target audiences. Planning for post-crisis communications. An amply supply of stoicism, steadiness (concentration), stamina, and sensitivity (for people, politics, and problems) are necessary attributes for spokespersons in a crisis (Lukaszewski, 1987). Cultural values and sensitivities must be considered in some crises, such as airline disasters, to achieve success in communications (Pinsdorf, 1991, Public Relations Review and Public Relations Journal). Human sensitivity is demonstrated by showing concern for families affected by the crisis, tapping into what the public is thinking and feeling (not just what the media reports the public is thinking), avoiding the use of inappropriate terms that may come to misrepresent the crisis ( meltdown, for example from Three Mile Island), balancing terrorist threats, safety and the public s right to be informed, and thinking accurately and not emotionally (Pinsdorf, 1991, Public Relations Journal). Crisis management elements cited in the literature resolve around key components: crisis prevention and preparation steps, formal crisis management plans, crisis management teams, actions during a crisis, media relations, communication with key publics (internal and external), and postcrisis activities such as evaluation. If school districts are to be considered crisis-ready, they must address these basic crisis management elements.
8 IPRRC Recommendations regarding pre-crisis activities include: Conduct a crisis or vulnerability audit of potential threats or weaknesses, as was recommended in the Exxon Valdez crisis (Burnett, 1998; Katz, 1987; Williams and Olaniran, 1994). Develop an issues management program (Burnett, 1998; Katz, 1987; Preston, 1991). Develop an early warning system for crisis detection through scanning and issues management (Pauchant and Mitroff, 1992). Union Carbide, for example, did not act on warning signals received prior to the Bhopal, India, crisis (Pauchant and Mitroff, 1992). Gain top management support (Katz, 1987) for the integration of crisis management in corporate planning and strategic planning processes (Pauchant and Mitroff, 1992). Develop and update a crisis management plan (Stocker, 1997; Fearn-Banks, 1996; Fink, 1986; Kleinz, 1999). According to Fearn-Banks, a crisis communications plan is the primary tool of preparedness (1996, p. 7). o This crisis plan should identify key audiences, be in a three-ring binder so that it is easy to change, include as many sample letters, documents and forms as possible, identify a spokesperson, establish a communication procedure, delineate how to gather information and how to communicate with the news media, a telephone tree for communicating with key audiences, and even mailing labels or pre-addressed envelopes (Armistead, 1996). o In light of 9/11, Fearn-Banks recommends developing a plan that imagines the worst; consider the most likely and damaging issues and situations the organization could face (Fearn-Banks, 2002, p. 30). o Other lessons learned from 9/11, according to Fearn-Banks, are being prepared for people to be traumatized by the magnitude of the crisis; know how to contact employees and their families; make plans for temporary workspace or alternate work sites; recognize that cell phone communication is a necessity in a crisis; know how to safely evacuate offices in an emergency; for precrisis partnerships to facilitate communication in a mutual crisis (to ensure coordination among spokesperson and executives); and, make sure employees are aware that jobs and companies can be lost directly or indirectly because of a crisis event (Fearn-Banks, 2002, p. 30). o Florida law (Safe Passage Act of 2001) requires the development of a crisis plan in public school districts and requires districts to provide school site plans for blueprints to emergency responders in their communities ( Voices from the Field: Working Together for Safe and Secure Schools, Florida Department of Education, 2002). o Specify a schedule for revising the crisis plan, updating training and conducting regular drills, and establish and maintain internal and external communication procedures, including communicating with the media during crises ( Voices from the Field: Working Together for Safe and Secure Schools, Florida Department of Education, 2002). Create a crisis management team (Stocker, 1997; Fearn-Banks, 1996; Fink; 1986; Kaufmann, Kesner and Hazen, 1994; Rudolph, 1986; Kleinz, 1999; Voices from the Field: Working Together for Safe and Secure Schools, Florida Department of Education, 2002). Develop a healthy relationship with the media prior to a crisis event (Williams and Olaniran, 1994, Kaufmann, Kesner and Hazen, 1994); initiate training for working with the media in a crisis (Pauchant and Mitroff, 1992).
9 IPRRC Develop a communications plan that includes communication strategies with internal and external publics and a plan for centralized communications to present a unified message (Katz, 1987). Train the spokesperson(s) for media coverage in a crisis (Katz, 1987, Reinhardt, 1987; Fearn- Banks, 1996). Use a single spokesperson the CEO or chairman to create a unified message (Seeger, Sellnow and Ulmer, 2003). Develop fact sheets on each building site (each school and the district office) to give to the media during a crisis; fact sheets would include school demographic data (number of students, for example) and maps (Kleinz). Establish a two-way communications program focused on building mutually beneficial relationships. Continuous, ongoing public relations programs and regular two-way communications build relationships with key publics and thereby prevent crises, lessen the blows of crises, or limit the duration of crises, said Fearn-Banks (1996, p. 5). Create emergency call lists and media notification lists (Rudolph, 1986; Fearn-Banks, 1996). Address technology and equipment needs to facilitate communication in a crisis, including radio systems, limited-range cellular service, bullhorns, air horns and pagers ( Voices from the Field: Working Together for Safe and Secure Schools, Florida Department of Education, 2002). Determine terminology to be used to communicate a crisis internally. For example some schools districts are now using plain English ( lockdown and evacuate ) instead of codes to avoid confusion in a crisis ( Voices from the Field: Working Together for Safe and Secure Schools, Florida Department of Education, 2002). Prepare key documents that would be important in a crisis, such as a map of the organization s office, fact sheets with number of employees, etc., photos, executive biographies, etc. (Fearn-Banks, 1996). Determine equipment and supplies needed by the crisis team, media, and other publics (Fearn- Banks, 1996). Enlist the crisis management advice of public relations firms or experts (Rudolph, 1986). Conduct crisis training exercises (Katz, 1987; Voices from the Field: Working Together for Safe and Secure Schools, Florida Department of Education, 2002), and participate in crisis management workshops (Pauchant and Mitroff, 1992). Put mechanisms in place to conduct public opinion research during a crisis (Katz, 1987). Conduct contingency planning against acts of terrorism that includes setting up a terrorist response team and monitoring current events related to terrorist acts and interests (Preston, 1991). Promote cultural understanding, acceptance, and goodwill to reduce threats (Preston, 1991). Develop anti-terrorism procedures for employees who travel internationally (Preston, 1991). Be honest in communications efforts. Avoiding overselling new programs that may not measure up to expectations, as NASA did with the Hubble Space Telescope in 1990 (Kauffman, 1997). Create a strong, proactive and cooperative communication culture or ideology in the organization (Marra, 1998; Fearn-Banks, 1996). AT&T exhibited such a culture during a long-distance network crisis in 1990; NASA, on the other hand, demonstrated a closed and defensive culture after the Challenger explosion (Marra, 1998).
10 IPRRC Recognize that perception and the court of public opinion can have a tremendous impact on the organization s ability to withstand a crisis (Hearit, 1994). Build goodwill and a solid reputation in advance of a crisis. It is nearly impossible to build a relationship and credibility with stakeholders in the middle of a crisis (Stocker, 1997, p. 197). Build relationships between schools and communities. Schools that try very hard to connect to families and communities can find potentially destructive students earlier, according to a Time magazine report published in the aftermath of the Columbine High School shootings (Cloud, 1999, p. 40). Be prepared to deal with interlopers, or third-parties who seek to be allowed on-site after the initial crisis event. Political side issues involving gun control and a celebrity visit after the shooting attack at a Stockton, California, elementary school created tremendous pressures for the school district s public information officer and school children (Briggs, 1990). Work with local officials (law enforcement, hospitals, and other emergency responders) and other community resources (phone and cable companies and behavioral/mental health services) in crisis management planning and implementation (Todd, 1989; Kleinz, 1999). Install anonymous tip lines for students or parents who hear rumors or potential threats or suspicious conversations or activities (Brown, 1999; Kleinz, 1999; Voices from the Field: Working Together for Safe and Secure Schools, Florida Department of Education, 2002). Conduct a safety assessment at each facility (Kleinz, 1999). Set up a pre-designed shadow or dark Web site, ready to be activated in a crisis, recommends Joan Cear, a senor vice president at G.S. Schwartz & Co. in Manhattan (Markus, 2001, 8A). Pay attention to the role of leadership in a crisis. Leaders can exert a positive influence by helping to frame the meaning of a crisis event, expressing appropriate concern and support, overseeing mitigation, coordinating support and facilitating timely, open communication (Seeger, Sellnow and Ulmer, 2003, p. 241). Crisis leadership may also adopted strategies to minimize harm, deny responsibility and shift blame (Seeger, Sellnow and Ulmer, 2003). Effective leaders may also have identified traits (credibility, communication skills and decisiveness, for example) and act in symbolic ways (symbol of order and authority, provide information and comfort, leverage resources) during a crisis (Seeger, Sellnow and Ulmer, 2003). Recommendations for activities during a crisis are: Take action quickly after the crisis event (Lerbinger, 1997; Burnett, 1998; Sen and Egelhoff, 1991). Organizations have a window of 45 minutes to 12 hours to gain control (Small, 1991). Take a proactive communications posture when the crisis hits, unlike Dow Corning in its silicone breast implants crisis (Rumptz, Leland, McFaul, Solinski and Pratt, 1992). In light of the Food Lion crisis, organizations were advised to get the truth out quickly (Gunther, 1997). The anthrax attacks in 2003 show that while communications must occur at the very birth of the crisis, determining what the message should be to restore calm can be difficult in the face of an evolving situation (Duhe 2005, pp ) Identify key messages to be communicated (Fearn-Banks, 1996). While much of the literature encourages organizations to speak with one voice, with the implication to rely on one spokesperson, Duhe suggests that the Canada SARS experience in 2003 demonstrates that it can be useful to rely on a team to communicate a similarly themed
11 IPRRC message multiple faces add credibility when communicating with multiple audiences (Duhe, 2005, pp. 7-13). Make a conscious decision as to the role of the CEO and whether this leader should go to the scene of the crisis event (Small, 1991). Encourage management to be visible and involved (Bobo, 1997). Make a special effort to keep employees informed (Williams and Olaniran, 1994). Don t forget to address the needs of your internal audience and to provide emotional support to those affected by the crisis (Todd, 1989; Bobo, 1997). Create a crisis management center. Equip the center (for the media) and the public relations staff/crisis management team with necessary technology (cellular phones and pagers, fax machines, computers with capability, etc. (Preston, 1991, Stocker, 1997, Allan, 1990). Keep stakeholders informed and perhaps involved (Sen and Egelhoff, 1991). Manage the crisis. Stocker (1997) suggests using the 4 Rs : expressing regret for the incident, indicate what will be done to resolve the issue, indicate reform steps to ensure it will not happen again, and, in some cases, make restitution. Recognize that a crisis may exhibit four characteristics: time pressure, control issues, threat level concerns (threats vary in magnitude and severity), and response-option constraints (there may be few response options available) (Burnett, 1998). Adopt communication strategies rather than a policy of silence to resolve the crisis, since silence may be perceived as an admission of guilt. (Hearit, 1994). Recast the situation by taking on the role of victim (such as in the case of General Motors versus Dateline NBC) (Hearit, 1996). Show credible concern for those injured or killed, as Hitachi Electronic Devices did when five employees were killed or injured when a tractor-trailer truck ran into a Greenville, South Carolina, restaurant (Bobo, 1997; Sen and Egelhoff, 1991). Be quick learners. Organizations must be able to change strategies quickly (Sen and Egelhoff, 1991). Avoid secrecy, defensiveness, denial, and evasion of responsibility. The Dow Corning breast implant crisis demonstrated that an organization would be better served if it took responsibility and acted accordingly (Brinson and Benoit, 1996). Management must show remorse, apologize, and act immediately and decisively (Benoit, 1995). Suggested actions to be taken after a crisis are: Consider post-crisis communications (Katz, 1987). Evaluate the success of the crisis response effort, using surveys and other feedback mechanisms (Werner, 1990). Determine how the organization performed in the crisis. Use the evaluation to set the stage for the future (Fearn-Banks, 1996). Seeger, Sellnow and Ulmer suggest that the functions of crisis leadership change during precrisis, crisis, post-crisis stages. For example, in a pre-crisis stage, the leader may establish a positive image, credibility and reputation and develop important communication processes with stakeholders. During a crisis, leadership often initiates a response by activating the crisis plan. The leader may serve as the spokesperson for the organization and identifies resource priorities. The leader may pay symbolic attention to the crisis and may coordinate linkages with emergency responders and other groups. The leader frames meaning and facilitates the flow of information. In a post-crisis mode,
12 IPRRC leadership may offer explanations or apologies, facilitate investigations, signal a willingness to change, participate in memorializing and grieving, facilitates learning from the crisis, and creates a vision for the future (2003, p. 250). Conclusion The first phase of this ongoing research centers on the literature review, particularly on identifying pre-crisis, crisis, and post-crisis activities. Continuing work with build on this initial framework, develop an assessment tool for evaluating crisis plans in educational settings, analyze existing crisis plans, and report on accompanying survey research. References Allan, M. J. (1990). Observations from the front, Public Relations Journal, March, 46(3), American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy. (2006). Nation still unprepared for health crisis, 63, February 1. American Management Association, 2005 AMA survey: Crisis management and security issues, (2/15/2006). Armistead, L. (1996). What to do before the violence happens: Designing the crisis communication plan. NASSP Bulletin, Reston, National Association of Secondary School Principals, 80(579) 31-37, 1&clientid=16627&vn (2/16/2006). Benoit, W. L. (1995). Sears repair of its auto service image: Image restoration discourse in the corporate sector. Communication Studies, Spring-Summer, 46(1&2), Benson, J. A. (1988). Crisis revisited: An analysis of strategies used by Tylenol in the second tampering episode. Central States Speech Journal, Spring, 39(1), Bobo, C. (1997). Hatachi faces crisis with textbook response. Public Relations Quarterly, summer, 42(2), 18(4), Brickey, H. (2005). Few firms in area have plans for a crisis. The Blade (OH), November 23, (2/15/2006). Briggs, W. (1990). Intercepting interlopers. Public Relations Journal, February, 46(2), Brinson, S. L. and Benoit, W. L. (1996). Dow Corning s image repair strategies in the breast implant crisis. Communication Quarterly, winter, 44(1), Burnett, J. J. (1998). A strategic approach to managing crises. Public Relations Review, 24(4), Greenwich, Conn.: JAI Press Incorporated, Business Week. (1985). How companies are learning to prepare for the worst, December 23, 74-76, as cited by J. A. Benson, Crisis revisited: An analysis of strategies used by Tylenol in the second tampering episode, Central States Speech Journal, Spring 1988, 39(1), Caponigro, J. R. (2000). The Crisis Counselor. Chicago, Ill.: Contemporary Books. Cloud, J. (1999). The Littleton massacre: What can the schools do? Time magazine, May, 153(17), Coombs, W. T. and Holladay, S. J. (1996). Communication and attributions in a crisis: An experimental study in crisis communication. Journal of Public Relations Research, 8(4), Columbia, SC: AEJMC, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Incorporated, Coombs, W. T. (1999). Ongoing Crisis Communication: Planning, Managing, and Responding. Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications.
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