Definition of a Crisis according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary: a: an unstable or crucial time or state of affairs in which a decisive change is impending; especially : one with the distinct possibility of a highly undesirable outcome b: a situation that has reached a critical phase.
The instability and pressure inherent during a crisis situation invokes a feeling of unpredictability and uncertainty about the future. But if you bend the ear of someone that has been through many crises before, it turns out that there are some consistencies. As we’ve reflected back on the crises before, patterns emerge. These patterns are not certain, of course, but happen often enough that we can expect they will likely occur again. This can help with planning for and navigating the crises that happens tomorrow.
THE FIRST 48 HOURS
Zero hour. Every crises starts with a moment in time when something bad and often unexpected suddenly occurs. From that moment on, the crisis has begun. It may be a threat to safety, a leak of information, a natural disaster, or anything else that has the potential to change the face of your business.
Frenzy. Once a crisis happens, there will be a frenzy of activity for a handful of hours. This is the time when those who problem solve, jump in to start helping in anyway they can. Those who melt down, begin the decent. Those who lead, take charge to gather information, bring people together, and create an organized process to give roles. When someone is teetering on the edge of hypothermia, it is helpful for them to perform a task, such as building a fire. Similarly, when leaders assign tasks and create order, it prevents the frenzy and creates productive behavior.
Balloon. Information comes in bit by bit, until it begins to unveil the full magnitude of the situation. Not every details will be in yet, but enough to know the situation is bad. This is when a good leader begins the escalation. This is when a crisis plan should begin being implemented.
Climax. This is when the realization of the situation sets in – up until now everyone has been too busy running around to really let the news sink in. The media or others have started talking about it and your company name is in the headlines. The phones are ringing off the hook. The CEO and his leaders are in the room asking what you are doing. As the phrase goes, shit just got real. If you are handling the situation well, this is a crisis leader’s time to shine – and to hold your ground. Don’t let others, even those above you, derail your team from the plan. Especially if they are a seasoned, well practiced team.
A twist. Information that was previously thought to be confirmed changes. Some details change significantly and it means that information previously shared with internal or external partners was incorrect and needs to be fixed. For example, there were twelve deaths confirmed and now there are actually only ten – or fourteen. This doesn’t always happen, but its common enough to plan on it. Remember this when sharing information out earlier in a crisis – include a note that details are still coming in and changing frequently.
Turning Point. It is typically around 48 hours into the crisis that there is a physical feeling of relief that seems to fill the air. The news cycle has slowed down. Some good news comes in – or at least the bad news had stopped and the situation seems to have a light at the end of the tunnel. The response team is tired, but this stage will feel others with hope and energy.
Secondary crises. This is a common phenomenon. The only thing unsure about it is when it will happen – it could be during any stage of a crisis. Something else will pop up that is unrelated to the original crisis, but adds to the complexity. Within minutes of the Boston Bombing, culprits created a false charities staged to help victims.
AFTER 48 HOURS
De-escalation. Whether the incident comes to an end, or crisis-mode just becomes the new normal, the situation normalizes. Usually within a week, but could stretch longer. There may still be small spikes in concern or needs that crop up, but nothing like the first two days.
A crisis can happen at any moment. Knowing what to expect and practicing potential scenarios is the best way to prepare leaders and teams, click here for more information on creating an exercise.
Can we help you?
Building an effective crisis management process that incorporates crisis management, crisis communications, and other functions within your firm is what we do here at Bryghtpath.
Bryghtpath has built the crisis management plans and frameworks for many Fortune 500 organizations, non-profits, and public sector agencies. Our firm has more than a century of experience in developing actionable plans to help prepare organizations for the unexpected. Learn more about our approach to Crisis Management in our Ultimate Guide to Crisis Management.