In this episode of our BryghtCast edition of the Managing Uncertainty Podcast, Bryghtpath Principal & CEO Bryan Strawser, Senior Consultant Jenn Otremba, and Consultant Bray Wheeler take a look at three current risks and upcoming events:
- The continuing protests in Hong Kong – where, at the time of our recording of this episode, protestors had taken over Hong Kong’s Legislative Assembly Building. They were later dispersed by police – but not before more than 500,000 protestors had taken to the streets.
- Recent aviation incidents in Minnesota and Texas – heightening the importance of ensuring your organization has an effective Aviation Response Plan.
- The wrongful death lawsuit filed by the parents of a homicide victim in Utah who made multiple reports with University Police and other officials about a man who ultimately was charged with her homicide. The incident highlights the importance of taking threats of violence seriously and the need for a robust, documented threat management process for companies and educational institutions.
Bryan Strawser: Hello, and welcome to the Managing Uncertainty Podcast. This is Bryan Strawser, Principal and CEO at Bryghtpath. And with me today is …
Jenn Otremba: Hi there, this is Jenn Otremba, Senior Consultant Bryghtpath.
Bray Wheeler: Hi, this is Bray Wheeler, Consultant at Bryghtpath.
Bryan Strawser: And this is our BryghtCast news episode for the week of July 1st, 2019. We’re recording this on the morning of July 1st, though you won’t hear it until a bit later this week.
Bryan Strawser: So, what do we got to start off with on our three major events for the week?
Bray Wheeler: This morning we’re going to kick it off unfortunately with some aviation events that happened, book-ending the weekend here.
Bray Wheeler: On Friday, here locally in Minnesota, a medevac helicopter crashed early in the morning on Friday on the Brainerd area of Minnesota, which is about two hours north of the Twin Cities. In that crash, both the pilots and the medevac nurse were killed. The medic on board sustained injuries and is expected to make a full recovery. That occurred over the weekend. Fortunate no patients were on board, but there was foggy weather. It was late in the morning.
Bray Wheeler: Jenn, you have expertise on that one here as kind of an expert. But then the other incident that happened over the weekend was a plane crash in Dallas that killed all 10 on board. It sounded like it occurred on takeoff, veered into a hangar, and then unfortunately that caused the loss of life.
Bray Wheeler: I think really where our focus is this morning is just on that aviation safety, companies having a plan, even if it’s just, you’re a small company and you travel via commercial flight, but those things are real and they’re happening.
Bryan Strawser: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Jenn Otremba: Yeah.
Jenn Otremba: So first of all, I mean this is heartbreaking for the aviation community. Specifically, rotary wing, because this really hits close to home here since it was one of our own here in North Memorial. And we don’t know the cause of either of these accidents. And generally, we won’t know until it could be a year from now before accident investigations come out. So it’s absolutely heartbreaking. And I always think of, “Well, I wonder what happened? What would I have done in … ?”
Jenn Otremba: For those that don’t know, I’m also a helicopter pilot for the Army National Guard, and I always think, “What happened?” What the pilot could have done or couldn’t have done, or what they were going through, especially in those last moments before the crash. Like Bray said, in that particular instance, I know that the weather was really bad and it was early in the morning, and all of those things lead to, in my mind, a potentially bad situation.
Jenn Otremba: Really, really heartbreaking for everyone involved with that. And the Dallas incident, of course that’s not as local for us, but also obviously very heartbreaking. And as Bray said, the biggest thing for us here at Bryghtpath is what kind of plans are in place for these companies that own these aircraft? And what that looks like now, moving forward, and what it looked like beforehand.
Bryan Strawser: There were a couple of things that came to mind for me about the North Memorial crash, the medical transport helicopter that crashed here in Minnesota, is that North Memorial had a previous crash, fortunately not fatal, three years ago in Alexandria, Minnesota. The pilots and the paramedic, and I believe there was a nurse on board, all survived. The medic though, in particular, had significant injuries in his … I think he considers himself very lucky to have survived the accident. I think that came back as pilot error in the NTSB investigation, but it’ll be months before we know anything about what happened in the north, or in this Bemidji … Oh, I’m sorry, it wasn’t Bemidji. It was Brainerd.
Jenn Otremba: Brainerd.
Bray Wheeler: Brainerd.
Bryan Strawser: Brainerd accident that occurred.
Bryan Strawser: The other thing that came to mind, and this applies to both, it’s just, the three of us have been in roles where we’ve had some responsibility for aviation and response in the private sector. And we had to write some pretty extensive plans around how we would respond to an aviation incident, because our previous employer-owned and operated and leased aircraft. Sometimes with their own pilots and sometimes with contracted pilots, or contracted service to do that. But we still own responsibility for that, and I think as consultants we’ve seen companies with a lack of aviation planning, or have some really poor plans.
Bryan Strawser: So maybe we talk just briefly about what we’re really looking for here when we talk about aviation planning for a company.
Bray Wheeler: When I think it’s even one of those things where depending on the size of the company and what kind of flight operations you have, because of even smaller companies, we have a client that’s not giant, but they still have pretty extensive air travel capabilities within their company.
Bray Wheeler: I think it’s really about, no matter the size of that, it’s really having something in place or using existing plans. You have a place for loss of life, for a tragic situation, how are you communicating with families? How are you communicating with employees? Things like that are already in place, and then you just add on depending on what the size of your company is and what your capabilities are. What other plans do you need to put into place around decision making and notification? And just being able to kind of manage through it.
Bryan Strawser: Yeah, family support is a big part of this, particularly if you’re operating your own aircraft, I think.
Bryan Strawser: Having a process in place to be able to notify family members of your employees or others that were on board the aircraft, that there had been an incident and that there were injuries or fatalities that occurred, I think is a critically important part of the plan. And understanding how you’re going to maintain contact and support the family members through this.
Bryan Strawser: I think there’s a reputational aspect, too. And I thought about this with the North Memorial incident just being the second crash that they’ve had. And certainly there’s going to be an investigation, and that investigation will take time to get to an answer. But the questions from the press are not going to stop.
Jenn Otremba: And they’re not going to wait for an answer that’s clear cut either.
Bryan Strawser: No, they’re not. Why did this happen a second time?
Jenn Otremba: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Bryan Strawser: So, anything else on … ?
Jenn Otremba: I guess I would go one step further, and aside from having plans for our own or leased aircraft, we also have some experience with travel monitoring.
Jenn Otremba: So, even if they’re flying a commercial aircraft or another aircraft …
Bryan Strawser: Or traveling on a commercial aircraft.
Jenn Otremba: Exactly. Yup. We have all experienced, specifically around executive monitoring and knowing where they’re flying to, and where they’re going. So we always knew where they were at. So if something were to happen, we could keep track of that as well.
Bray Wheeler: When I think you mean to your point, just having the awareness to where your employees are going so that you’re not just running your day-to-day operations, and all of a sudden there’s a crash and it’s like, “Oh, that’s too bad.”
Bray Wheeler: We had two employees on that plane. And you’re not reacting in real time to the knowledge that you’re supposed to have and be able to make those decisions and jump on it early.
Bray Wheeler: I mean, reputation aside, just doing right by the employees and their families. And having that available.
Bryan Strawser: Yeah.
Bryan Strawser: There’s just a whole circle of communication around having things happen to your employees. Not only the communication to the family, which needs to be the paramount thing that happens, but there’s also communication to coworkers and perhaps to the company at large. Because if you don’t tell that story the way you want the story told, or the way that your employee wants the story told, they’re going to get it from the press. Or they’re going to get it from the rumor mill. And neither of those is a good look for your organization when you’re in a crisis.
Bryan Strawser: It needs to come from leadership and be communicated that way.
Jenn Otremba: Right.
Bryan Strawser: So, the second item of news that we’re touching on today actually started early this morning, and that is more protests and disruption in Hong Kong over the extradition bill that has been under consideration there now for several weeks.
Bryan Strawser: We didn’t plan it this way, but today, July 1st, we released our podcast episode on what was going on in Hong Kong, and it’s already out of date because of events that occurred early this morning. But the protestors, and I saw numbers 500 to 600,000, is that? Yeah.
Bryan Strawser: So, up to 600,000 protesters, but they’ve gone a little farther this time. They have surrounded the legislative building, this is where Hong Kong’s legislature meets. They got inside the building, they took over the legislative chamber. The last update we saw is that they were standing on top of lawmakers’ desks and they were spray painting symbols and art inside the hall. And that’s where things stand as of about 30 minutes ago. So it’s quite a scene.
Bryan Strawser: I mean, there’s no way that law enforcement, even modern law enforcement in Hong Kong can contain 600,000 people.
Jenn Otremba: Yeah. I was going to say, first of all …
Bryan Strawser: I mean, we couldn’t do that here in the U.S.
Jenn Otremba: Just think of that amount of … Five to 600,000 people. I mean, what does that look like? That is unbelievable.
Bryan Strawser: Right?
Bray Wheeler: Well, I would actually argue that they probably weren’t as prepared as they probably should have been for this one. Because what’s unique about this protest today, too, is it’s July 1st, which is the anniversary of the transition from Britain to China.
Bryan Strawser: Oh, you’re right.
Jenn Otremba: Yes.
Bray Wheeler: And so typically there’s always peaceful protests that are going on. And for the most part it sounds like these continue to be peaceful, but with all of the protests over the last couple of weeks, probably should’ve been a little bit more prepared or amped up to know, because it’s pretty predictable in terms of what they’re doing. The size is pretty unique.
Bray Wheeler: I think there was a graphic somebody had that had different estimates from whether you’re an organizer, or government official, or media on site. There’s only been a couple of other instances where the numbers have reached somewhere in this realm. Otherwise, they’ve been pretty smaller, but they happen every year. But it’s probably one of those things where certain locations, certainly parliament, probably should’ve been a little bit more isolated than it was.
Jenn Otremba: And I think too, thinking of some of the different organizations that we’ve worked with throughout the years and what that looks like when protesters get into the building and what … How do you manage through that once they’re already in the building?
Jenn Otremba: I know for us it’s always better to make sure security is doing their job and keeping the protestors peacefully outside of the premises of the building. But what happens when they get into that building? And how do you peacefully remove them from the building? And what that can look like, because that can go south very, very quickly as we’ve seen in the past, too.
Bryan Strawser: So I think the protesters are demanding the resignation of Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, right? Carrie …
Bray Wheeler: Carrie Lam.
Bryan Strawser: Carrie Lam. They’re demanding her resignation. She’s been in office for some time, and she spent her whole career in the Hong Kong Civil Service, but no one arises to be the Chief Executive of Hong Kong without the blessing of China. So clearly she has China’s support at least going into the position. I’m not sure how confident they’re feeling in her leadership at this point. It’s hard to say. That’s a black box in terms of what we know, or at least from what we understand.
Bray Wheeler: She was at least an acceptable choice.
Bryan Strawser: At the time.
Bray Wheeler: At the time.
Bryan Strawser: Yeah. I’m really kind of curious where that goes.
Bryan Strawser: So, the questions here for business are kind of the same as what we talk about in our long-form podcast today, which is, if you’re in Hong Kong or you travel through Hong Kong and you’re not monitoring what’s going on, you’re behind. They’re a pretty significant set of disruption going on there, and I don’t see it going away.
Bryan Strawser: And if the Chinese government response, it’s going to be the fascinating part of this because they’ve really not meddled in Hong Kong in this way before. I mean we’ve talked a little bit about that before, that pushing this kind of legislation is a new move for them, but they’ve never meddled in Hong Kong in terms of using force.
Bray Wheeler: Correct. Yeah. I think it’s one of those things where this is starting to probably become a little bit more real. And certainly this is, we’re saying that in the context of the current situation. Who knows, this might calm down in a couple of months and resolve itself a little bit, but I think there is that simmering tension. And especially with broader relationship discussions between the international community in China and democracy at large, and where that’s going globally, the protesters are making a stand and they’re using timing of both the legislation and the anniversary of the date to really gain some momentum and push the issue, and push it more international than just the local, “Oh, they’re protesting again. It’s on July 1st.”
Bray Wheeler: It’s a little bit more this time.
Jenn Otremba: Seems to be fairly effective so far, I think.
Bray Wheeler: They seem to be getting their point across.
Jenn Otremba: Yeah.
Bryan Strawser: Definitely have gotten their point across.
Jenn Otremba: Yeah. Now what happens with that is going to be the interesting part of it, I think.
Bryan Strawser: I suspect we’ll see developments later this week.
Bray Wheeler: It’ll be interesting to see how the international community responds back into this, too. They’ve been relatively quiet-
Bryan Strawser: And when did they start speaking out?
Bray Wheeler: … in the conversation. When do they start speaking out? When do they start pushing some different narratives that hold China back, or perhaps even embolden China with what they’re doing? I think it’s just a matter of time, and see where that angle takes the conversation.
Jenn Otremba: I think we’ll be talking about this again next week.
Bryan Strawser: No doubt.
Bryan Strawser: Yeah. So it appears that it was a smaller group that came into the legislative assembly building, but they broke glass doors, removed metal bars, defaced portraits of previous Chief Executives and Presidents of the chamber. So, interesting.
Bryan Strawser: Let’s move on then to our last story of the day.
Jenn Otremba: Yeah, let’s talk about that.
Jenn Otremba: The last story of the day, just wanted to bring this up because last week some additional news has come out about university student in Utah who was involved with her ex-boyfriend who had killed her and himself, and why this is extremely tragic and a big deal. The biggest part of the news lately is that the parents have come out and sued the university.
Jenn Otremba: Now in the past, many of these things have come out. There have been reputational issues. There are some demands for if something happened to a student that the school would take some kind of responsibility for that.
Jenn Otremba: But it’s becoming more and more common that that responsibility is turning into a monetary responsibility for universities, for businesses, for corporations, for states to have some major responsibility here with these violent cases.
Jenn Otremba: And so I think the latest I saw was this, parents were suing the school for $56 million lawsuits against the school.
Bray Wheeler: That’s a big chunk of money.
Bryan Strawser: So in the lawsuit, the thing that stood out to me, I didn’t read the lawsuit, but the news coverage surrounding the lawsuit, she had reported to the university police multiple times about this guy’s threatening actions. Was like 20 some times?
Jenn Otremba: Yeah, allegedly. I’ve seen a few different reports as to what they’re saying, but allegedly there has been several reports prior to the incident occurring itself where she has brought forth some concerning behavior. Leakage, we call it. And workplace violence.
Bryan Strawser: There’s always leakage.
Jenn Otremba: There’s always leakage. Of very threatening behavior, controlling behavior, possessive behavior, manipulative. Very, very concerning behavior that definitely pointed towards some kind of violent behavior that would come out of this.
Jenn Otremba: And unfortunately, I don’t know specifics around what the school had done or what actions the school had done, but the parents feel that wasn’t enough, clearly. And we’ll see I guess, where this one goes. When the facts come out.
Bryan Strawser: I mean from having read the news coverage, I don’t think the university did much at all around this.
Jenn Otremba: It does not sound like it.
Bryan Strawser: But of course we’re getting one side of the story. The university will certainly have its chance in court or elsewhere to explain the case. Suspect this never gets to trial.
Jenn Otremba: Yeah. They’re saying no investigation at all occurred. No plans developed or implemented for her sake, or her safety, or those around her either, which is also concerning.
Bryan Strawser: I’m a little flabbergasted by this one.
Bryan Strawser: If we take the parents’ story at face value, and I’m not saying that that is the hundred percent of the facts here, but universities have pretty clear regulatory and legal requirements to take action when there is a credible threat, to communicate to the broader campus community. And here I’m speaking about the requirements under the Clery Act, where they have to send this communication, either an imminent, I forget the specific term, but there’s the imminent notice, emergency notification that has to go out if there’s a credible threat. And then there’s a duty to warn requirement that can be done in a less serious situation. But it doesn’t appear that either of those were done.
Bryan Strawser: Of course we don’t know for sure what was communicated.
Jenn Otremba: I mean, there’s also the general duty clause under OSHA as well.
Bryan Strawser: Under OSHA guidelines. Right.
Jenn Otremba: So, even if those other things didn’t exist, OSHA is always going to be in existence there with that.
Bryan Strawser: Right.
Bryan Strawser: I mean, I was Chief Security Officer for a university system that operated throughout North America, and in several states. Our internal requirements around this would have dictated that the action be taken and an investigation be conducted and a, if appropriate, a mitigation plan be put into place to ensure her safety and the safety of those around her. And I think that’s the lesson here for a business or a university is, you have to take this stuff seriously. You need to believe the alleged victim here in this case and take action.
Bray Wheeler: Is it enough to do just a threat assessment?
Jenn Otremba: Well, I think it’s all going to be dependent on what the facts are that come out of any kind of investigation. But from what I can see, at least what the initial reporting is, that there was no investigation conducted at all. So, in the event of nothing, I mean, I can’t tell you if it’s going to be enough, because we don’t know what would have come out in that investigation.
Jenn Otremba: I think you were doing, Bray, a little bit further digging, and didn’t you find some concerning information that when they were dating and she found out he was actually lying to her about some pretty significant things?
Bray Wheeler: Yeah. Well, according to a couple of the reports, really what precipitated the fall out between the two of them was, she allegedly broke up with him in October of last year after she found out that he had lied about his name, his age, and his status as a sex offender. So it turns out he’s, according to some of these reports, he’s actually 37 and she was 21 at the time that she was killed. So, it’s pretty big. That’s a pretty big age gap.
Jenn Otremba: Now, I didn’t see. Was he a student with her?
Bray Wheeler: That I didn’t see.
Jenn Otremba: I haven’t seen that on anywhere either.
Bryan Strawser: I don’t believe so.
Jenn Otremba: And that could be why the university chose to not do any further action, because if he wasn’t a student there, they may have been limited what they could have done, but they could have done some information sharing with local law enforcement as well.
Jenn Otremba: So, there’s always something that can be done, but they may have not taken the action that the parents felt that they should have because he wasn’t in fact a student there. If that is the case, I don’t know.
Bryan Strawser: My understanding is that the university had a university police department. So I think they probably had more jurisdiction than we would typically see.
Jenn Otremba: Sure.
Bryan Strawser: Right? States treats this differently. Here in Minnesota, private schools don’t have law enforcement and really only the University of Minnesota has campus police. But in Massachusetts, where I lived for a decade, everybody’s got cops.
Bryan Strawser: Private, public. Everyone’s got their own department. And I think this was Utah?
Jenn Otremba: Yes. Yup.
Bray Wheeler: Utah.
Bray Wheeler: One, it sounds like, not only did she go to university police, she also went to housing. The university housing-
Bryan Strawser: Oh, interesting.
Jenn Otremba: Sure.
Bray Wheeler: … and said, “I have this going on.”
Bryan Strawser: “I don’t feel safe here in the dorm.”
Bray Wheeler: Yep.
Bryan Strawser: Her housing unit.
Jenn Otremba: I mean, certainly regardless of the investigation, there could’ve been some actions put in place to help her and those around her feel safe with some safety planning for her. And, or classrooms that she is going in and out of, and the housing area that she’s living in. There certainly could have been some safety precautions taken. I don’t know if those were taken or not. They obviously didn’t meet the standard of what the parents were expecting.
Jenn Otremba: I don’t know beyond that what was done, but I think like you said Bryan, this is definitely a lesson for all organizations to really take these things seriously and understand. Even if the university police didn’t help, there are other information sharing jurisdictions out there that could probably step in, and keep owning your safety. Keep pushing that till you get the help that you need as well.
Bryan Strawser: I mean, I feel like this is something we always keep coming back to, and that is that in the moment making the right decision. That when this threat was brought up and her safety concerns were brought up, we should believe her in the things that she’s saying, pending investigation. And we should take the right action.
Bryan Strawser: I mean, it kind of reminds me of the Leslie Moonves situation at CBS, where people came forward and credibly accused him of all kinds of sexual harassment and some violent-ish behavior. And the board, in the first accusation, the board of CBS just brush it off. They don’t conduct a thorough investigation. They kind of half-ass it. And then when more allegations came out, they hired a different law firm to investigate it. And lo and behold, 25 years of crap comes out about the guy, right?
Bryan Strawser: So again, I think from a leadership standpoint, it’s about making the right decision in the moment when it’s happening. And that doesn’t appear to have happened here, but we’ll find out.
Jenn Otremba: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yup, we will.
Bray Wheeler: One, and I think, to that point, in your earlier point too, it’s not just about the victim, or the accuser, or the student herself. It’s about the university. It’s about those other students in the classroom. It’s about the campus at large and these situations, that it’s not just that person.
Jenn Otremba: The other residents at the housing. Yeah.
Bray Wheeler: Right? It’s everybody else around her. And if you’re getting accusations like some of these things and you don’t know what people’s capabilities are, if you’re not taking it seriously upfront, you’re exposing everybody to it instead of keeping it under control and mitigating it as much as you can.
Jenn Otremba: Especially what sounds like here is a very highly volatile situation. I was just reading through some of them, what things were being reported. So, multiple concerning reports of stalking, physical abuse, emotional abuse, intimidation, dating violence, domestic violence, sexual harassment, gender-based discrimination, and other abusive behaviors.
Jenn Otremba: So this isn’t a one time, “He’s being mean to me,” kind of situation. These were repeated reports of concerning behavior.
Bryan Strawser: Yeah. What was going on at the university that they didn’t act? I know, we don’t know. And we’ll learn.
Jenn Otremba: Yeah. It’s hard to say. It is really hard to say.
Bryan Strawser: So the lesson here is to take action when these issues come up and don’t walk away from it until you’ve investigated what’s really going on with that.
Jenn Otremba: Yeah.
Bryan Strawser: That’s it for this episode of the Managing Uncertainty Podcast. Tune in later this week for a deep dive, round table discussion between the three of us on crisis leadership.
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