Crisis management refers to the policies and procedures developed for handling emergency situations. Since crises vary in size and scope, methods and management procedures vary across grade levels and situations. The imperative steps to creating and implementing any effective crisis management plan are mainly prevention, preparation, response and recovery. Debates surround the value of emergency drills and post crisis counseling methods.
Keywords Crisis Management; Critical Incident Stress Debriefing (CISD):; Crisis Intervention Team (CIT); Emergency Responders; Evacuation; Lockdown; Pandemic; Shelter in Place
School Safety: Crisis Management
What is Crisis Management?
Crisis management is a term that refers to the policies and procedures developed for handling emergency situations in public schools. The 1999 Columbine shootings, the terror attacks of September 11, 2001 and, more recently, the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina, have prompted local and national governments to research the most effective ways to manage crises in schools.
In 2002, the Department of Safe and Drug-Free Schools together with the Harvard School of Public Health, the Prevention Institute, and the Education Development Center developed a program entitled, "The Three R's to Dealing with Trauma in Schools: Readiness, Response and Recovery" designed to assist schools with crisis management ("Taking the Lead," 2007). In 2003, Education Secretary Rodney Paige and the Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge launched a $30 million initiative providing grants to help schools buy safety equipment, train staff, parents and students in crisis management ("Taking the Lead," 2007).
Crisis often strikes fast so reaction time must be quick. This can only happen when procedures are in place and have been practiced. When a crisis occurs, schools must evaluate the crisis in order to decide whether to evacuate, lockdown, or use schools as a shelter (Poland, 2007). Because every school community is different, it is important for schools to practice a variety of crisis management procedures to determine if they are appropriate. Schools should then personalize their plans to the needs of their community. Plans also should accommodate the age of the student population, as elementary school students will behave differently than middle or high school students (U.S. Department of Education, 2003). The Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools recommends schools and emergency personnel conduct drills and practice scenarios until they have procedures memorized (Black, 2004). Leadership, preparation and communication are essential qualities in managing any type of emergency.
What Constitutes a Crisis?
Webster's Dictionary defines a crisis as 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 (as cited in U.S. Department of Education, 2003). This definition of a crisis is broad. It can range from incidents that only affect a few students to situations that halt an entire community. Crises can happen at any time, in any place, with and without warning. Incidents that qualify as crises include, but are not limited to:
• Bomb threat
• Chemical spill
• Natural disaster
• School violence
• Student or faculty death
• Terrorist attack
• Weather emergency
The one thing all crises have in common is the need for clear communication and quick decision-making. Regardless of the type of crisis, every crisis management plan should include procedures for prevention, preparation, response and recovery (U.S. Department of Education, 2003).
The first step in crisis management is prevention. Schools should conduct safety assessments of school property in order to determine if floor plans, lockdown procedures and evacuation routes need to be updated ("Taking the Lead," 2007). It is important to connect with local emergency responders to determine what types of problems are most common in the area and with students ("Taking the Lead," 2007). Emergency responders include law enforcement agents, firefighters and emergency medical technicians.
Prevention often means controlling a problem before it spreads or escalates. In some cases, such as with infectious diseases which can lead to a pandemic, prevention efforts can be as basic as teaching hygiene and providing anti-infection products such as hand sanitizer and anti-viral tissues (St. Gerard, 2007). Education is often the first step in crisis prevention.
Studies Conducted After Columbine
Following the 1999 Columbine High School shooting in Colorado, which resulted in 15 fatalities and 23 injuries, the U.S. Secret Service and U.S. Department of Education conducted a study of 37 school attacks. Their report, released in 2002, concluded that no common profile existed among attackers except for the fact that most of the perpetrators had been bullied or injured by others (Dillon, 2007). This report proves the value of fostering a positive school climate that welcomes diversity and teaches compassion (Dillon, 2007). The report recommends that schools focus on providing a supportive community that helps students mediate and resolve conflicts. Penalties should also be communicated and set forth to discourage students and parents from violent and threatening actions (Dillon, 2007). Dillon (2007) also cites that lawmakers in Pennsylvania considered putting schools on permanent lockdown to prevent violence in schools. In the wake of a school shooting, Platte Canyon High School in Colorado began a program in which parents volunteer to greet visitors at the door and log them in so that no intruder will enter the building unnoticed (Butler, 2007). Increasing police presence and installing metal detectors are other methods used to curb school violence (Dillon, 2007).
The Secret Service and Department of Education also discovered that, in about 80% of the incidents studied, at least one person knew what was going to happen (Dillon, 2007).
Recognizing a potential crisis, and responding quickly, can make a world of difference. Schools need to educate students and teachers how to recognize warning signs. Platte Canyon school district participates in the "Safe to Tell" program, which was initiated after the Columbine shootings (Butler, 2007). The program provides an anonymous hotline where students can report information regarding potential threats (Butler, 2007).
The Department of Education's guide, Practical Information on Crisis Planning encourages schools to consider every possible scenario and utilize every resource to help prevent crises or lessen their impact (U.S. Department of Education, 2003). Some suggestions include providing IDs for students and staff, conducting hurricane drills and taking an inventory of hazardous materials on school grounds (U.S. Department of Education, 2003).
Since not all crises can be prevented, the key to successful crisis management is preparation. Schools must make sure that they use all of the resources available: teachers, administrators, social workers, security officers, and emergency responders (U.S. Department of Education, 2003). Every responder must be familiar with the school's procedure for handling an emergency. Communication is essential to success. A chain of command should be established and methods of communication determined. A common vocabulary is essential. A crisis committee of faculty, parents and students can help better prepare schools for emergencies (Poland, 2007). This team of people should conduct research to determine what types of crises could occur in a given school and make recommendations as to how to handle them (U.S. Department of Education, 2003). The committee should also examine major issues from past years and evaluate how they were handled. This process ensures that schools regularly review and update procedures (Poland, 2007). The committee should make sure parent contact information is up to date and establish connections with local hospitals and emergency service personnel (Poland, 2007).
Crisis Management Materials
Poland (2007) states that the distribution of crisis management materials is a necessary step in making sure schools are prepared for emergencies. Materials may include phone trees, floor plans, evacuation routes, first aid instructions, and health awareness lists identifying persons with special needs. These...
Essay on Crisis Management
This particular section will assess the role of Shell’s PR practitioner as a crisis manager. In the first part, we will consider the perception of this aspect at SML, how it is dealt with and then we will use the 3Ps: Prevention, Preparation and Provision as benchmarks for assessment purposes.
The Institute of Crisis Management (ICM) defines a crisis as a “significant business disruption, which stimulates extensive news media coverage.” (http://www.crisisexperts.com)
At SML, though, depending on the level of risk involved and the probability of occurrence (i.e., time scale), two different appellations have been given to such probable calamities. In fact, the ‘crisis management’ and ‘issue management’ concepts used at SML are just different words which bear the same meaning as Jefkins’ (1998) 2 kinds of possible crisis namely, ‘unlikely’ and ‘likely’ respectively.
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Thus, at SML, ‘crisis management’, as they understand it, is a rather broad and vague concept, which relates mainly to unlikely (but not impossible events). What they do cater for is the concept of ‘issues management’. According to Mrs Teeroovengadum, this appellation describes more likely crisis, which have a high risk of occurrence. Hence, at Shell, they consider this concept as being more focussed. However, as Ashcroft (1997) stated: “ Issues management is the latest American import, which, as yet, has rather a rather blurred division from crisis management. There are many similarities… an issue can develop into a major crisis”.
Whatever be the appellation, SML, does consider these probabilities. As a matter of fact, at SML, they have a crisis plan as to how to deal with any crisis situation or any major issue that may crop up. This is fully supported by Ashcroft (1997) who claimed that “an organisation’s reputation is as important as any other corporate asset, and many organisations have some kind of crisis plan intended to protect that reputation should something go wrong.” In addition, at SML, this plan is not rigid. Rather, it is reviewed each year to cater for unexpected changes. At SML, a crisis team has devised this particular crisis plan, which focuses more on issues management. The team comprises such people as the MD, the Brand and Communications Manager from the Department of Public Affairs and managers. Furthermore, all team members know specifically what their roles should be in such situations. In fact, each department has a plan, as to how to deal with a crisis situation, which is fully aligned and integrated with the overall crisis plan.
At SML, quite interestingly, not all cases related to the oil industry have direct repercussions for the Mauritius branch. For instance, major oil spills happening will not have so much impact on the local company, though publics may ask certain questions. Even, if a major international affair occurs in Mauritius, this becomes a Group issue, i.e., it concerns the whole of Shell Group and so, it is the Public relations practitioner at the international level, who tackles the problem.
Quite surprisingly, even the Iraq War is not a crisis, not even an issue, for SML. In fact, according to the Brands and Communication Manager, SML, is only a distributor of petrol in Mauritius. It is the government through the State Trading Corporation that imports this product, and so it is not an issue for the company.
Nevertheless examples of probable cases, as given by Mrs Teeroovengadum, that may affect SML are for instance, say, a Jet Al Lorry has an accident or there is the explosion of a gas cylinder while moving from depot to the airport. If ever, such likely issues are to occur in reality, well, SML is prepared to face the ordeal. In this connection, they have set down plans on how people should deal with it, i.e., who to contact and what to do.
Before the assessment part, let us consider one latest case considered under the issues management concept, rather than as a crisis management situation – the Leaded/Unleaded petrol issue.
The Leaded/Unleaded Petrol Issue
Regarding this issue, by virtue of its sense of social responsibility, there was a deliberate attempt on the part of SML, to launch a sensitisation campaign to inform its stakeholders, and this was done in collaboration with other oil companies and the Ministry Of Environment. In this connection, brochures (See Appendix…) were published on ‘ Frequently Asked Questions’. Also, to cater for other publics that might have missed the information campaign, they decided to train gas stations’ managers and pump attendants to respond to queries from clients. In this context, workshops were organised by Mr Gino Finette, Training & Marketing Manager and the main aim was to make the managers and attendants “ULG” Champions” (See ULG Champion Assessment).
Assessment Of The PR practitioner role as Crisis or Issue Manager
Based on what has been discussed, we can see that the 3Ps of crisis management namely Prevention, Preparation and Provision can be applied, to a certain extent to SML.
The prevention procedure should be based on trying to anticipate what could go wrong. This is in line with the classic crisis management-adopting a “better safe than sorry” policy. Also, “…the thinking is to avert, rather than deal with, disaster by looking for issues that might arise over a set period – an issue audit.”(Ashcroft, 1997). The two lists under the appellations of crisis management (more unlikely issues) and issues management (likely cases) devised at SML, caters for this prevention aspect.
As far as preparing for crisis is concerned, seconding Jefkins (1998) idea, we would say that “it is essential that any organisation should set up a permanent crisis management team.” Like the typical crisis management team of Jefkins (1998), SML basic crisis committee does comprise the MD, the Brands and Communications Manager from the Department of Public Affairs and other departmental managers. What is a shortcoming here is perhaps, the fact that there is no regular contact by meetings or correspondence to enable review and update of the crisis plan. At SML, the latter is reviewed only once per year. For more effectiveness and efficiency, this exercise should be done more frequently.
Besides, more emphasis should be laid on communication among team members so as to be consistent and agreeable on what and how to divulge to the media, hence improving even on the ‘provision’ stage of crisis management. The latter seems to be a real pitfall at SML and this should be counteracted since “communicating effectively was now more often seen as of the same importance as putting problems right.”(IPR Journal, 1995, p.14). It should never be forgotten that “effective management of information at a time of crisis is even more vital, when damage to an organisation’s reputation or damage to established goodwill can result in severe damage to operations.” (Ashcroft, 1997)
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