Strategising Crisis Response based on Crisis source: How effective is it?
Crisis responses are unique to each crisis situation, and a response can only be useful if its use generates the much needed organisational and stakeholder’s relief from a crisis situation. However, the goal for any crisis intervention remains the same – to wade through difficult times and retain a positive and strong organisational reputation, after the crisis.
A number of factors prevailing at the material time affect how a crisis response is designed. In certain cases, crisis responses can be planned based on the cause or source of that particular crisis.
Crises can result from a situation that we absolutely have control over, but for some reason - be it negligence, inefficiency, or corruption - a crisis eventually occurs. Such crises can range from sexual harassment in the rank and file of an organisation, generating a huge staff and public outcry, condemnation, and lawsuits; to a breakdown in the provision of essential public services by Government agencies, resulting in people’s lives being in danger.
A good and more recent example of crisis resulting from a controllable situation is the one in which the city of Flint in Michigan, USA, started collecting water from the corrosive Flint River as a drinking water supply source, switching from its usual treated source in Detroit. The city, however, failed to properly treat the water, exposing people to lead ingestion, since April 2014. A cost cutting move (presumably preceded by lack of judgement) resulted in the population of Flint potentially getting lead poisoning, and exposing at least 12,000 children to danger (as children are more vulnerable to lead poisoning than adults). A few deaths have already been connected to the lead contamination. Residents and groups have raised their voices, demonstrated, and put forward remedial demands for the authorities to follow – escalating the crisis further. President Obama declared a federal state of emergency in Flint on January 16, and the Governor for Michigan also issued an apology and promised to fix the problem. Consequently, the public placed the crisis responsibility on the city authorities, and specifically on certain individuals. Several lawsuits have been filed by people and groups, against individuals, and investigations have further been instituted by authorities.
Crises can also emanate from situations that we have no control over (unforeseeable natural disasters), such as the displacement of settlements by the earthquake in Nepal or the devastating water flooding in Malawi – natural events that breed crisis situations. In such crises, and where there is no human negligence to warning, stakeholders and crisis victims are preoccupied with how responsible agencies responds to reduction of the severity of the crisis, and protecting the lives of victims from further danger. Essentially, authorities and relief agencies (government or any other organisation) are under operational and reputational scrutiny.
The source-based crisis response validates the importance of understanding why and how the public apportions crisis responsibility, and also how the public perceive an organisation during a crisis. In a situation where a crisis is as a result of human error or system inefficiencies, the organisational level of responsibility for the crisis is expected to rise, as opposed to a crisis in which an organisation has little control over the source or cause.
In general, attacking and responding to a crisis situation based on the cause or source of a crisis has the audacity to allow for a quick identification of a crisis resolution roadmap for both the crisis victim and the organisation. This is primarily because by zeroing-in on the cause, organisations subtly look for a way to distance itself (to a certain degree) from the crisis and place blame on the causative agent. Equally, the crisis victims are looking for a ways that will help them get relief from the crisis situation much quicker than the processes an organisation responsible for the crisis may envisage. However, the latent for an organisation to be seen as not being in sync with the emotions of its public is considered high when blame is pushed on. Why? By deflecting attention off its corporate self and trading blame off, an organisation is somehow perceived as not being ardent to accept responsibility of the crisis situation. In this instance, an organisation is distancing itself from the crisis spotlight and may be perceived as not empathising enough with the crisis victims – its primary stakeholders.
This approach, however, should be seen as resultant from a crisis situation analysis, and must not be an isolated activity - it should rather provide a point of departure to weigh out options and for placing a finger on what comprehensive crisis response the organisation need to engage.
Nevertheless, a crisis response can only be useful if its use generates the much needed organisational and stakeholder relief from a crisis situation, as well as an opportunity for improving.