What would you do if your dining hall was destroyed by fire two days before campers were scheduled to arrive? If you've given some thought to crisis management as part of your risk management planning, you may have a quick answer. If you haven't considered how devastating and frustrating this experience could be or how to react if it should happen to you, read on.
Planning and organizing is key to successful crisis management. How well you anticipate and identify risks and solutions; plan your attack, including a back-up plan; organize your resources; and execute your plan will make a difference in the outcome. Being prepared requires you to concentrate on what you can control at times and under circumstances that seem completely out of control and hopeless. To have as much control as possible in a crisis, you must plan and organize yourself and your resources in advance. When the crisis occurs, you will be reacting and following a plan that was conceived and established when you had time to think clearly. Some people thrive on chaos and can make good decisions under tremendous pressure. But, most people can't.
A Fire at Camp
Consider our camp director in the above scenario. This camp director had attended crisis management sessions at ACA national and regional conferences over the years. He knew crisis could strike at any time, so he took the time to prepare. However, instinctively he knew one of the first objectives was to make sure people were safe. Fortunately, none of the camp staff was in the building when it caught fire. The director also knew instinctively that the camp must stay open.
Consider how things happened next. As soon as the fire was discovered, a call was placed to the local volunteer fire department. The director knew the fire department would respond promptly, but it would take precious time for them to arrive. He was confident the firefighters knew where the camp was because he had invited the chief and assistant chief to camp when he opened. The fire chiefs had reviewed the map of the property and determined there were no new buildings. The director also handed them a letter including the schedule for the summer and when camp would be closed. The firefighters knew the dining hall was the biggest building at the camp and that if they were to successfully fight the fire they needed their tanker truck.
Your Crisis-Response Manual
In the meantime, the assistant director had determined staff members were safe and promptly sent someone to the front gate of the camp to meet the fire truck and direct the firefighters to the dining hall. Our camp director had anticipated these agonizing minutes while the building was burning and the fire trucks were on the way. Water connections and hoses had been installed at all of the key buildings at camp and several staff members had been trained to use the hoses. These staff members automatically went into action spraying the fire with water at a safe distance. They knew they didn't have enough water pressure to put out the fire, but their objective was to slow the growth of the fire until the firefighters arrived.
When the firefighters arrived, the building was heavily engulfed in flames. They took over the battle, and the camp staff gathered a safe distance away. Without having to think, the camp director brought out the crisis-response manual and began organizing the staff to deal with the problems that were ahead.
Calls were made to the insurance agent to report the fire and to the food service company to alert them to the situation. The director contacted the local merchants with whom he had discussed this situation as part of the planning process. These individuals swung into action. Appointments were made for a big tent to be delivered and raised and for paper plates and plastic utensils to be delivered. The director had arrangements with a restaurant in the largest town near camp to provide catered meals until he could get a field kitchen set up. The director's objective was clear: he would make the inconvenience an adventure and turn potential tragedy into opportunity.
Squelch Negative Publicity
The camp director knew that the local media and the curious neighbors would be showing up soon. He dispatched a second staff person to the front gate with instructions not to allow anyone on the property. The staff had been told to be polite but firm since the camp was private property. The staff members were also asked to collect business cards, names, telephone numbers, and fax numbers of the local media so the camp director could communicate with them as soon as the situation was under control. These staff members were armed with radios so they could be in touch with the camp director and assistant director if necessary.
Campers were due to arrive in just two days. Our camp director knew, however, that once the story got out about the fire many parents would call wondering if camp would open. He contacted his group of trusted advisors, whose names, addresses, and telephone and fax numbers were in the crisis-response manual he carried with him. With this team of advisors, the director developed a script for staff to use when calling parents.
Calls were made to the parents of all campers. The script assured parents that, while this was an inconvenience, the rest of camp was intact and undamaged and briefly outlined plans to feed the children, indicating that it woul