When a disaster happens, how fast do you act?

In the Cynefin framework, we place unexpected negative events into the Chaotic domain. The solution methodology is to Act-Sense-Respond. When a disaster produces personal injuries and fatalities, Act is about initially rendering the situation as safe as possible and stabilizing conditions to prevent additional life-threatening events from occurring.

Whenever a disaster happens, we go into “damage control” mode. We think were in control because we determine what information will be released, when and by whom. Distributing information to the right channels is a key action under Act. We try our best to limit the damage not only to our people and equipment but to our brand, reputation, and credibility. In other terms, we attempt to protect our level of trust with customers/clients, media, general public.

In the latter stages of the 20th century, breakthroughs in information technology meant we had to learn how to quickly communicate because news traveled really fast. In today’s 21st century, news can spread even faster, wider, and cheaper by anyone who can tweet, upload a Facebook or Google+ photo, blog, etc. The damage control window has literally shrunk from hours to minutes to seconds.

This month we sadly experienced a tragedy at SFO when Asian Airlines flight 214 crashed. I recently reviewed slides produced by SimpliFlying, an aviation consultancy focused on crisis management. Their 2013 July 06 timeline of events is mind boggling:

11:27am: Plane makes impact at SFO
11.28am: First photo from a Google employee boarding another flight hits Twitter (within 30 secs!)
11.30am: Emergency slides deployed
11.45am: First photo from a passenger posted on Path, Facebook and Twitter
11.56am: Norwegian journalists asks for permission to use photo from first posters. Tons of other requests follow
1.20pm: Boeing issues statement via Twitter
2.04pm: SFO Fire Department speaks to the press
3.00pm: NTSB holds press conference, and keeps updating Twitter with photos
3.39pm: Asiana Airlines statement released
3.40pm: White House releases statement
8.43pm: First Asiana Press release (6.43am Korea time)

Although Asiana Airlines first Facebook update was welcomed, they did not provide regular updates and didn’t bother replying to tweets. Bottom line was their stock price and brand took huge hits. Essentially they were ill prepared to Act properly.

“In the age of the connected traveller, airlines do not have 20 minutes, but rather 20 seconds to respond to a crisis situation. Asiana Airlines clearly was not ready for this situation that ensued online. But each airline and airport needs to build social media into its standard operating procedures for crises management.”

If you encounter a disaster, how fast are you able to act? Does your emergency restoration plan include social media channels? Do you need to rewrite your Business Disaster Recovery SOPs?

If you choose to revisit or rewrite, what paradigm will you be in? If it’s Systems Thinking, your view is to control information. Have little regard for what others say and only release information when you are ready. Like Asiana Airlines.  If you’re in the Complexity & Sense-Making paradigm, you realize you cannot control but only can influence. You join and participate in the connected network that’s already fast at work commenting on your disaster.

That’s Act. How you decide to Sense and Respond will be subsequently covered.