After Aurora: Five Crisis Learnings from the Tragic Theater Shootings
By Evan Bloom, Senior Consultant, Eric Mower + Associates
While America is still reeling from the shock of the tragic theater shootings in Aurora, Col., other event, exhibition and entertainment venues should be doing the responsible thing and reviewing their crisis communication and management response plans as elements of this terrible story continue to emerge, as in the latest finding that the gunman acted alone (The Los Angeles Times).
As the law enforcement authorities continue their investigations into this horrific event, there are some key factors that entertainment and event locations, as well as all other types of organizations, should realize:
1. Having a crisis plan is no longer enough.
Many will think that they have taken the necessary precautions just because they already have their crisis plan. While these crisis plans do hold value, they are more often “generalized” This means that they are standard plans that contain generalized processes to cover many types of incidents— and in principle there is nothing intrinsically wrong with this.
However, when a special event is held, there is most certainly a case to be argued for having a separate and specific crisis plan for that particular occasion. This is particularly important if your event is going to attract a lot of attention, include members of the public, involve senior members of your organization and employees, and include some form of publicity stunt. As part of your event specific plan you should also have a social media crisis plan that is integrated into the overall event crisis plan.
Human life is at stake, and saving human life takes precedence over everything; there can be no arguing about this. You cannot compromise on your crisis plan. It has to be thorough and must manage the risks that people attending your event may be exposed to. If you do not do this, you may be held legally liable and accountable. You do not want to face the scrutiny of the court of public opinion and you do not want to deal with prolonged media and social media interest.
2. Know your risks before you plan.
It is common for companies to use a template-based approach to create their crisis plan. While this may offer some form of protection, I am of the belief that all crisis plans should be based on and written for known and identified risks and their impacts on the organization, should they occur.
Entertainment and event locations should be doing a threat and risk analysis for each event that they are holding. They need to be able to identify the technological, natural and human threats to their event. By doing this, these organizations are able to identify both the risks that pose a threat to them and where they are vulnerable. This will assist them in knowing what to plan for and what resources and assets they will need access to and to have on site to manage all eventualities.
Once the plan has been completed, the identified risks need to be monitored prior to the event. For example, if the event is to be held outdoors and weather has been identified as a risk, then weather patterns must be followed. If the risks change then the crisis plan must be updated accordingly.
3. Exercise and test the plan.
All plans, including those for specific events, need to be tested and exercised; it’s the responsible thing to do. As soon as the plan has been completed, a tabletop exercise should be set up to test the workings of the plan, as well as the capability of employees to meet their responsibilities. Once the tabletop exercise is completed, it must be followed by a debrief in which all the errors are identified and the plan is fine-tuned.
Depending on the event being planned for, a full-scale exercise may be required. The scenario should be chosen, and the exercise should be held. It is crucial to include external agencies such as the police, fire department, paramedics, security company, etc. You may also want to consider involving them in your tabletop exercise. After the full-scale exercise has been held you should also hold a debrief and then amend your crisis plan accordingly.
4. Advanced training with the experts.
Entertainment and event locations should not spare any expense in advanced training for their employees – this is an investment in the viability of the company. All employees must know what their role is in an emergency evacuation and how to assist members of the public into getting to the nearest and safest emergency exit. This is very important. In many mass trauma events, including shootings, the media often report that people “were scared, did not know what to do, were panicking.” In a critical event, these emotions are totally understandable. However, people in these traumatic circumstances look for instructions and leadership.
Bringing experts in event and site evacuation, firefighting, and first aid to train employees is crucial and will assist employees in becoming confident when dealing with an emergency situation. Ultimately, you want employees to assist in the safe and risk free evacuation of an event until the law enforcement and emergency services are on scene to take command.
5. Integrate the plans.
It takes more than just a crisis communications or management plan to get ready for a critical event. Other plans are needed such as emergency management and a business continuity plan. These plans cannot and should not exist in isolation. They need to be integrated so there is coordination, no confusion and a holistic approach to managing a worst-case scenario.
Taking the time and effort to create a crisis plan that is event specific and has been tested and exercised is not only a great insurance policy, but also a smart way for entertainment and event locations to protect their brands and reputations.
About the author: Evan Bloom is a senior consultant at Eric Mower + Associates. He is a member of the firm’s Reputation Management Services group, and his area of specialty and interest is crisis planning, vulnerability auditing and crisis training.