Reasons Why Management Team Checklists Don't Work During a Crisis

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Before getting into the main story here I would like to point out that I actually do love checklists. I use them all the time, and checklists can work well in the right environment. Checklists aid by organizing important criteria, enhancing objectivity and ensure an easier and more efficient process.

SO WHY NOT USE THEM DURING A CRISIS?

Everyday management and crisis management follows some of the same basic principles but there is one big difference. And what exactly is that difference? Simply put, get a management decision wrong and it could cost jobs and money. Get a crisis management decision wrong, and it could cost lives.

Let’s delve deeper with a real-life example. Imagine you are me. 40 years ago, a young and handsome team leader in the city fire & rescue department. You arrive with your trusty team to a small house on fire.

YOU ONLY NEED TO MAKE ONE SIMPLE DECISION RIGHT NOW…

A. Risk the lives of your team and send them into the building, adopting an “offensive” plan

OR

B. Adopt a “defensive” plan and tackle the fire with water jets through the windows from the safety of the garden

Okay. You have 30 seconds to decide. Get this one wrong and people could lose their life! Will you send your team IN or keep them OUTSIDE?

Offensive or Defensive – Your decision

BUT YOU NEED TO MAKE IT NOW!

NOW IT’S MY TURN…. Here’s some questions I’d ask myself in those same 30 seconds before I made my plan.

1. What time is it?

2. What day is it?

3. What’s the weather like today?

4. Is it a school holiday?

5. Is this area well-to-do?

6. Is there a car in the drive?

7. Are there any doors or windows open?

SEEMS STRANGE? MAYBE, BUT I AM SERIOUS. 

A decision during a CRISIS is often based on ASSUMED information. You don’t have the luxury of TIME to get all the FACTS. I work on the basis of what do I KNOW? And, what can I ASSUME? And then, if what I KNOW and what I ASSUME are correct, what is the POTENTIAL escalation and situation in one hour? In five minutes? Tomorrow?From there I can then plan to prevent the “POTENTIAL” escalation from occurring.

If the POTENTIAL escalation is that people could die, I adopt a more offensive plan and am prepared to take a greater risk to achieve that goal. If I assume that no lives are at risk or, no lives can be saved, I would adopt a more defensive plan. I hope that all makes sense.

ACTIONS and PRIORITIES are based on RISK and REWARD

SOME FACTS: 

Many emergency responders are injured or killed whilst attempting to rescue people that were already dead or where there was no life at risk – ONLY THEIR OWN. This is often a result of the incident management process failing to assess RISK & REWARD.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health previously reported that RESCUERS account for more than 60 percent of confined-space FATALITIES.

Checklists, if used in a dynamic environment can only serve to distract the management appraisal of the REAL situation and the incident “SIZE-UP” process will be inaccurate and flawed to say the least.

If you remember anything from this blog. Please remember this:

KNOWN, ASSUMED, POTENTIAL.

That’s the process for collecting information when conducting an assessment PRIOR to making a crisis management decision.

SO..

On this sunny weekday at the house on fire in an upmarket part of town with no car in the driveway and all the windows and doors closed I ASSUME that nobody is inside the house and therefore do not risk the lives of my team to rescue their big TV set.

 

CHANGE ANY OF THE SEVEN ITEMS LISTED ABOVE AND MY RESPONSE WOULD HAVE BEEN DIFFERENT. 

The same house at two o’clock in the morning, I’d enter the house as soon as possible.

The same house on a Sunday when it’s raining, I’d change my plan.

The same fire at a house in a run-down part of town, I’d also change my plan.

So, can a checklist work for even a small-scale crisis, such as our example of a house on fire? No, it cannot.

Therefore, how can we expect a checklist to work for the crisis management team of a serious aircraft accident? No, WE CANNOT.

Bear with me for another example.

THERE ARE ONLY THREE ITEMS ON YOUR CHECKLIST: 

1. Establish an area for survivors

2. Establish an area for families and friends

3. Establish an area for the crew

What to do first – Which to do last?

Happy with 1, 2, 3 in the existing order on your checklist?

DO IT!

YOU WILL FAIL WITH ONLY THREE ITEMS ON YOUR CHECKLIST! 

Scenario 1

There are no survivors; So no need for item 1 or 3 on your checklist.

Scenario 2

The airport is a holiday island destination, thus no families waiting. No need for item 2 on your checklist.

Scenario 3

Is the same as scenario as scenario 2. But without survivors. No need to complete ANY of the items on your checklist. A lot of other things for you to focus on right now. But not these!

Can you see where I am going with this?

It’s a simplistic view but the protocol is based on real-life crisis management.

In my 40 years of responding to emergency situations I HAVE NEVER SEEN TWO EMERGENCIES THAT WERE THE SAME!

CONCLUSION:
Checklists work great for a repeatable process.

 

Set up the Crisis Management Centre. Set up the Crisis Call Centre. Launch a “Dark” site. GREAT! – LOVE IT! – DO IT!

To give your Crisis Management Team a checklist and expect it to fix everything could be a disaster within itself. Don’t give your crisis management team a list of ANSWERS.

GIVE THEM A LIST OF QUESTIONS

1. Will there be survivors?

2. What survivor-care facilities are available at the airport?

3. What survivor care resources do we have at this airport?

4. Can we expect families to be waiting or arriving at the airport soon?

5. What will be the highest priority needs of the survivors?

6. Medical care?

7. Repatriation with luggage?

8. Customs and immigration clearance?

9. Reunions?

10. How many calls of enquiry from families and friends can we expect?

I do hope you found this informative and helpful. Comments are welcome.
Check back soon for part 2, when I’ll explain how to conduct an airline crisis “Incident Size-Up” and, create an interactive, risk based action plan.

Stay tuned.

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