The Nature of Crisis and Disasters

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DTE The Nature of Crisis and Disasters


If you are dealing with the management of crisis and associated non-normal situations, you should by now have a fairly good understanding of how a security management system works, and how it can be utilised in various ways to identify potential threats, create effective risk control protocols and also create a response capability (‘contingency planning’) in the event that something goes wrong. Whilst this three-stage management framework creates a structure within which normal security management functions can be designed and delivered (and this is an excellent method for starting off with a blank piece of paper and ending up with a fairly well-developed outline of whatever security management system you might need), they only go so far. There are times when the nature of the problem is either so great, or so unknown to us, that normal security management procedures just breakdown. Welcome to the world of Crisis Management! Crisis Management is the study of how you deal with situations for which it is almost impossible to plan, and which at the same time create a real risk to the continued existence of your organisation. Examples that immediately spring to mind are the attacks on the World Trade Centre in 9/11 (2001), Hurricane Katrina and the impact that had on New Orleans (2005), and the tsunami and earthquake in Fukushima, Japan (2011).

Nature of Crises

However, whilst these are incidents that grabbed the headlines across the world, it is equally possible to find examples of corporate and business disasters that required a crisis response from business security managers. The recent terrorist attacks in Algeria (February 2013) is an example where a relatively stable (though potentially high risk) country suddenly became the scene of a major terrorist attack. The volcanic ash from Iceland that brought air-travel across northern Europe to a halt in 2011 is another example of an incident that would normally be in the ‘Low Likelihood / High Impact’ corner of a risk matrix coming to life and having major, and potentially catastrophic, impacts. This Module will introduce you to the various sorts of crises that you are likely to be facing, the effects they have on your operation, and the sort of management skills that you will need to be able to respond quickly and effectively to those situations. One of the immediate impacts of a crisis is that it demands that the security team provides leadership and support to the decision-makers in your organisation, as well as maintaining your normal operational roles.

Characteristics of Crises

The word ‘crisis’ has undoubtedly become over-used in our modern world, and is often used to describe situations which although they may be serious and potentially dangerous, are not really true crisis situations. Most definitions of ‘Crisis’ are based on three criteria:

  • High Level of Threat
  • Time Urgency
  • Confusion

The high level of threat is not only concerned with the nature of the problem you are facing – whether it is terrorism, natural disaster or technological breakdown (imagine how you would be able to manage a situation if the mobile phone network was suddenly not operating), but also with the potential damage that it could cause your organisation and its operations. In this sense, crisis management is not only about physical survival, but also reputation management and brand management. It is likely that the front page of the newspaper you are reading this morning will have at least one story about an organisation that is under threat because of weaknesses in its own management systems that have led to a genuine crisis situation which threatens its reputation and future operability. Although crises tend to be large-scale and dramatic, and it might seem that every crisis is unique, it is also true that they often share a number of characteristics, and as a start, we can divide crises into two groups, those that are caused by something outside our control, and those which are caused by weaknesses within our own operations. We hope that you have enjoyed this document. To access the full document, together with audio files, please visit and register as a member for full access to our complete resources library. You will also receive weekly updates of reports, journal articles, videos and podcasts, as well as being able to participate in our Members Forums