Crisis 101: The Lifecycle of Crisis Response

Whether it’s a natural disaster, a large ship getting stuck in an important global waterway, or everyone’s least favorite, a global pandemic, it’s nearly impossible to go a full news cycle without hearing about a new crisis. Now imagine it being you that’s the focus of breaking news. Powerful people and companies may be unable to avoid the inevitable disaster, but those that survive are defined not by the crisis, but by their response to it.

While not every crisis follows a “textbook scenario,” Kathleen Fearn-Banks identifies five states in the lifecycle of a crisis in Crisis Communication: A Casebook Approach, including:

  1. Detection
  2. Prevention/ Preparation
  3. Containment
  4. Recovery
  5. Learning

The Detection Stage or the “prodromal stage,” involves the warning signs of a crisis. When a similar business or organization suffers a crisis, you can use their mistakes as a lesson for what not to do and avoid having the same crisis. For example, investigation of the 1996 ValuJet Flight 592 crash revealed that ValuJet was lax in its aircraft and did not properly handle the oxygen generators in the cargo hold. This resulted in the fire aboard the aircraft, ultimately leading to a fatal crash in the Florida Everglades. After this tragic crisis, every airliner took note of this prodrome and knows to never make this same mistake.

The Prevention/ Preparation Stage is where you minimize the possibility of a crisis occurring. To do this, you can develop tactics/ actions for your organization to follow in order to prevent a crisis and create an appropriate communication strategy for the public. If everyone in your organization is correctly taught the proper rules and regulations, and these are abided by, numerous crises can be prevented.

The Containment Stage refers to the effort to decrease the spread and duration of the crisis. For example, Pepsi went into crisis mode when multiple accusations of syringes in its cans surfaced. Luckily, this turned out to be a single occurrence and not a widespread issue. Nonetheless, Pepsi had still failed its consumers, so the company ran an advertisement to attempt to deflate the crisis and mend the relationship with its customers. This gavePepsi’s audience something else to talk about – and it worked.

The Recovery Stage refers to getting your organization back to normal after a crisis. This can be done by reassuring the internal and external public that it is business as usual. For example, holding a press conference or utilizing third-party validators are opportunities to reassure the public and instill confidence after a crisis.

The Learning Stage, the last of the five stages, is an after-action review. Determine what was lost, what was gained, and how your organization performed amidst the crisis. This evaluation can help develop a crisis prodrome to facilitate change and enhance the future of your brand reputation and organization stability.

Not every crisis can be foreseen or prevented. However, understanding the five stages of the crisis lifecycle as you craft a crisis communications plan can help your company to mitigate damage to your brand and reputation as swiftly and successfully as possible.