Coronavirus and the Permanently Changed Face of 21st Century Crisis Management

Erik Bernstein crisis preparedness


The face of 21st Century crisis management has been permanently changed, for worse and for better, by the coronavirus threat.

We have always preached the idea of preparing for the worst while hoping for the best. The reality is that most organizations don’t fully prepare for the worst cases, they prepare for the type of crisis that has a relatively short and predictable bell curve from crisis through firefighting to business as usual.

Epidemics and pandemics don’t fit that model – the fire starts burning and, for an unpredictable period of time, everyone is effectively playing whack-a-mole trying to contain it. More like a war we didn’t start and which will require immense resources to win. The domino-like consequences contain a whole list of potential “sub-crises.” Entire industries devastated, with attendant layoffs, mergers, etc. Activism, both violent and non-violent. Resource riots. Ongoing travel/trade restrictions slowing the movement of people and products. And while companies are short-staffed and distracted by the coronavirus, criminal hackers and other wrongdoers will do their best to take advantage.

UPDATE ONE DAY AFTER PUBLISHING THIS BLOG POST, from the Washington Post’s Cybersecurity 202 newsletter: Hospitals that are already pushed to their limit dealing with a patient surge from the novel coronavirus pandemic are getting slammed with cyberattacks and digital scams, as well. 

Some industries will evolve, some will even prosper.

And after this viral threat is wrestled into submission by the medical world, most of us on Earth now and for some time will believe it’s just a matter of time before the next novel coronavirus evolves. Everyone is going to be jumpy and distracted after months of subjecting ourselves to fear-provoking news coverage. The slightest cough will draw embarrassing attention.

It’s a challenge even for those of us experienced in different aspects of the crisis management field – and everyone else is making up their response on the fly.

However, I believe a crisis management benefit of this horrendous experience will that organizations will take extended-threat crisis readiness much more seriously. They will have discovered flaws in their existing business continuity and crisis communications planning and training that can either be eliminated entirely or mitigated to at least reduce future damage.

Part of the “new normal” in crisis management must – MUST – include much more robust crisis preparedness.

Jonathan Bernstein