Creeping, Slow-Burn and Sudden Crises

Erik Bernstein Articles Crisis Prevention Leave a Comment

Creeping, Slow-Burn and Sudden Crises

In facing virtually any imaginable crisis management or crisis communication situation over the years, and through discussions with our team of consultants, we’ve determined that most crises can be divided into one of three categories.

Types of Crises

1. Creeping Crises – foreshadowed by a series of events that decision makers don’t view as part of a pattern.

2. Slow-Burn Crises – some advance warning, before the situation has caused any actual damage.

3. Sudden Crises – damage has already occurred and will get worse the longer it takes to respond.

It is not uncommon for what seems to be a sudden crisis to have first been a creeping crisis that was not detected. Appropriate crisis management and communications measures, early in the process, can often prevent or, at least, minimize the damage from slow-burn and sudden crises before they reach a point of creating long-lasting damage.

Identifying what type of crisis management situation you’re facing

Below we’ll share some some examples of creeping, slow-burn, and sudden crises that should apply to most industries.

1. Creeping Crises

  • Lack of a rumor-control system, resulting in damaging rumors.
  • Inadequate preparation for partial or complete business interruption.
  • Inadequate steps to protect life and property in the event of emergencies.
  • Inadequate two-way communication with all audiences, internal and external.

2. Slow-Burn Crises

  • Internet activism
  • Most lawsuits.
  • Most discrimination complaints.
  • Company reputation
  • Lack of regulatory compliance – safety, immigration, environment, hiring, permits, etc.
  • Major operational decisions that may distress any important audience, internal or external.
  • Local/state/national governmental actions that negatively impact operations.
  • Official/governmental investigations involving your organization and/or its employees.
  • Labor unrest.
  • Sudden management changes – voluntary or involuntary.
  • Marketing misrepresentation.

3. Sudden Crises

  • Serious on-site accident.
  • Disturbing or dangerous behavior by anyone at a location controlled by your organization.
  • Criminal activity at a company site and/or committed by company employees.
  • Lawsuits with no advance notice or clue whatsoever.
  • Natural disasters.
  • Loss of workplace/business interruption (for any reason).
  • Fires.
  • Perceptions of significant impropriety that damage reputation and/or result in legal liability, e.g., publicized involvement of company employee in a group or activity perceived to be a threat; inappropriate comments by a “loose cannon;” business activities not officially authorized by management.

Know the crisis risks and plan accordingly

Typically, reviewing a list like this triggers thoughts of other situations that need to be addressed during the crisis planning process. We encourage you to think about your own organization and industry, know what constitutes a creeping, slow-burn or sudden crisis for you, and have crisis management and crisis communications plans in place to address them!

Article by Jonathan Bernstein, founder & chairman, Bernstein Crisis Management


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