Crisis Management for Bystanders

Erik Bernstein crisis management, crisis public relations, Crisis Response, disaster management, disaster preparedness, disaster response, public relations, reputation management Leave a Comment

[Editor’s note: This post from Paul Purcell, Bernstein Crisis Management contractor and author of Disaster Prep 101 – The Ultimate Guide to Emergency Readiness, explains how bystander businesses can lend a hand in the midst of crisis.]

On April 15th, the nation witnessed the tragedy of the Boston Marathon bombing, and we simultaneously witnessed the heroism of public safety officials, runners, and race fans who sprinted into harm’s way to help total strangers.

As the smoke cleared and the injured were being tended to, the “uninvolved” bystanders – if anyone can call them that – searched for answers to the immediate questions of “What do I do now?”  “How can I help?”  Or, “Do I stay out of the way?”  Among those asking these questions were the businesses lining the race route.

In today’s post, we ask these questions of you.  If your business was in the vicinity of a public event which was attacked, what are the things you could do, before, during, and after an attack, to help not only your own business and employees, but victims as well as the “affected uninjured?”

Here are but a few of the hundreds of options at your disposal that could make a difference.


Train your staff in first aid and CPR.  The skill to save a life is worth its weight in gold whether it’s used to save an injured victim or the life of one of your employees’ family members.

Have a first aid kit and possibly an AED (Automated External Defibrillator) at your location.  Being prepared means having the right tools on hand, even if these tools are rarely used.  In the case of first aid gear, it’s better to have it and not need it than the other way around.

Opt for larger (or extra) fire extinguishers or a mounted fire hose.  Fire is a universal and unforgiving enemy, and like first aid, it’s better to have the extra equipment even if it’s (hopefully) rarely used.    Remember the nightclub fire in West Warwick, Rhode Island in 2003?  One hundred fatalities, all for want of a good water fire extinguisher or fire hose.

Report suspicious individuals or packages.  Nothing beats good intel, and one of the best sources of intel is the crowd participating in an event.  Keep a close watch over your immediate area.

During – As an Attack is Occurring

Check your people first, and then branch outward.  Provide safety for any clients in your business as well as your own personnel.

Offer direct assistance to victims as able and call for assistance.  The information you provide on any victims at your location will help emergency responders react accordingly.

Immediately After

Provide shelter.  In the case of the Boston Marathon attack, the immediate area was on lockdown for quite a while.  The weather was a bit on the cool side and many runners arriving at the finish line had little more than their running gear.  As a physical location, you can offer bystanders shelter.  They may need protection from secondary dangers, shelter from the elements, or to simply get out of the way of arriving responders.  However, maintain vigilance for suspicious individuals looking to hide from authorities.

Offer WiFi and/or your land-line phone.  In a situation such as this, cell phone service is going to be a problem.  Heavy use may overload the system, or authorities may shunt service to emergency units.  Either way, you can help people in your area by letting them use any WiFi you may have (which allows email and social media to bypass voice lines), or you may let people use your land-line phone to call loved ones or emergency contacts.

Offer water or food.  The longer an area is on lockdown, the more likely your temporary guests will need a little water or food (and restrooms).  Though you may not have much on site, sharing what you may have on hand is a big help in a situation like this.  Hint:  You may want to bring in a case of bottled water or a bag of snacks on event day just for such an eventuality.

Again, these are but a few of hundreds of steps you could (and should) incorporate into your business’ security plan.  Start with these, add extra layers of safety and protection as you’re able, and help set the example that businesses, just like families, should be prepared for disaster and thereby better manage any crisis in advance of anything actually happening.

Paul Purcell is an Atlanta-based security analyst and preparedness consultant with over twenty years risk management and preparedness experience. He’s also the author of Disaster Prep 101 at

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