Bernstein Crisis Management. Crisis response, prevention, planning, and training.

Crisis Manager Internet Newsletter about Crisis Management

© 2008 Jonathan Bernstein
Circulation: 4,000+
Estimated Readership: 15,000+


The real art of conversation is not only to say the right thing at the right place but to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment.

Dorothy Nevill


Editor's Note: Mark Towhey is Canada-based but is currently working in Afghanistan on a fascinating assignment about which you'll have to read at his blog, which is mentioned below. In the meantime, he speaks to us about a topic near and dear to the hearts of parents everywhere.

Tactics: Lockdown Drills Open Door For Disaster
By Mark Towhey

A double-edged sword: standardized crisis responses are easy to follow... and to predict, creating opportunity for predators.

It seems to have become almost commonplace - the violation of our children's schools by violent gunmen. Not just an American phenomenon, the past year has seen shocking incidents in Canada and Norway - both bastions of gun control, peace and good order.

Recently, I received a call from a client of mine responsible for crisis management planning at a small U.S. university. His question was simple. The answer, of course, is complex.

Should they develop - and rehearse - a lock down drill?

The by now familiar standard response of public schools in the U.S. and Canada , when faced with a violent intruder, is to institute a "lock down." Generally speaking, this means students and teachers lock themselves into their classrooms, close the windows and drapes, barricade the doors, and take cover where they can - under desks, in a distant corner, etc. They will remain in this "duck and cover" posture until given the "all clear" signal by a trusted authority figure.

In the event of an actual attack, students may remain in "lock down" for many hours. Often, for both security and investigatory reasons, they are released from lock down in a controlled manner by the police - one classroom at a time so that students can be searched, to ensure they do not pose a threat to others, and escorted to a secure area for debriefing and interviews. This process can take considerable time.

Lock downs also occur when there is no attack. It is commonplace in Toronto , for example, for schools to go into lock down mode whenever there is a violent incident, or a fear of a violent incident, or even a suspicious person in the general neighborhood of a school. "Better safe than sorry," is the operating principle.

The upshot of this is that the lock down drill is now as familiar to most public school students as is the fire drill. In fact, more and more school boards require a number of lock down drills be conducted and assessed each school year. Familiarity breeds efficiency in the face of crisis and a sense of comfort. But, that may not be all.

While familiarity and efficiency may provide the lock down tactic with its greatest strength. It's greatest weakness is surely the very predictability that comes with it. Unlike fire, which is a natural and mindless phenomenon, an armed attack by a homicidal intruder is a dynamic act, both proactive and responsive. The criminal is an active protagonist who can and, as history has shown, will adapt his tactics to the situation. Typically, these attacks have involved some amount of premeditation and planning.

It is unrealistic to believe the next school shooter will not understand the standard lock down response. So, what?

So, if the attacker's aim is to maximize the body count - or to inflict targeted damage on a specific individual or group - then he will know exactly where to find them. Given a committed, prepared and psychopathic opponent, our now standardized response is to immobilize his targets in predictable locations. This will not always be the best answer.

Many schools I've visited do not even have locks on the doors. Those that do, have flimsy hardware that would be easily defeated by a violent attacker. Other classrooms in newer buildings feature glass panels in the doors and even windows into the hallway. No school I have visited has doors or walls capable of stopping a supersonic, copper jacketed bullet - a commonly available type of military ammunition used in assault rifles.

Most classrooms do not have secondary exits that lead away from the hallways. Many have windows, though, and most public schools are not more than three storeys tall - making it possible for students and staff to escape outside if a shooter was wandering the hallways. But in every plan I've seen, such an escape is not foreseen. No plan I've seen includes practicing a window escape - nor provides for the installation of equipment (portable steps, heavy blankets, chain ladders, etc.) that would make such an escape easier.

As I said to my client with the university, I think having a lock down plan makes sense - so does practicing it. Let's face it, if you haven't practiced it, no one will understand it and it is unlikely to work well in reality. So if you're going to have a plan, you must practice it. And, having a plan is better than not having a plan because it gives you options.

But, as I have always said, "If 'x' then 'y'" scenario-based plans are prone to failure. 'X' rarely happens the way you've scripted it - even less often when 'X' represents an intelligent, motivated protagonist capable of adjusting his plan on the fly to inflict the maximum damage possible.

Because I know what happens during a school lock down, I can only assume the attacker does too. So, what? So, that gives him an advantage. If he is smart, and these attackers have proven to be smart, though psychotic, individuals, he will use that information to adjust his plan.

The key to a successful response is flexibility. Flexibility demands that the onsite crisis manager, whether it's the school principal or a police responder, must understand the situation, exercise sound judgment, make fast, effective decisions and be able to lead students, teachers and others effectively during the crisis. All of this is possible only with a pre-crisis investment in time and resources in the form of training and technology.

Wouldn't it be nice, if the doors, walls and windows around our children's classrooms would withstand a determined assault long enough for police responders to engage the attacker(s)? Wouldn't it be nice if we could see how many attackers were involved, where they were located and what they were doing? Wouldn't it be nice if we could use automated fire doors to isolate the attacker in a given wing or area - ideally, an area without potential victims. Wouldn't it be nice if we could evacuate students and staff from the East wing while we knew the attacker was far away in the West wing? Wouldn't it be nice if we could communicate with every teacher and every classroom to gather information and deliver instructions?

Wouldn't it be nice if we had invested in creating flexibility - rather than just mandating paper-cutter drills - the next time something horrific happens?

My Answer? Yes, they should develop a lock down drill and they should practice it - while continuing to develop their all-risks crisis management capability and to invest in the technology and training required to create the flexibility that will provide crisis managers, police, students and staff with options if something bad happens.

G. Mark Towhey is an international crisis leadership consultant with private and public sector clients (including universities) around the world. Reprinted from "Issues + Insights Newsletter" (ISSN 1913-7605) published by TOWHEY Consulting Group and available online at You can follow Mark's global travels (and some of his less formal thinking) on his blog at

Rapid Response to Get Employees Back to Work After a Crisis
Faqs For Business & Community Leaders

By Dwight Bain

"Nothing will ever be the same again." - Ted Koppel

How can you keep employees motivated to work after they have experienced a major crisis event? Critical Incident Specialist Dwight Bain offers the following strategies as guidelines for business leaders to help their employees get safely back to work after experiencing a traumatic event. These are the most frequently asked questions by community and business leaders who are trying to balance compassion with people's emotions with the responsibility to getting their teams back to work.

Q. Clearly experiencing a traumatic event can impact everyone on the job and in the community. Should business leaders or managers be worried about employees who, even though they weren't directly involved with the event, may still be feeling overwhelmed, stressed, anxious or depressed?

A. Yes, managers need to pay close attention to how this crisis may have emotionally affected their team. Every single employee has likely been exposed to the crisis, either by watching images on television or the Internet about the critical incident, or through hearing about it second-hand from co-workers or others who may have witnessed more of the crisis event and are retelling the details to others in an effort to try and decompress themselves, which unfortunately tends to ‘contaminate' others with the stress and trauma. Basically everyone impacted by a crisis is negatively affected at some level by the stress and trauma, so leaders need to pay attention to major changes in behavior, including symptoms of excessive worry, rage, anxiety, isolation, hopelessness, revenge, confusion or panic. Even if the stress or depression symptoms are from events in their personal life other than the current crisis, employee performance is still likely to be negatively affected which ultimately reduces productivity and profitability of a business or the morale of a church or community.

Q. If they aren't informed directly, how is a supervisor to know when a coworker is having trouble coping? Are there any red flags or warning symptoms that someone has been overwhelmed by the emotional trauma of a critical incident or crisis event?

A. Red flags of warning symptoms exist on several levels. Physical, emotional cognitive and behavioral. While this may seem like a lot to notice, the important task for managers or leaders is to be looking for major changes as ‘clues' of an employee struggling with the overwhelming symptoms of stress and trauma. The goal is to help the employee manage this stress more effectively, and quickly return to peak performance without the negative affects of PTSD, (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder). Here are some of the most common symptoms to be aware of as you lead your corporate team or community through difficult and stressful events.

Physical: chills, fatigue, nausea, fainting, twitches, vomiting, dizziness, weakness, difficulty breathing, chest pain, headaches, rapid heart rate, elevated blood pressure or grinding of the teeth, etc.

Emotional: fear, guilt, grief, panic, denial, anxiety, depression, apprehension, anger, or inappropriate emotional responses, etc.

Cognitive: confusion, nightmares, hyper-vigilance, suspiciousness, poor concentration/memory, disorientation, difficulty solving problems, etc.

Behavioral: social withdrawal, antisocial acts, inability to rest, pacing, erratic movements, extreme changes in appetite, increased use of alcohol, slurring of speech, feelings of confusion or difficulty concentrating, etc.

The more symptoms present, the greater the negative impact on the individual. Managers can create an environment of healing by sharing that it is much healthier to talk about their experience or seek counseling support, instead of to just "sit and suffer in silence."

Q. If there are signs, should a manager inform all employees of what they are so that they can be on the lookout for others that may be struggling as well?

A. It is highly recommended that all employees become aware of the many negative emotions that occur after a crisis event. Team members can ask one another, "How are you doing?" or "Are you okay?" This is a bold and proactive way to insure that everyone is working together to talk openly to keep their team as strong as possible during the time of crisis. Caution should be used to not single out certain employees for strength, "Sam is a rock, he can get through anything!" or weakness, "Sally just isn't tough enough to cut it here. She was the weak link." As a leader it's better to encourage every member of your team to directly deal with their emotions than to stuff them inside.

Q. In the days or weeks after a crisis many companies struggle to make up for the production time lost over during all the chaos that follows a critical incident. How does a manager balance this situation with the fact that some employees may feel they need a break from work to be with family to help themselves cope with the grief and loss?

A. The balance between business productivity and personal needs is a delicate one. Best to openly talk about performance goals. It's okay to talk about how much time or profit was lost due to the down time from the crisis, as well as talk about the need for every member of the team to make sure that they are coping with the crisis. Leaders can bring in counselors or grief specialists to facilitate open discussions about the issues to speed the recovery process for everyone involved. Leaders can also talk about the importance of keeping up with the priority of family or other home responsibilities as a normal and healthy way to stay balanced through a crisis. Ultimately people need to get back to work because it's psychologically healthy to be productive and working if a person is able to. Taking a break for a few days to work through stressful emotions can be a useful way to avoid burnout later on. Limits on how much time off, or who will be responsible for certain work responsibilities is strongly suggested to keep the company as productive as possible during an employee's absence. However, needlessly staying home to obsessively watch television or Internet reports about the crisis will only heighten feelings of panic and hopelessness. Encourage employees to seek a healthy balance and to return to their daily routines when they feel that they can effectively do o or when their doctor or a mental health specialist has screened their needs and cleared them to safely return to the workplace.

Q. Should a manager address the well-being of employees proactively during the aftermath by encouraging discussion about the tragedy, offering time off, or other measures? Or is it best not to go looking for problems where none may appear to exist?

A. Yes! One of the greatest ways to deal with this type of crisis is to have open discussions to relieve the internal emotional pressure that usually follows trauma. Everyone should be allowed to share openly about several subjects. They are:

  • How these crisis events have impacted them

  • Loved ones they may have lost

  • Fears about the future

  • Anxiety about what will happen to the local economy because of this event

Any of these topics would be appropriate to help employees effectively cope with their emotions. The support of fellow employees will bolster hope and a feeling of connection to each other. Here is a warning though; second-guessing, blame shifting or the desire to argue about "who should have done what," is not recommended, as it only serves to heighten frustration and anger. Remember that it is always appropriate to allow time off when an employee needs medical, psychological or other forms of professional care, and this basic right to have time to heal and recover is provided by Federal Law.

Q. Many employees undoubtedly will be seeking out media reports on the Internet and TV during work hours. Is this something to be discouraged?

A. Absolutely! Many of us can remember the picture of a firefighter carrying the bloody body of a little girl from the wreckage in Oklahoma City or the images of commercial jetliners exploding into the World Trade Center and Pentagon, or students fleeing the campus buildings of Virginia Tech. There is a tremendous danger of being traumatized by media images, since it is very difficult to break free from the powerful emotions that these pictures stir up in the aftermath of a tragedy. A key warning sign is obsessively thinking "I just can't get the pictures out of my mind!"

Over exposure to harsh media images will lead to a psychological condition commonly referred to as being psychologically "re-traumatized." This is a dangerous condition, since it makes a person feel "numb" inside, with heightened anxiety and decreased motivation. It is strongly recommended that employees focus on their core business and not spend too much time in the morbid fascination of watching body recovery, police man-hunts or whatever direction a media outlet may take a story. Remember that this isn't the OJ Trials, and that crisis events aren't entertainment! It is a goal of terrorists to immobilize a country by making everyone feel afraid and often media images fulfill that goal. Leaders need to know when to turn off the television and take away the newspapers to guide employees or whatever people they are responsible for back to their daily work. As an aside, remember that most of us do not get paid by our employer to watch TV; we typically are paid to provide quality products and services to our customers and make a profit for the shareholders. Leaders help their teams best by getting them back to work and away from negative media sources.

Q. Should a company have a plan in place to help employees respond during tragedies such as this? Have we learned anything from other horrific events, such as the Virginia Tech shooting, Oklahoma City bombing or Terrorist attacks of 9/11/01?

A. Sadly, the likelihood of future community crisis events, such as mall shooters or terrorist attacks is very real. Therefore every employer or community leader is strongly encouraged to have a strategic plan in place to deal with sudden crisis events. This includes special consideration to have some short term working capital in savings, backing up computer systems often and duplicating all data off-site, having full employee listings with contact and social security numbers kept off site as well, creating a system to "check in" on a total count of employees to quickly determine any causalities in a crisis.

The more a company has protected data, including access to checkbooks, payroll and tax records as well as key information about pending projects or client schedules, the faster a company can be back "on line" and back in business after a crisis.

I once toured the tunnels underneath Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom in Orlando. Amazingly, there are duplicate parts inventoried for virtually every attraction in the park. These are kept underground near the site of the ride or attraction on the ground level above. The strategy is this- if a hurricane or tornado ripped through the Magic Kingdom, whatever damage could be rapidly repaired, so within days it would look like the disaster never happened. That is the power of positive strategic planning! It allows you to quickly respond to a crisis event and then quickly rebuild after a traumatic event.

The horrific pattern of school, mall, church and workplace shooters reveals that a life-threatening crisis could come at any time. This ‘home-grown terrorists attack' could come from many different types of shooters, so every company needs a strategic plan of action. One that allows for the protection and safety of every employee or person on property and that can be immediately used in the unlikely event of a sudden traumatic event. Remember - your office could be destroyed by fire, flood, tornado, hurricane, or vandalism. Each of these events are much more likely to occur than a terrorist attack or shooter's bullet. Preparation for a crisis removes much of the fear and anxiety of leading your company in difficult times. To apply the wisdom from the American philosopher Benjamin Franklin, "better to be safe than sorry."

Q. As the aftermath unfolds, is it likely that stress caused by the tragedy will produce troubling behaviors in the workplace, such as outbursts of anger or even violence? Should managers be on the alert for this possibility?

A. Yes. Unresolved stress and trauma build up into serious emotional problems if there is not some type of intervention. Managers need to be asking direct questions, focusing on the potential serious and life-threatening behaviors that are associated with this level of grief when stuffed inside. Managers should actively be on the lookout for symptoms of "out of control" stuffed emotions, especially anxiety, panic, rage, mental confusion, or self-destructive patterns including alcoholism, drug usage or domestic violence.

Q. Is it important that a manager be well-versed on what sort of counseling help their company may provide through EAP's (employee assistance programs) or corporate chaplains? Or is it enough to simply know that these supportive counseling programs exist?

A. Best for managers to already know about EAPs, Corporate Chaplains, local hotline numbers and any other special programs or counseling services offered through the company. A few minutes of preparation about the options to help employees can make for a much better referral, which leads to more successful results and an employee who will better be able to rapidly "plug" back into their place on the corporate team on the other side of the crisis.

Q. Some types of critical incidents involving terrorism or crime often create finger pointing and suspicion about who the culprits might be. Given that the media can draw attention toward various cultures or populations which can bring out a lot of anger in employees, how can a manager wisely respond to protect the value of acceptance and diversity in the workplace?

A. Normal stages of grief include Shock-Denial-Anger-Guilt-Grief and ultimately to resolution, however, the anger stage can be quite dangerous. It is possible that an employee could totally lose sight of rational thinking and lean toward an impulsive rage filled response against certain cultures or people groups. Leadership should plainly state that there should never be any inappropriate discussions about retaliation directed toward other staff who are different than they are. Strong emphasis on the importance of workplace diversity is more important than ever to prevent future problems of impulsive charged conflicts driven by difference in race, gender or religion. Remember that it is Federal Law to protect the rights of every person in your company, or under your leadership, so if you are in doubt about how to respond to specific situations of rage or resentment between employees you should quickly contact your legal counsel for specific guidance.

Q. Should crisis management programs be in place long before a critical incident occurs?

A. Better late than never is the recommended plan for managers and leaders. Any attempts to provide for a crisis management plan is a good place to start, so if you don't already have a crisis management plan in place, then think about including the following factors now to protect your team in the days to come:

  • Chain of command for business decisions and a spokesperson for dealing with the media

  • Phone lists of key employees (cell-pager-email-text-home), to quickly find and notify your team if the crisis occurs over a weekend or holiday

  • Staffing coverage for workers attending to their loved ones who may have been affected by the crisis

  • Extra insurance protection, including disability insurance for most workers

  • Records of schedule, banking, taxes, as well all important information, digital photos of your place of business to show inventory and property before a disaster as well as insurance claim information, (all of which should be backed up often and a copy kept off site as an extra layer of protection of these valuable records)

  • Strategic disaster planning would include thinking of alternative office locations to use as a temporary location, or professional associations that may offer assistance to get your company back in business faster

  • Phone lists of key customers and suppliers are among the vital records that a proactive manager will keep stored in different locations to be accessed in the unlikely event of a tragedy

The challenge of conducting business during a major crisis will test your leadership skills. If you begin now to collect data and resources for the inevitable next crisis event you will be better equipped to handle it with strength. Planning ahead will prevent substantial panic in the future, as well as allow for your company to successfully stay in business serving your customers during any situation. Using these guidelines now will empower you to lead your company through any crisis or traumatic event in the future. Crisis events are part of life and will come again - that's why leaders will use these strategies to grow stronger in spite of any stressful event that may come their way.

About the Author: Dwight Bain is a Nationally Certified Counselor, Certified Family Law Mediator and Certified Life Coach in practice since 1984 with a primary focus on solving crisis events and managing major change. Critical Incident Stress Management expert with the Orange County Sheriffs Office, founder of and trainer for over 1,500 business groups on the topic of making strategic change to overcome major stress- both personally & professionally. He is a professional member of the National Speakers Association and partners with corporations and organizations to make a positive difference in our culture during times of crisis. Access more complimentary counseling and coaching resources from his Orlando based team of experts at ‘The LifeWorks Group' by visiting their extensive posting of blog's and special reports designed to save you time by strategically solving problems at


Internet Counter-Intelligence CD-ROM

In a one-hour teleseminar recorded in December 2007, search engine optimization expert Diana Huff interviewed Jonathan Bernstein, a pathfinder and innovator in the field of Internet-centered crisis management, who described how a wide range of companies have been damaged by the Internet's virtual terrorists, and how some companies have been responding effectively.

In this one-hour session, you'll learn how to conduct your own Internet vulnerability audit; develop strategies for identifying your foes -- activists, disgruntled employees, or unhappy customers -- and tracking Internet chatter; build the case within your organization for ensuring someone is monitoring the blogosphere, news, and Internet forums every day; plan for an Internet crisis and, when one hits, assess the situation to determine an appropriate response; develop the action steps you can take to neutralize attacks, including starting your own blog and developing collateral such as brochures, video, podcasts, and Web links to other reputable and informative sites; and effectively use search engine optimization tactics -- not just because you want customers to find your products -- but so you can beat these guys at their own game!

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Keeping the Wolves at Bay 3.0 Reviewed

"Keeping the Wolves at Bay" is much more than another media training guide - it is perhaps one of the most concise, insightful, useful and savvy guides to strategic thinking about reputation issues available.

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Founder & CEO of PIER System and host of

"It's like a Swiss Army knife -- lots of cool tools in a compact package. In case of emergency, grab this."

Steven R. Van Hook, PhD
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The spiral-bound print manual is available for $25, the PDF version for $10. Both can be ordered at

Jonathan Bernstein also offers on-site media training worldwide, using this manual as the basis for training. Write to

Disaster Prep 101

Bernstein Crisis Management is pleased to present one of the most comprehensive and user-friendly family preparedness texts available today. "Disaster Prep 101." by Paul Purcell, goes above and beyond the simplistic "72-hour kit" concept and provides simple, yet detailed educational material that will drastically improve the ability of any family to respond to all manner of disasters or emergencies. This preparedness package contains over 400 pages of well-organized, original preparedness material written in an easy-to-understand, non-panic format; 80 pages of family data forms and worksheets (many of which are also useful to the employer); and a 2-CD set containing two interactive and searchable links collections for additional educational sources; all the family data forms and worksheets in softcopy format; and a complete emergency reference library of over 450 additional books and training manuals! US$59.95. Available here.


Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc. has formal or informal co-promotional and mutually beneficial business associations with a number of the services we mention periodically in this newsletter. No, we can't go into details because that's confidential, proprietary, etc. But our relationship is NOT "arm's distance" and you should know that, since we regularly write about these services as we use them for crisis and issues management or other purposes. That said, you should also know that Bernstein Crisis Management sought the relationships because its staff is convinced that these services are the best of their kind for Bernstein Crisis Management's needs and those of its clients. If you have any questions about these relationships, please contact Jonathan Bernstein, (626) 825-3838.


Jonathan Bernstein is president of Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc.,, a national crisis management public relations agency providing 24/7 access to crisis response professionals. The agency engages in the full spectrum of crisis management services: crisis prevention, response, planning & training. He has been in the public relations field since 1982, following five-year stints in both military intelligence and investigative reporting. Write to


GUEST AUTHORS are very welcome to submit material for "Crisis Manager." There is no fee paid, but most guest authors have reported receiving business inquiries as a result of appearing in this publication. Case histories, experience-based lessons, commentary on current news events and editorial opinion are all eligible for consideration. Submission is not a guarantee of acceptance.


When I find a site that I think will be useful to my readers or site visitors, I put it on our Links page. If you have a site that would be of specific use to crisis managers and want to discuss a link exchange or other cooperative effort, please write to me,


All information contained herein is obtained by Jonathan Bernstein from sources believed by Jonathan Bernstein to be accurate and reliable.

Because of the possibility of human and mechanical error as well as other factors, neither Jonathan Bernstein nor Bernstein Crisis Management is responsible for any errors or omissions. All information is provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Bernstein Crisis Management and Jonathan Bernstein make no representations and disclaim all express, implied, and statutory warranties of any kind to the user and/or any third party including, without limitation, warranties as to accuracy, timeliness, completeness, merchantability, or fitness for any particular purpose.

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