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

Crisis Manager Internet Newsletter about Crisis Management

© 2004 Jonathan Bernstein
Circulation: 3,800+
Estimated Readership: 13,000+


I have learned that it is not what one does that is wrong, but what one becomes as a consequence of it.

      Oscar Wilde


Editor's Note: Dr. David Perl's article is both an extremely useful checklist and a reminder that we need to focus on the "people" aspect of crisis management and not just "brick and mortar" concerns. My readers in the U.S. should hesitate before sending me notes about typos in the article. David is a Brit. They invented English, but they spell it funny.

Taking the Sting Out of a Crisis
by David Perl

In the past, business continuity and crisis management has focused on the tangible assets, essentially recovery of systems and data and re-establishment of facilities and services. This all changed in the aftermath of 9/11, when it was realised that the human factor was as critical as the technology and buildings.

Watching the heart-wrenching suffering of the people affected by the Madrid bombings has reinforced the need to ensure your contingency plans pay regard to the people elements as well. I have listed below just a few of the many aspects that should be given consideration:

1. Identify suitable skilled staff to form your crisis response team. Take into account minimum numbers, in a long running crisis people will burn out if not enough backups exist.

2. Take into consideration recent personnel circumstances. Young families and elderly dependents can all affect the availability and willingness of your crisis team.

3. Be aware that in a crisis, your crisis team's core personality traits will be accentuated. We have seen internal politics, competitiveness, jealousy, insecurities and a whole host of other issues all bubble to the surface within crisis management teams.

4. Ensure strong leadership during a crisis -- this will be crucial if you have any chance of weathering the storm.

5. Develop a workable plan -- we like lots of checklists. Your crisis team will not have time to read a thick manual in a crisis. Remember, Noah built the Ark before the rains came.

6. Clearly define the organisation's expectations of the crisis teams and in turn what they can expect. Issues such as overtime payments and relocation/hardship cover needs to be considered.

7. Train the team around your crisis response and exercise the plans on a regular basis. Human performance increases with training and practise. This was something crucial I learned from my medical training!

8. Give your crisis team some education on how people react in a crisis and how people cope with grief -- use specialists for this.

9. Develop relationships with external suppliers you may need to call upon, especially if dealing with loss of life. The role of counselling (or more accurately Psychological Debriefing) in the aftermath of human loss or serious injury is now thought to do more harm than good, but what you will certainly need in the immediate aftermath are people skilled in providing "psychological first aid". See for more on this hot potato!

10. Do not shirk your responsibilities as an employer when dealing with real tough stuff. Whatever the cause of the crisis, if it involves human suffering, your staff will want to know that they are working for a caring and compassionate organisation.

11. Consider the best way to communicate with all your staff on a frequent basis - even those not involved in the crisis response. In our experience, personal face-to-face team briefings are best.

12. Test your 'call out' notification system out of office hours. Dedicated systems exist to simplify this task.

13. Ensure all employee records are current and include home and mobile numbers. You should also have their emergency contact numbers and their relationship with the emergency contact listed for all staff. Update this information quarterly.

14. Make sure HR can be contacted out of hours -- you will need their input if your staff are impacted in any way.

15. Make it easy for staff to communicate with your organisation during a crisis. Set up a free phone number that gives out a pre-recorded message of the latest factual information.

16. People will be desperate for information in a crisis -- your phones could get jammed very quickly. Consider outsourcing this to a specialist supplier.

17. Use your website for disseminating information to your staff and customers.

18. If invoking a remote site, consider all the practical and logistical issues in advance: transportation, accommodation, catering, child care, shift patterns, etc.

19. If you have a crisis overseas, a whole host of other issues will come into play. Time differences, language barriers, variable medical standards, cultural differences in dealing with death and bereavement, poor or non-existent local support, involvement of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, etc., will all come into play.

20. Be aware of the protocols of death notification for the country you live in. In the UK, this is done by the police.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: Also be very careful NOT to report a death unless it is absolutely confirmed. There have been multiple horror stories about families receiving inaccurate post-disaster death reports.]

21. Provide ongoing support to those who have been personally affected by the crisis. This could include regular hospital visits, frequent communication and possibly attending funerals.

22. Give consideration to the most sensitive way of returning the personal effects of staff if dealing with fatalities.

Dealing with the human factors is perhaps one of the most challenging and rewarding areas of crisis management. Hopefully your crisis will never involve injury or death, as nothing can fully prepare you and your crisis team for dealing with these issues. However, with good planning, training, and a first class crisis response, you and your organisation can deal with the unthinkable. The reputation of your organisation could even be enhanced, as one that really does care about its people, whether staff or customers.


The above is just the tip of the iceberg. Even if you feel you have all the above items covered, it can still pay to have an external specialist company audit your plans. Even better would be to have specialists conduct your annual simulation exercise (We presume you are testing annually as a minimum). They will offer an objective and non-judgmental view on your crisis response capabilities and give invaluable feedback on issues that perhaps had not been considered.

David Perl originally qualified as a medical doctor. In 1998, after 15 years of practice, he founded Docleaf, a UK-based crisis management consultancy. His medical background gives him a unique perspective on the world of crises and the importance of maintaining business continuity in the aftermath of a disaster. Contact: or telephone +44 (0) 1923 681224.

The 18 Immutable Laws Of Corporate Reputation
Book Review
by Jonathan Bernstein

The folks at Simon and Schuster must have REALLY wanted me to review this book, because they sent me two copies. That means I have one I can give away to you (more on that at the end of the article).

First, as my regular readers know, I love lists. I have 10 Steps of Crisis Communications and 5 Tenets of Crisis Management. When I'm asked why there are 10 of this or 5 of that, my answer is, "because I'm the author and I say so!"

Ronald J. Alsop is the author of The 18 Immutable Laws of Corporate Reputation, which benefits from his years of experience as a news editor and senior writer at The Wall Street Journal. He knows that his fellow journalists like lists, and I suspect he gambled that an off-beat number like "18" would tweak his peers' attention. "Immutable," says my Merriam-Webster, means "not capable of or susceptible to change." I have to agree, in that Mr. Alsop has selected some of the most timeless truths of reputation management and backed them up with solid case histories. He also challenges the credibility of some very popular "best of" lists, such as "the best companies to work for" and "the most visionary companies."

One of his most important messages is how quickly circumstances can destroy reputations that took decades to develop. As with much of the book, this is not an idea new to any reader of this newsletter and other books on the market, but he has packaged it very nicely. It's the kind of publication you could give to your CEO or client and say "see, here's more proof that we have work to do."'s a sneak peak at the heart of the book, the 18 Immutable Laws of Corporate Reputation themselves:

LAW 1: Maximize Your Most Powerful Asset

LAW 2: Know Thyself--Measure Your Reputation

LAW 3: Learn to Play to Many Audiences

LAW 4: Live Your Values and Ethics

LAW 5: Be a Model Citizen

LAW 6: Convey a Compelling Corporate Vision

LAW 7: Create Emotional Appeal

LAW 8: Recognize Your Shortcomings

LAW 9: Stay Vigilant to Ever-Present Perils

LAW 10: Make Your Employees Your Reputation Champions

LAW 11: Control the Internet Before It Controls You

LAW 12: Speak with a Single Voice

LAW 13: Beware the Dangers of Reputation Rub-off

LAW 14: Manage Crises with Finesse

LAW 15: Fix it Right the First Time

LAW 16: Never Underestimate the Public's Cynicism

LAW 17: Remember -- Being Defensive is Offensive

LAW 18: If All Else Fails, Change Your Name

Want to get a free copy of the book? Here's a mini-contest. Send me YOUR lists of The 3 Hardest Lessons I've Learned about Crisis Management. The best three lists will be published in a future issue, with my favorite receiving a copy of The 18 Immutable Laws and runners-up getting free PDF copies of my media training manual.

The 18 Laws Immutable Laws of Corporate Reputation, a Wall St. Journal book published by Free Press: April 2004; $26. Available from most major booksellers.


Training By Jonathan Bernstein

I am very pleased to note that demand for crisis management-related training and presentations has grown dramatically this year. The training sessions tend to fall into two major categories:

  • Media training -- introductory (six hour) general training, and issues-specific media training (one or two-day, two is much more effective). All media training sessions include free copies of Keeping the Wolves at Bay: A Media Training Manual for each participant.
  • Crisis prevention & response -- presentations/workshops ranging from 1 1/2 hours to a full day, designed to educate and/or improve the overall crisis management skills of management personnel.

Additionally, Keeping the Wolves at Bay has been sold at a quantity discount rate to agencies and corporations conducting their own media training.

Interested in the possibility of training, or want to know about my rates for quantity discounts on the media training manual (minimum order of 10)? Call (626) 825-3838 or write to me,

Keeping The Wolves At Bay 2.0 -- A Media Training Manual

While there are a number of crisis management training and education products available at The Crisis Manager bookstore,, "Keeping the Wolves at Bay" has continued to be my best seller, for which I thank all who have acquired it. If you missed the previous announcements, the entire manual has been revised, slightly expanded, and deliciously reviewed. Read all about it at Available in print and PDF formats.


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

Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc. is located at 1013 Orange Avenue, Monrovia, CA 91016. Telephone: (626) 825-3838.


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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