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+


It's usually not politically wise to "tell" a client (or your boss) what to do with regard to crisis prevention or response. Making suggestions is a better way to go. But you have to communicate urgency, the sort of tone you might use when saying, "I suggest that you not light a match when you're standing in a pool of gasoline."


Editor's Note: I'm delighted that David Shimberg sent in this description of an emergency evacuation system that's both simple and effective. One that you can easily emulate. So what are you waiting for?

Is Everyone Here?
Getting Out is Only the First Step
by David Shimberg, CBCP

The events of 9/11 raised awareness for everyone about the value of the fire drills that most of us merely tolerate and accept as common place. Whether evacuation drills are in schools, offices, our homes, or even hotels, there is no question about the importance of safely getting out of a building in an emergency.

But getting out is only the first step. Public safety workers, responding to an emergency, need to know who needs help, whether everyone is accounted for, and who is still in the building. How, as a facility manager, safety officer, or emergency worker do you know?

OSHA and most local safety regulations require that businesses have evacuation plans that guide building occupants to safe locations away from an emergency, but there is little information about effective methods to account for everyone once they have made their exit. Firefighters and Paramedics don't want to endanger their lives looking for people who are safe, nor do they want to miss anyone who may be trapped or need help.

There are few good, documented plans describing how to account for employees and visitors following an evacuation, but Premier, Inc., a company in Charlotte, NC, with offices in Chicago and San Diego, has devised a program that is worthy of note.

"Find Your Flag" is the brainchild of company facility managers and employee safety committees. The program facilitates not only a safe evacuation, but accounting for all company employees and visitors.

As with all safety programs, employee awareness is essential to success. At Premier, Inc., every workstation, office, and group work area has been assigned a flag color. Laminated cards with the flag color and brief evacuation instructions are placed inevery work area. As with most evacuation plans, teams of employees are trained and responsible to quickly search assigned areas of each floor, and direct all employees, visitors, and others to safe exits.

The unique component of the "Find Your Flag" program is that team leaders have an emergency kit they take with them as they exit the building. In addition to the expected flashlights and first aid items, each kit contains the colored flag for their assigned area and a current employee roster. When the receptionist leaves the building, he or she takes the visitor log and lists of visitors participating in classes or scheduled events.

As employees exit the building they simply look for their assigned flag color and report in to that group, a safe distance away from the building. Employee rosters are updated regularly and assigned color groups are manageable sizes, allowing for quick and easy accounting of employees, as they check in or are reported on by fellow employees. If an employee is not accounted for, emergency personnel can be notified.

Visitors accompany the employee with whom they were meeting out of the building, and are matched against the visitor log.

Why is "Find Your Flag" successful?

  • The program is flexible. Assembly locations are easily moved to accommodate direction from public safety officials, who may relocate assembly areas based on wind direction, traffic, or other dangers. The flags or pennants can easily be identified above a crowd, unlike safety vests, which may be hidden at crowd level.
  • Rosters for each color group are sized to minimize the time required to locate names. Color groups tend to be one or more department teams, which further facilitates identifying who was and who was not working when the emergency occurred.
  • Confirmation that employees are or are not accounted for is quickly provided to the facility site manager or emergency personnel, reducing their response times and lessening risk to fire, emergency, or police personnel.

Implementation is simple

  • Build on your existing evacuation plan.
  • Develop and implement appropriate groupings for flag/color assignments.
  • Develop and implement a process to prepare and regularly update group rosters for each color group.
  • Flags or pennants are available from a variety of sources. Bicycle flags, in a variety of colors, on fiberglass poles, are available for as little as $10 each, but single poles, 5-6 ft. long, may be inconvenient to store and carry down stairwells.
  • Flags on 24" wooden poles are conveniently sized, but must be held high for visibility, leading to very tired arms.
  • Shock-corded fiberglass tent poles, consisting of four, 25" sections, easily collapse into an emergency kit, and nearly 8 ft. tall when unfolded, are available from camping suppliers for as little as $7 each.

In all cases, employee awareness is the key to successful evacuation accounting. Employees must understand the program, be in the habit of letting co-workers know where they are, and be aware of where co-workers are.

Surviving an emergency takes teamwork. Companies, individual employees, and building management must all work together to ensure the safest work environment possible.

Dave Shimberg is a Certified Business Continuity Planner and Chairman of the Contingency Planning Association of the Carolinas. To request reprint permission, contact:

The Power Of Humility

There's a remarkable testimony to the power of humility in a May 18, 2004 article in The Wall St. Journal, Doctors' New Tool To Fight Lawsuits: Saying 'I'm Sorry'.

There are multiple examples of how lawsuits have been avoided or settled for less than a court was likely to award when physicians guilty of malpractice made personal and sincere apologies to the victims and/or their families.

All too often, attorneys balk at the idea of a "mea culpa," worrying that it increases legal liability. I'm sure that at times this is true, but not as often as counselors believe. Perhaps this will give crisis managers something with which we can change their minds. It's worth paying to retrieve if you don't already have a subscription to The Wall Street Journal Online.


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).
  • 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.

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 And Other Crisis Management Materials

Keeping the Wolves at Bay: A Media Training Manual and other crisis management training materials produced by Jonathan Bernstein are available for sale at There is a 100% money-back guarantee (including shipping costs!) if you are not satisfied with any product you purchase.


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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Articles in "Crisis Manager" were, unless otherwise noted, written and copyrighted by Jonathan Bernstein. Permission to reprint will often be granted for no charge. Write to