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Crisis Manager Internet Newsletter about Crisis Management

© 2004 Jonathan Bernstein
Circulation: 4,000+
Estimated Readership: 14,000+


In individuals, insanity is rare; but in groups, parties, nations, and epochs it is the rule."

      Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900)


The Definition Of Insanity
by Jonathan Bernstein

I can't believe they're doing it again. OK, I'm a cynic, I guess I CAN believe they're doing it again, "it" being failing to disclose mistreatment of prisoners prior to news leaks on the subject.

Albert Einstein is reported to have said, "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result." The counterpart definition of sanity, then, would be "learning from your mistakes," but whoever's responsible for the Guantanamo Bay prisoner torture just reported by the New York Times clearly hasn't learned from the Iraq prisoner abuse scandal.

The latter story was broken by "60 Minutes" in April 2004, a minimum of four months after Pentagon and/or administration officials first learned of the incidents. They knew that abuse had taken place. They knew that dozens of people had this information. There was, therefore, virtually a 100% probability that the news would leak. Imagine the difference in world opinion if, in January 2004, Secretary Rumsfeld or President Bush had appeared on TV saying, "We have just learned that some prisoners in Iraq have been abused and we are horrified. We are investigating completely and will ensure that those responsible are punished. We apologize to those who may have been victims, and to the people of Iraq for this inexcusable behavior."

No cover up. Short-term PR damage and move on. But no, they have to hide the information and the "cover-up factor" made it much bigger news.

Back to the present, deja foolishness, prisoners are being abused at Guantanamo according to multiple sources interviewed by a highly credible reporter. Pentagon officials obviously did not anticipate the inevitable news leak (I can't believe they didn't know of the treatment), as they were not prepared to do anything more than to issue a totally inadequate written statement that no one -- because of what happened in the Iraq prisoner abuse case -- will believe. That statement said:

"Guantanamo guards provide an environment that is stable, secure, safe and humane. And it is that environment that sets the conditions for interrogators to work successfully and to gain valuable information from detainees because they have built a relationship of trust, not fear."

I guess it's that "relationship of trust" that results in prisoners throwing feces at guards and guards swapping out pine-smelling floor cleaner for the prayer oil prisoners receive in little bottles, huh?

Now, let's take a step back. Let's look at this strictly as an exercise in issues management, from my perspective as someone with U.S. Army Intelligence, investigative reporting and crisis management experience.

Attn: President Bush and Secretary Rumsfeld:

  1. I recognize that in a world where terrorists are routinely beheading innocent people, and in which the depth of their beliefs may give them some immunity from traditional interrogation techniques, it may be impossible to get results needed to protect our citizens without changing methods of interrogation.
  2. In the United States -- more than in some other Western countries -- a significant percentage of the population is critical of treating prisoners in what they CURRENTLY PERCEIVE as a cruel and inhumane manner.
  3. If you want to change policies on this matter, first you have to change perceptions, or else you will be perpetually at the wrong end of having created false expectations.
  4. I believe it's feasible that the majority of the American public could be persuaded to learn from the lessons of many other countries, including our allies, regarding modifying the manner in which we pursue information on terrorism.
  5. You're never going to persuade everyone, but "all" you need is a public mandate (versus a private agenda) as reflected by Congressional support and polls. However, as long as you continue to create false or unrealistic expectations, while acting differently in secret, your own credibility will be undermined -- not only with the American public, but internationally. AND, ironically, give terrorist organizations more ammunition to use against us in the court of public opinion.

Or, of course, this (or any future) administration could just continue to do the same thing over and over again, expecting different results.

Editor's Note: When I wrote to Jerry Brown asking for permission to reprint this article, I told him it was, in my opinion, the best thing he's written this year. I have never seen anyone else refer to this idea of a "vulnerability index" to measure the perceived threat level within an organization, and it is a concept well worth communicating to your own organizations and/or clients.

Pay Attention To The Vulnerability Index
by Jerry Brown, APR

Pay attention to the Vulnerability Index if you're ever called on to handle crisis communications for your organization.

What's the Vulnerability Index? The number of people who feel vulnerable -- and the seriousness of the vulnerability they feel -- to whatever threat is posed by your organization's crisis.

Some examples to explain what I mean:

  • Last week I heard a journalist recently back from Afghanistan make the point that 600 people have been killed by terrorist attacks in the past year in Afghanistan, a country of several million people, while the murder rate in Washington, a city of 500,000, is 300 a year. Why are the 600 deaths in Afghanistan a bigger crisis than 300 murders in Washington? Because the randomness of the deaths in Afghanistan means more people feel threatened by them.
  • The sniper attacks in the Washington area two years ago raised the public fear factor far more than they raised the overall murder rate. Why? Everyone in or around the city felt vulnerable.
  • Cab drivers in Washington, or any other major city, pay closer attention to the murder rate than the average resident -- especially if they work late at night. They feel more vulnerable. If one or more cab drivers were murdered while on duty, that would generate news. If there were a series of such attacks, the city might be on edge. But the group most on edge would be other cab drivers because they would be the ones who felt most vulnerable.
  • Incidents like Columbine, Oklahoma City and September 11 trigger a strong emotional response that reaches well beyond the people directly involved. In fact, all of you know the incidents I'm referring to from those shorthand descriptions -- and many of you remember exactly where you were when you first heard about all three. Why? Because those kinds of incidents make all of us feel vulnerable -- even if we don't know anyone involved. Next time it could happen to us or someone we love.

Here's the bottom line. Pay attention to the Vulnerability Index if your organization is in crisis. The more people affected or who feel threatened -- and the more serious the threat they feel -- the higher the Vulnerability Index. The higher the Vulnerability Index, the more urgent the need to communicate what you're doing to fix the problem and make sure it doesn't happen again.

Jerry Brown is Senior Counselor, Public Relations, at Corporate Advocates,, author of A Practitioners Guide to Media Relations, and he also writes the Monday Morning Media Minute email newsletter, to which you can subscribe by writing to Jerry,

Global Partnership For Preparedness

Recent hurricanes striking Florida and the Gulf Coast clearly show that natural disasters are also economic disasters. This is largely because many businesses are inadequately prepared for them. It doesn't do much good to reopen the roads, or get the lights turned back on, if the businesses supporting the community remain closed.

Historically, small businesses have been unable to spare the personnel, resources or time to undertake planning efforts to ensure the viability of their businesses after a disaster. Yet small businesses represent 51 percent of this nation's GDP, and 90 percent of them report having no business continuity plans.

This is why the Global Partnership for Preparedness (GPP) today launched its landmark not-for-profit foundation, created to unite the private sector in a comprehensive effort to prepare the business world for both natural and manmade disasters, including terrorist attacks.

Business, especially small business, is the backbone of this nation," said Brent Woodworth, chair of the Board of Trustees of the Global Partnership for Preparedness. "To date, industry preparedness efforts have been fragmented. There are no industry standards for disaster preparedness, no efforts to share best practices, not even common terminology. GPP will bridge the gap between government agencies and private industry to put in place an all-inclusive plan to resolve these issues, which will effectively increase America's ability to keep functioning after disaster strikes."

The Global Partnership for Preparedness is also kicking off a Small Business Preparedness Campaign with three pilot programs, one which has already done work in Charlotte County, Fla., one that already scheduled initial programs in Charlotte, N.C. and one to be offered in Los Angeles, Calif.

More info at

Editor's Note: Thanks to David Shimberg of the Contingency Planning Association of the Carolinas for bringing this news to our attention.

Editor's Note: There aren't a lot of conferences I consider to be worth attending as a senior-level practitioner -- this is one of them.

Call For Papers For Disaster Management Conference

The Canadian Centre for Emergency Preparedness (CCEP) is calling for presentations for the 15th World Conference on Disaster Management (WCDM). The Conference will be held at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, Toronto, Canada from July 10-13, 2005.

WCDM is the premier annual event that addresses issues common to all aspects of disaster/emergency management. The conference program includes speakers from many parts of the world and provides excellent opportunities for training and networking among those in Emergency Planning/Management, Emergency Response, Disaster Management Research, Emergency Communications, Business Continuity, Risk Management, Security, IT, HR, Environmental, Community Planning, as well as for the organizations which supply and service these professions. The 2005 Conference is expected to attract over 1,500 delegates from Canada, the US and from around the world.

The Conference theme will be: "The Changing Face of Disaster Management - Defining the New Normal"

A major goal of the 15th WCDM is to offer a program that challenges delegates by examining traditional concepts and methods, and provides:

  • new ideas and approaches to problem solving
  • both leading edge and topical presentations
  • opportunities to connect with key individuals and organizations across the disaster management spectrum

Presentations should fall into one or more of the following categories:

  • Real Events/Lessons Learned
  • Emerging Trends in Disaster Management
  • The Human Element in Disaster Management
  • Technical Issues/Threats
  • Disaster Management Principles & Practices
  • Research and Development

Presentation abstracts must be submitted by December 4, 2004.

Go to to access the Call for Papers and to see a more detailed description of the program outline.


Attention PR Agencies, Media Trainers, And Professors!

Agencies and trainers: If you do not have your own media training manual, you might like the fact that you can add your own name to the cover of "Keeping the Wolves at Bay: A Media Training Manual" AND you can add material (e.g., company background info) inside. This customization is subject to ordering at least 20 copies of the manual (at a quantity discount).

Professors: The manual is now being used as a textbook in PR and related courses. Arrangements can be made to provide it at a discount price to your classes or for the publication to be sold through your campus bookstore.

Everyone else -- you can, of course, purchase the manual and other educational/training materials at

Second Opinion And Spot Consulting

While I love to have clients with a wide range of needs, I'm quite willing and happy to provide spot consulting on an hourly basis. It's not uncommon for organizations to want just a second opinion about a breaking issue, or a quick review of their existing crisis preparedness plans. I keep such consulting very simple from a business perspective -- hourly fees for engagements under 10 hours are paid by credit card. Call (626) 825-3838 or write to


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.


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