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

Crisis Manager Internet Newsletter about Crisis Management

© 2007 Jonathan Bernstein
Circulation: 4,000+
Estimated Readership: 15,000+


"I will start a chain of terrorism in the world, This will go down in history. Take out everyone there. Perfecto."

15-year-old Long Island high school student, writing in his journal about plans to massacre students at his high school on April 20, 2008, the anniversary of the Columbine tragedy. How ready is YOUR high school to detect and prevent such threats?


Editor's Note: You'll recall that I asked readers, in the last issue of the ezine, to send me examples of checklists we could all use to be alert and respond appropriately to potential threats of terrorism. I received several references, thank you, and this compilation by crisis communications consultant Joan Heller was, in my mind, particularly useful for those of us who are "crisis managers, whether we want to be or not."

Being Alert to the Signs of Terrorism
Compiled by Joan Heller

Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Americans have been urged to remain vigilant and to report suspicious activity.

But what does that mean? What activities should we consider suspicious? And how should we report it?

One of the lessons of September 11 is that the terrorists targeting America are deliberate and calculating in deciding where and when to strike. Terrorists conduct surveillance to determine a target's suitability for attack by assessing security and identifying weaknesses. Finally, they plan their attack at the point of greatest vulnerability. Because terrorists must conduct surveillance--often over a period of weeks, months, or even years--they are exposed to public view and we have our best chance to stop them before they can strike.

What to Watch For

Several sightings of the same suspicious person, vehicle, or activity, separated by time, distance, or direction,

  • Individuals who stay at bus or train stops for extended periods while buses and trains come and go,
  • Individuals who carry on long conversations on pay or cellular telephones,
  • Individuals who order food at a restaurant and leave before the food arrives or who order without eating,
  • Joggers who stand and stretch for an inordinate amount of time,
  • Individuals sitting in a parked car for an extended period of time,
  • Individuals who don't fit into the surroundings because their clothing is inappropriate for the season and location,
  • Individuals drawing pictures or taking notes in an area not normally of interest to tourists,
  • Individuals photographing security cameras, guard locations, or watching security drills,
  • Individuals who exhibit suspicious behavior, such as staring or quickly looking away from individuals or vehicles as they enter or leave facilities or parking areas,
  • Activities that could be considered a dry run--mapping, pacing routes, practicing scenarios alone or with others, casing facilities or timing traffic flow.
  • Individuals using binoculars or other vision-enhancing devices in a way that seems out of the ordinary.
  • Individuals who show an unusual interest in :
    • public utilities such as water treatment facilities and power plants,
    • large public gatherings such as sporting events, concerts and festivals,
    • transportation centers such as airports and bus stations,
    • government buildings or,
    • symbolic targets

  • Individuals asking unusual questions, particularly about security or procedures for the types of buildings and activities listed above.

At security checkpoints, terrorists may use aggressive surveillance techniques to determine the effectiveness of search procedures and to gauge the alertness and reaction of security personnel. They may make false phone threats, approach security checkpoints to ask for directions, or "innocently" attempt to smuggle contraband through security checkpoints. Given the terrorists' history of using vehicle bombs, Americans are being asked to watch for some possible clues:

  • Vehicles parked illegally or otherwise abandoned near office buildings or other public places,
  • Unexpected or unfamiliar delivery trucks,
  • Unfamiliar vehicles parked for long periods,
  • Vehicles containing unusual or suspicious parcels or material,
  • Vehicles arriving and being left behind at odd hours,
  • Substances leaking or spilling from vehicles.

Finally, as a precaution against planted bombs, it's important to keep an eye out for parcels, suitcases, backpacks or other items that have been abandoned in unusual locations, high traffic areas or near elevators. It is important not to move any item that seems suspicious. People should be moved away from the item and the police should be notified immediately.

Reporting an Emergency Situation

  • Remember that your safety is of the utmost importance.
  • If you encounter an emergency situation, do not rush in. In the case of an explosion, there may be a secondary explosive device that has not yet detonated. In fires as well as explosions, there may be hazardous materials present. Local police and fire departments have personnel who are specially trained to deal with these hazards and to preserve evidence at what may well be a crime scene.
  • Call 911 for help. Try not to use a cellular telephone to report an explosion. Cellular telephones have been used to trigger explosive devices.
  • Remain on the line with the 911 operator and carefully follow his or her instructions.
  • Provide the 911 operator with as much detail as you can. The information you provide will be continuously relayed to emergency personnel en route to the scene.
  • Location. The more exact you can be, the sooner emergency personnel can find you.
  • Nature of the incident. Was it an explosion, a fire, or some other type of emergency?
  • Victims. How many victims can you see (from a safe distance) and what is their condition?
  • Suspicious persons and vehicles. (See "Tips on Giving a Description.")
Reporting a Suspicious Incident

  • Again, your safety is top priority. If you witness what you believe to be a suspicious incident, don't take direction action, don't confront the person involved and don't reveal your suspicions.
  • Call 911 and provide the operator with as much detail as you can on:
    • The activity that made you suspicious. What exactly was the person doing?
    • The location. Exactly where was the person when he or she came to your attention?
    • Equipment. What kind of weapons, cameras or other equipment was the person carrying, if any?
    • People and vehicle (See "Tips on Giving a Description.")

Tips on Giving a Description

For a Person:

  • Sex
  • Race
  • Age (approximate)
  • Height (approximate, use 2 inch blocks)
  • Weight (approximate, use 10 lb. blocks)
  • Build (medium, heavyset, thin, etc.)
  • Hair (color, length, include facial hair)
  • Complexion (light, dark, ruddy, olive)
  • Eyes (color, glasses)
  • Peculiarities (scars, tattoos, missing limbs)
  • Clothing (from head to toe, style, defects)
  • Weapons (if any)
  • Method of escape (direction, vehicle, etc.)

For a Vehicle:

  • Year, make and model
  • Body type (2 door, 4 door, van, SUV, etc.)
  • Passengers (number of people in vehicle)
  • License Plate (most important)
  • Damage or anything unusual (logos, etc.)
  • Direction of Travel

Sources: U.S. Department of Homeland Security: Federal Emergency Management Agency and Transportation Safety Administration; Federal Bureau of Investigation. Joan Heller is both a crisis communications consultant and an adjunct professor at FEMA's National Training Center. Contact her at:

Editor's Note: As a geek who is often in the position of explaining how to use the latest in technology for crisis response purposes, I was delighted to be alerted to this outstanding article by Anne Sceia Klein, and welcome her to the pages of "Crisis Manager"!

Crisis Management: Fighting Fire with Fire
By Anne Sceia Klein

By the time you finish reading this sentence, were your company or institution to suddenly experience a major catastrophe, you could have already notified tens of thousands of employees, other stakeholders, and all of the major news media -- not only about the event, but also what actions your organization was taking that directly affect them and what they should do.

And if the organization on whose board you sit is not in position to turn that hypothetical into reality, perhaps it is time the directors and senior management sat down together and reviewed your crisis management plans with a view to updating them.

Since the advent of the 24/7 news cycle, organizations no longer have the luxury of spending hours gathering information and preparing statements for their employees and the press. When your organization is in crisis, you need to be able to reach and mobilize your constituents fast. More like immediately! Which means that you canŐt rely on yesterdayŐs technology and tactics. They may well hinder your organizationŐs ability to reach its audiences as quickly as you may need. Furthermore, counting on the news media to get your message to your key audiences can be slow and unreliable, while your message -- if it gets through at all -- will probably be incomplete and possibly incorrect.

Not so long ago, two to four hours used to be considered an adequate period of time in which to issue a PR statement or response. No more. Modern-day technology has killed the luxury of time. The Golden Hour for responding is now always "now."

At the Push of a Button

Fortunately that very same technology can also be the salvation of those organizations that make the effort to use the tools available to them. Call it fighting fire with fire, but there are Web sites and software programs that make it possible to send blast email, faxes, voice mail, and text messages (even all at the same time) virtually instantly to virtually anyone in the world. Newer tools include blogs, dark Web sites, microsites, intranets, wikis, listservs, podcasts, vodcasts, and others. Each can spring to life with your message practically at the push of a button. (See below for a glossary of these terms and tools.)

Call it "push" technology as opposed to "pull" technology. What that means is this: In a world of instant communications, you use technology to your advantage to push accurate, credible information as quickly and directly as possible to your myriad internal and external stakeholders instead of waiting for them to pull it from traditional newspapers, broadcast news outlets, and Web sites.

To respond effectively these days, communications professionals, senior management, lawyers, consultants, and even boards of directors need to clearly understand the publicŐs and the mediaŐs demand for speed and accuracy in communicating during a crisis. And they need to have a well-honed crisis communications management system in place that addresses those demands.

Advance Preparation

This means planning, creating, revising, and getting management and legal approvals for responses to pending or anticipated issues or incidents before they occur. It means preparing needed statements, news releases, graphics, sound bites, videos, etc. and formatting them in a state of readiness for the various Web sites and mobile devices. Then, when needed, you can launch the appropriate messages or responses and manage inquiries in a matter of minutes, even before emergency teams are fully mobilized. The technology and know-how to do all this already exists.

At the most basic level are services that enable you to send emails, text messages, faxes, or voicemail messages, or a combination of those, to one or more lists of recipients that the service enables you to compile and maintain. The advantages of these services are simplicity, speed, and low cost. The simplicity can be a disadvantage, though, because such systems are not as feature-rich as more sophisticated services.

More advanced are systems like the one the U.S. Coast Guard used during its mobilization and response to Hurricane Katrina. In addition to the messaging functions mentioned above, such systems incorporate preformatted Web sites that provide public and media access to up-to-the minute press releases, photos, and even video clips, and provide channels for response and inquiries. They also provide the means for internal communication so the response team can work quickly and collaboratively on authoring, approvals, distribution, and response management, no matter where the team members happen to be.

The system used by the Coast Guard is not a government venture. Rather it is a commercial product available to any organization that needs it. And because it uses a Web interface, you donŐt need an IT staff to operate it.

Mass ÔIn-TouchŐ Capability

One major corporation has already loaded its entire database of employees into this system so communicators, using text, voice, email, fax, and Web site communication, all integrated into one control center, can stay in touch with all 29,000 employees in case of a major event.

With hurricane season looming, about 20 universities or individual campuses are using this system to prepare to notify their students and campus community members of closures, traffic alternatives, etc. in the event of an impending major storm.

A big advantage of systems of this type is that they can be operated from any location that has Internet access. For example, the Coast Guard was able to maintain full operation of its communication function during Katrina, even though its New Orleans command center was destroyed.

Even more robust versions of this type of system are available that can link an entire worldwide organization, with numerous locations and multiple communicators, together in a comprehensive Internet-based crisis management and communications system.

No More Excuses

The important point to remember is this: Technology exists that can be used as an early-warning system to your employees, stakeholders, neighbors, customers, etc., in emergency situations. ThereŐs no longer any reason for administrators to claim they had no way of notifying their affected communities of impending or immediate disaster.

The same systems can and should be used to communicate with all of your key constituencies, such as government officials, regulators, neighbors, community leaders, customers, bankers, and financial exchanges. In this instant news world, they all demand and expect information. You canŐt afford to ignore them or let them get possible misinformation from other sources.

As a director serving on an organizationŐs board, you may well wonder what all of this has to do with you and your duties. The answer is simple. Wherever and whenever your organization faces potential legal liability or litigation, you as a director share in that responsibility. Therefore, it is essential that you be aware of all the technological advances that, used properly by management, can enhance your role as a good corporate citizen and lessen your risk of becoming a target of legal action for failing to maintain good communications during a crisis.

A Crisis Tools Glossary

Because new technologies breed new words at an ever-accelerating rate, here is a glossary of terms for directors who may need help speaking and understanding the new language of technocrats:

Blast email is a form of mass email that can easily send as many as 1 million emails per hour.

Blog, short for Web log, is a Web site where entries are written in chronological order and displayed in reverse chronological order. Blogs provide commentary or news on a particular subject such as food, politics, or local news; some function as more personal online diaries.

A corporate Web log is similar to a blog except that it is published and used by an organization instead of an individual to reach its organizational goals. CEO blogs serve a similar purpose.

A dark Web site is a communication portal held in reserve that can be quickly fed with content and "turned on" in response to a particular PR crisis.

An intranet is a private computer network that functions as a private version of the Internet to securely share part of an organization's information or operations with its employees.

Listserv, a registered trademark of L-Soft international Inc., is often used as a generic term for any email-based mailing list application.

A microsite, also known as a minisite or weblet, refers to an individual Web page or cluster of pages that are meant to function as an auxiliary supplement to a primary Web site. Typically they are used to add specialized editorial or commercial information.

A podcast is a specific type of webcast that, like radio, can mean either the content itself or the method by which it is distributed; the latter is also termed podcasting.

RSS is a family of web feed formats used to publish frequently updated content such as blog entries, news headlines or podcasts. RSS feeds may contain either a summary of content from an associated Web site or the full text.

SMS, or Short Message Service, also called text messaging, is a means of sending short messages to and from mobile phones.

Streaming media is multimedia that is continuously received by, and normally displayed to, the end-user while it is being delivered by the provider.

Vlogs are video web logs, similar to blogs except that they concentrate on videos rather than textual material.

Vidcast or vodcast is a term used for the online delivery of on demand video clip content.

Web feeds allow software programs to check for updates published on a Web site and/or links to content on a Web site. Web feeds are used by the weblog community to share the latest entries' headlines or their full text, and even attached multimedia files.

Web syndication is a form of syndication in which a section of a Web site is made available for other sites to use.

Wiki (from the Hawaiian for quick) is an online resource that allows users to add and edit content collectively.

Anne Sceia Klein is the founder and president of Anne Klein & Associates, a national public relations counseling firm based in the Philadelphia region ( With 40 years of PR and marketing communications experience in corporations, financial institutions, not-for-profit organizations, and agencies, she is a nationally recognized public relations counselor and strategic planner. She can be contacted at

Reprinted with permission from Anne Sceia Klein from the July 2007 Directors & Boards e-Briefing (

Are You Linked In?

I consider LinkedIn,, to be one of the most powerful networking tools available today. With a large extended network, crisis managers can find the right assistance in a hurry, when they need it.

I'd love to network with any "Crisis Manager" readers who are already part of LinkedIn or sign up for it. My LinkedIn page is at:

or you can just enter my name at the LinkedIn home page. Then invite me to link with you!


Keeping The Wolves At Bay

Keeping the Wolves at Bay (available in print and PDF formats) remains, to my knowledge, the only commercially published media training manual in the world. It can be purchased at, and its pages can be modified to make it YOUR "name brand" media training manual if you are an agency or organization that frequently conducts training. If the latter subject is of interest to you, write to: $25 in hard copy, spiral bound/card stock cover and $10 as a printable PDF file.

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.

Unless due to willful tortuous misconduct or gross negligence, Jonathan Bernstein and Bernstein Crisis Management shall have no liability in tort, contract, or otherwise (and as permitted by law, product liability), to the user and/or any third party.

Under no circumstance shall Bernstein Crisis Management or Jonathan Bernstein be liable to the user and/or any third party for any lost profits or lost opportunity, indirect, special, consequential, incidental, or punitive damages whatsoever, even if Bernstein Crisis Management or Jonathan Bernstein has been advised of the possibility of such damages.

A service of this newsletter is to provide news summaries and/or snippets to readers. In such instances articles and/or snippets will be reprinted as they are received from the originating party or as they are displayed on the originating website or in the original article. As we do not write the news, we merely point readers to it, under no circumstance shall Bernstein Crisis Management or Jonathan Bernstein be liable to the user and/or any third party for any lost profits or lost opportunity, indirect, special, consequential, incidental, or punitive damages whatsoever due to the distribution of said news articles or snippets that lead readers to a full article on a news service's website, even if Bernstein Crisis Management or Jonathan Bernstein has been advised of the possibility of such damages. Authors of the original news story and their publications shall be exclusively held liable. Any corrections to news stories are not mandatory and shall be printed at the discretion of the list moderator after evaluation on a case-by-case basis.


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