Costa Concordia, the luxury cruise ship that ran aground off the coast of Italy a few days ago, has created first-rate crisis not only for the ship’s owners, but also for the entire industry.
If the ship had a crisis plan to handle such an emergency, it sure didn’t work very well.
The panic and chaos that ensured when Costa Concordia began to turn on its side was exacerbated by a crew that seemed unsure of what to do. News media reports have now surfaced that the ship’s captain—who as of this writing is behind bars—waited more than an hour after the vessel hit a rock to issue an evacuation order.
Frustrated by the captain’s inaction, some crew members began helping terrified passengers get to lifeboats. However, a number of the crew reportedly left before all the passengers were safely evacuated. Even the captain allegedly abandoned ship before hundreds of his passengers escaped. Survivors have described the incident as “like something out of the Titanic.”
One would naturally assume that the chances of a disaster like this taking place in a modern ship cruising along in good weather near shore are pretty small, but one also would assume that should an accident occur, the captain and crew would be well trained and prepared to handle it and make sure passengers got off safely before fleeing for their own lives. Now, however, confidence in the entire industry is shaken.
Henry Kissinger once observed that “A problem ignored is a crisis invited.”
The problem for Costa Cruises, which owns the Costa Concordia, started long before the ship capsized. A thorough crisis plan and regular disaster drills for the crew would likely have resulted in more decisive action and an orderly evacuation, which may have saved lives and prevented injuries. A captain who failed to perform his duties due to incompetence, complacency or being incapacitated should have been one of crisis scenarios.
In fairness to Costa Cruises, it may have had a crisis plan and may also have routinely practiced various scenarios with crew members. But clearly the plan was inadequate and flawed because something went terribly wrong.
The only thing worse than not having a crisis plan is having one that is not communicated, reviewed or tested by those who ultimately will have to implement it.
You don’t have to own a luxury ship to need a crisis plan. Every business and agency, even small ones, should have a what-if plan that is regularly reviewed and updated. For example, if a hurricane, earthquake, tornado or fire wiped out your office building, would you have a back-up plan to minimize disruptions to your employees, clients or customers?
If you don’t have a plan to deal with these and other emergency situations, I recommend you take action rather than sitting back and hoping for the best. Get started on a crisis management plan this month—and when you’re finished, make sure your plan is communicated to employees so that know what to do and how to respond if a disaster strikes.
Don Beehler provides public relations consulting services to advertising agencies and businesses.