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Report into BAA’s crisis preparedness is a must-read for reputation protection

March 25, 2011 Jonathan Hemus

The report into Heathrow’s crisis management response to pre-Chrismas snow has just been published.  It makes me weep.

Organisations like BAA should not require a major crisis to introduce professional, thorough and up to date crisis management processes.  And if these were not in place for an organisation at the very hub of the UK’s infrastructure, then how many other businesses are operating without the  requisite crisis preparedness?

Key observations and recommendations in the report include:

The potential impact of bad weather was not fully anticipated – avoid this by conducting a thorough reputational risk assessment which considers the worst case rather than hopes for the best

There was a failure of communication within BAA and with the airlines – work out who your “partners” would be in a crisis and meet with them beforehand to agree how your crisis communication can be clear, consistent and aligned

Crisis management procedures were not clear and required simplification –  first off, ensure that crisis management procedures exist and then audit them for clarity and simplicity.  Brief them in and test them with desktop exercises and then simulations

Messages to passengers were confused and contradictory – make sure you develop communication channels and approval procedures beforehand.  Align messaging with those of your partners.

There was inadequate resource planning – crises demand extraordinary amounts of human resource.  Anticpate this and have contingencies in place to add additional people to your normal team.

There was insufficient testing and training of the crisis management processes and team – centuries of experience have shown that being taught a skill and then practising it leads to better performance.  Crisis communication is no different

BAA has committed £50 million to implement the recommendations contained in this report.  Its chief executive, Colin Matthews, called it “a pivotal moment for the airport and its reputation”.

But BAA doesn’t really need to read this report – its painful experience in December would have been catayst enough for a changed approach to crisis communication.

This report is much more relevant to all those organisations who have not suffered a crisis in the last couple of years.  So, here’s my heartfelt request: please read the BAA report; please act on it.

There’ll be a number of businesses who fail to do so and we’ll be reading the reports outlining their crisis management learnings in a year’s time.  A copy and paste of the BAA version should probably do the trick.

Jonathan Hemus

  • Jonathan Hemus, Insignia Communications
  • Follow Jonathan on Twitter @jhemusinsignia

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