Soma Tragedy Highlights Importance Of Crisis Management Training and Planning

May 20, 2014 by Sophie Hunt

I defy anyone not to moved by the horrific scenes at Soma following last week’s tragedy.  Already described as Turkey’s worst ever mining disaster, the crisis is a shocking reminder of just how quickly things can go wrong. It also reinforces why safety has to be front of mind at all times and the importance of crisis management training and planning.

As other organisations look on with sympathy (but also with concern that they could find themselves at the heart of a similar crisis), what can they do to prevent or effectively respond to a major incident?

Here are three key areas for them to consider:

1) Develop and live a crisis resilient culture

There is  speculation that there were issues with safety at Soma and that these were known about before the incident. Some even say that warnings were ignored.

The culture and working practices at your organisation will directly affect how likely you are to suffer a crisis. Talk quality, but make cuts to your quality department and product recalls are more likely. Espouse safety, but prioritise cost when tough decisions have to be made and the risk of accidents increases. In crisis management, you often reap what you sow.

2) Plan and train so you can respond quickly and confidently

When a crisis occurs, organisations must be able to respond quickly and take control of the situation as best they can. Time is of the essence and evidence shows that it’s the actions taken in the first few hours after an incident that will shape and influence long term perceptions.

Speed is also key when it comes to communicating about an incident. In today’s 24 hour media society, you can guarantee the world will be watching, or tweeting about, the affected organisation’s every move within seconds. That’s why it’s vital the right messages are sent out from the start and people are given as much accurate information as possible.

The onset of a crisis is not the time to create your crisis management plan. Your crisis management team needs to be in place and geared up to respond appropriately and immediately to any situation. Plan now or expect to be playing an unwinnable game of catch up when the crisis strikes.

3) Identify and train your crisis communicators

Empathy is vital in a crisis and must be demonstrated by anyone talking to employees, families, the media or customers. As Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his adviser Yusuf Yerkel discovered, when you don’t behave with empathy, the backlash is unsurprisingly fierce.

Always remember to focus on the human impact of your crisis NOT on the problems it is causing you or your organisation (as Tony Hayward’s words “I want my life back” so memorably illustrated).

Crisis media training for your spokespeople and crisis management exercises and training for others required to communicate in a crisis are essential: you cannot afford to enter a crisis with untried, untrained, untested communicators.

Whilst nobody can predict the future, organisations that have considered and planned for potential reputational risks will be better placed when it comes to crisis handling. Equally, creating a culture where safety is paramount and embedding it within an organisation via training and operational best practice, will help mitigate risk.

As Soma shows, horrific events do occur unexpectedly. It’s important that organisations learn from this tragedy,  review their safety culture to reduce the likelihood of future incidents, and embrace crisis management training and planning to respond professionally should the worst happen.

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