Snow brings out best and worst of crisis management

Snow brings out best and worst of crisis management

Strange how we’re all thrown into the grip of a crisis just because of a decent fall of snow.

BA heralded that it was managing its own issues at Heathrow with the help of bottles of water, blankets, and free wi-fi. Free wi-fi? Are they not in the service business?

Safety, of course, is the main priority and rightly so, but it seems BA made a sorry mess of the simple things of how to manage a crisis. Even BA chief executive Willie Walsh admitted the company had not done enough to communicate with passengers at Heathrow about their flights, though this now seems to have been rectified through BA’s use of mobile apps.

Despite the backlash from the Heathrow crisis, Colin Matthews, chief executive of airport operator BAA, came across slightly more credibly, using his interview on BBC Radio 4 to firstly apologise to customers for the disruption, explain the reasons for the delays, say what BAA was doing about the problem and acknowledging that lessons would have to be learned.

As I write, Colin Matthews remains under fire from the media, but if anything showed the value of media training in crisis management it was his more compassionate and transparent comments which deflected the worst of the journalists’ venom during his appearances in front of the media.

Nearer home, the North West has slipped and slithered through the worst snow in recent memory despite no gritting of roads in large areas as the worst blizzards arrived.

For some, the journey home became an overnight stay in hotels. Individuals had to make decisions – to walk, to try and get a taxi, or to stay overnight.

For myself, my journey home from our annual Christmas celebrations took a surprising twist as I shared a taxi home with people I’d never met before and befriended someone who has been in touch. We’re planning to meet again because we got on so well…in a crisis.

For those whose very role is to manage such a crisis and keep public transport and essential services running, this is the test. Can they mobilise employees and deliver a service when we need it most?

A week of severe weather warnings was enough preparation for the essential services, surely? Coming on the back of two cold winters, why aren’t our local authorities more prepared?

But even if they can’t deliver, for whatever reason, keeping a confused public informed of what is happening, whether it is buses, planes, trains, emergency services, refuse, or mail deliveries, is critical. Even with all our new communications channels, communication was still poor in many cases. Can we have some more information please?

Written by Paul Tustin, at Freshfield

For more information, please contact Paul or the Freshfield team on 01772 888400.

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