Monday, July 19, 2010

What is the key to most disasters?

Seth Borenstein is an Associated Press reporter and could very easily be a spokesperson for the Institute for Crisis Management.

He researched and wrote a story that appeared in Sunday newspapers July 18. In our local newspaper –The Courier-Journal – the headline was “Key to most disasters? Human hubris”

The gist of his story was that most calamities follow ample warnings that are ignored, including the on-going BP crude oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. He recalled how the 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger explosion and the 2003 Shuttle Columbia crash were all preceded by multiple warnings that something was going wrong. And don't forget Massey Energy's Big Branch Coal Mine disaster.

Even BP’s 2005 Texas City, TX refinery explosion had multiple warnings that trouble was looming.

University of California-Berkley engineering professor Bob Bea says disasters do not happen because of what he calls “an evil empire,” instead, he says, “Its hubris, arrogance and indolence.”

If you read this blog semi-regularly, or check out our annual ICM Crisis Report, or even hear me speak, you know we maintain that two-thirds of all crises are preventable and I believe that many of the other one-third can also be avoided, if someone in the organization is paying attention, watching for signs of trouble and willing to do or say something about it.

Borenstein concluded in his article there is a “belief by those in charge that they are the experts, that they know what they’re doing is safe. Add to that the human weaknesses of avoidance, greed and sloppiness, say academics who study disasters.”

Rutgers University Professor Lee Clark, author of the book Worst Cases points out that safety costs money, or as we say, crisis prevention requires some time and costs some money, and as Clark observes, “you can’t get anybody to listen. We’re very reactive about disasters in the United States.”

It never ceases to amaze me how intelligent, successful and highly paid executives, managers and business owners, will ignore crisis management planning, training and prevention, but not hesitate to spend way too much money to fix a problem that could have been avoided for a lot less.

Motivational Speaker Scott McKain says, “It’s easier to Prepare and Prevent than to Repair and Repent.” My version is simply, “It is cheaper to prepare and prevent than to pay to repair and repent!”

It is so relatively easy and inexpensive to identify potential risks or crises in your organization, and prepare to prevent as many as possible and better manage those that cannot be avoided. The alternative is very expensive.

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