Good start, bad finish for TSA’s crisis management
If you haven’t heard about the latest TSA debacle, the basics are that 24-year-old Olajide Oluwaseun was able to penetrate airport security at New York’s JFK International, including federal checkpoints, and board a Virgin America flight to LAX using an expired boarding pass belonging to somebody else. Although he was caught by Virgin staff in the air, he was not detained at his destination, and only days later was caught again attempting to board a Delta flight bound for Atlanta, at which point he was arrested by the FBI.
Obviously, it’s embarrassing for the TSA to have it once again be proven that its much-touted security checkpoints can be breached with little more than expired boarding passes with no ID to match, but the organization actually came a hair’s width from completing a solid crisis management move before committing a major no-no.
Lucien G. Canton did a great job of describing the situation in a post on his “Canton on Emergency Management” blog:
One could blog for several days on all the things that went wrong but I’m always more interested in how organizations respond to mistakes than in the mistake itself. In this case, TSA freely admits that “…TSA did not properly authenticate the passenger’s documentation.” They further promise, “…disciplinary action is being considered for the security officers involved and all appropriate actions will be taken.”
Accepting responsibility for your mistake and promising corrective action is always a good crisis communication move. However, TSA then proceeds to blow it by trying to minimize the problem by saying, “…it’s important to note that this individual received the same thorough physical screening as other passengers, including being screened by advanced imaging technology…” In other words, “we screwed up but it didn’t really matter.”
That’s the last message you want to send to a wary and sensitive public.
Now, think of this situation in terms of your own business. Would you be ready to respond if you woke up to publicly humiliating information about your company printed on the front page of the Los Angeles Times?
The best way to defend is to be prepared, so get that crisis response planning in gear.
For more resources, see the Free Management Library topic: Crisis Management
[Jonathan Bernstein is president of Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc. , an international crisis management consultancy, and author of Keeping the Wolves at Bay – Media Training.]