The 3 Types Of Crisis

Sections of this topic

    Crises can be divided into three categories:

    1. Creeping Crises – foreshadowed by a series of events that decision makers don’t view as part of a pattern.

    2. Slow-Burn Crises – some advance warning, before the situation has caused any actual damage.

    3. Sudden Crises – damage has already occurred and will get worse the longer it takes to respond.

    It is not uncommon for what seems to be a sudden crisis to have actually, first, been a creeping crisis that was not detected. Appropriate measures, early in the process, can often prevent or, at least, minimize the damage from slow-burn and sudden crises.

    Below are some examples from the healthcare industry. From this, readers in other industries should be able to develop comparable lists.

    1. Creeping Crises

    • Lack of a rumor-control system, resulting in damaging rumors.
    • Inadequate preparation for partial or complete business interruption.
    • Inadequate steps to protect life and property in the event of emergencies.
    • Inadequate two-way communication with all audiences, internal and external.

    2. Slow-Burn Crises

    • Internet activism
    • Most lawsuits.
    • Most discrimination complaints.
    • Company reputation
    • Lack of regulatory compliance – safety, immigration, environment, hiring, permits, etc.
    • Major operational decisions that may distress any important audience, internal or external.
    • Local/state/national governmental actions that negatively impact operations.
    • Official/governmental investigations involving your healthcare organization and/or any of its employees.
    • Labor unrest.
    • Sudden management changes – voluntary or involuntary.
    • Marketing misrepresentation.

    3. Sudden Crises

    • Patient death – Your healthcare organization perceived to be liable in some way.
    • Patient condition worsened – Your healthcare organization perceived to be liable in some way.
    • Serious on-site accident.
    • Insane/dangerous behavior by anyone at a location controlled by your healthcare organization.
    • Criminal activity at a company site and/or committed by company employees.
    • Lawsuits with no advance notice or clue whatsoever.
    • Natural disasters.
    • Loss of workplace/business interruption (for any reason).
    • Fires.
    • Perceptions of significant impropriety that damage reputation and/or result in legal liability, e.g., publicized involvement of company employee in a group or activity perceived to be a threat to the U.S. government or society; inappropriate comments by a “loose cannon;” business activities not officially authorized by management.

    Typically, reviewing a list like this triggers thoughts of other situations that need to be addressed during the crisis planning process. Know what constitutes a creeping, slow-burn or sudden crisis for your organization and have plans in place to address them!

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    [Jonathan Bernstein is president of Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc., an international crisis management consultancy, author of Manager’s Guide to Crisis Management and Keeping the Wolves at Bay – Media Training. Erik Bernstein is vice president for the firm and also editor of its newsletter, Crisis Manager]

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