Tag Archives: crisis

Crisis or disaster? IT has helped blur the language

Guest blogger and Australian crisis researcher and practitioner, Tony Jaques, makes some valid points about the language of organisational crisis.


It’s time business stopped misusing the word disaster, and the IT industry needs to take a good share of the blame.

Most recently, an April post on the Hewlett Packard Insights blog, declared: “In general, anything that significantly impairs day to day work can be considered a disaster.”

The reality is, No, it can’t!

Writer Wayne Rash went on to say: “It’s worth noting that a disaster in this (IT) context does not necessarily mean widespread destruction, loss of life, or general catastrophe. What a disaster means to you is defined by what interferes with your operations to the point that it endangers your business and thus requires a disaster recovery response.”

What Mr Rash is saying just might, maybe make sense in the IT world where such language is common, but it’s bleeding into general management usage, and that’s a big problem.

Of course the IT industry can’t take all the blame for devaluing the word disaster. Contrary to typical news media headlines, losing a crucial football match is not a disaster, nor is a temporary fall in a company’s share price. In fact, in recent times, the word ‘disaster’ has progressed from being devalued to being entirely trivialised.

A celebrity posting an unwise twitter message is now labelled as a ‘PR disaster’ or a ‘social media disaster,’ while a Hollywood star choosing the wrong dress for a red-carpet event becomes a ‘fashion disaster.’

This language is genuinely unhelpful and distracts attention from serious matters of real concern. Consider by contrast the United Nations definition of a disaster as: “A serious disruption of the functioning of a society, causing widespread human, material or environmental losses and exceeding the coping capacities of the affected communities and government.” Or within a business context, the Dutch crisis experts Arjen Boin and Paul ’t Hart say: “A disaster is a crisis with a devastating ending.” Anything less just doesn’t quality.

While there is clearly a massive difference between a pop culture ‘disaster’ and a true societal or organisational disaster, contamination of broader business language by misuse of the word has serious consequences for issue and crisis managers.

A key consequence arises from the widespread belief in the IT world that the answer to just about every such problem is a disaster recovery plan. As Mr Rash put it: “A disaster recovery response is the set of actions your organisation must take to continue operations in the face of an unforeseen event.”

Business continuity and operational recovery are vital, but they are just one tactical element of an organisation’s crisis management process. The modern approach to crisis management recognises that it should encompass crisis preparedness and prevention; crisis response; and post-crisis management (of which operational recovery is one part). And that it applies to every type of crisis – financial, organisational, legal, political and reputational, not just operational.

We all love IT and the wonders the digital world can bring to issue and crisis management. But any organisation which says: “We have a great business continuity plan so we are crisis- prepared” is in line for a very big and very costly surprise.

Tony Jaques established Issue Outcomes in 1997 as a provider of management training and consulting services. He worked for more than 20 years in Corporate Issue and Crisis Management, mainly in Asia-Pacific, and served two terms as a Director on the Board of the Issue Management Council, of Leesburg, Virginia.

Tony previously published this blog on May 1, 2017.







The 5C rule does not include Cold and Callous: Dreamworld’s crisis communication errors

By Dr Lyn McDonald

Following the tragedy that cost four lives at Dreamworld on October 24, 2016, when the Thunder River Rapids ride malfunctioned, roller coasterDreamworld owners, Ardent Leisure, have been accused of failed crisis communication. Even Ardent Leisure CEO, Deborah Thomas, stated that she could have better handled the communication.

So what went wrong? The “5C rule” of crisis communication states that all communication – written, verbal, visual – must meet five criteria: care, commitment, consistency and coherence, and clarity.

  • Care: the company must show that it cares about what happened and empathizes with those most deeply affected, in this case the families of those who died, then those who were traumatized: witnesses, first responders and emergency services, among them Dreamworld staff.
  • Commitment to resolve the problem, find its cause and minimize any chances of a recurrence.
  • Consistency and Coherence, ensuring that all spokespeople and all written communication give the same message.
  • Clarity: Problems are explained in terms that are easy to understand by all stakeholders, and are free from jargon and scientific language.

The focus here is on the main crisis communication breach – minimal demonstrated care.

Initial communication

In a brief televised statement on the afternoon of the tragedy (Tuesday October 25) Dreamworld CEO, Craig Davidson’s statement opened with confirmation of the deaths, provided operational details (park closure, working with authorities to establish facts) followed by a statement of Dreamworld’s shock and sadness, finishing with “our hearts and thoughts go to families involved and their loved ones.”


  • In the initial statement, those most deeply impacted – the families of those killed – were mentioned last, not first. No comment was made about the traumatized witnesses and first responders, including Dreamworld staff, although this was remedied in later statements.
  • Company statements refer to the tragedy as “the incident”, as if to downplay its severity.
  • The perceived lack of care was compounded by proposed plans to partially re-open Dreamworld three days after the “incident.” Even though it was for a memorial service, it was viewed as showing a lack of respect for those who died and their families.
  • This re-opening had not been checked with the police who raised concerns about the on-site forensic investigations. The company’s back down was an embarrassment.
  • At Ardent’s Annual General Meeting on October 26, Ms Thomas was caught stating that she had reached out to the bereaved families offering assistance. This was immediately disputed by a TV news reporter who had a member of one affected family listening in on the phone. Credibility was lost.
  • At the AGM, Ms Thomas was asked about the tragedy’s impact on the bottom line. Unfortunately, she chose to answer this question. When people have been killed or injured, it is never wise to discuss the likely cost to the company.
  • At this AGM, rather than delay approval of Ms Thomas’ $800,000+ bonus package for performance, the tactless decision was made to approve it.

Overall, the Dreamworld/Ardent response indicates a lack of crisis preparation – despite an earlier accident in April this year when a man fell from Dreamworld’s Rocky Hollow Log Ride and nearly drowned. Specifically, there seemed to be:

  • Over-concern about the legal risk of implying liability, despite the obvious fact that when your ride has killed four people, you cannot escape liability.
  • No pre-prepared crisis statements incorporating important key messages such as care and safety – e.g., “the safety of our patrons is of utmost importance to us” – to minimize reputation damage.
  • No pre-prepared web site with fact sheets, including a fact sheet detailing the safety record and ride maintenance.
  • For Ardent Leisure, no existing media page.

It is no wonder this crisis has been called potentially “the PR fail of the year.”

Dr Lyn McDonald’s PhD and research focused on stakeholder response to crisis communication. Currently, she holds an Adjunct position with the Australian Centre for Sustainable Business and Development at the University of Southern Queensland.