At IATA’s recent Crisis Comms seminar in Frankfurt, I had the opportunity to stress how important it is to be “prepared for the long run”.
An airline or organisation will typically prepare for the immediate response to an accident or major incident. As these are sudden, unexpected, violent and traumatic events, they trigger a stress and emotion-fraught tsunami of demands from all quarters for instant responses, actions, answers and information - some of which you cannot provide.
From a Comms’ perspective, the story will eventually be overtaken and move off newspapers’ front pages to the inside pages, and even disappear altogether, which is in the end what you want to achieve.
But in order to reach that point, you have to make sure that you do all the “right things” and provide all the necessary support to the relatives and families of the affected ones. In parallel, you must communicate and support all other stakeholders affected - to greater or lesser extents - by the tragedy. No-one should be given reason to complain in public about the way you treat them.
A tragedy involving lost lives does indeed not end after a few days or even weeks. There will be an official accident investigation, which may take up to several years to be complete. Depending on the legal code of the country in which an accident occurs, there may be criminal prosecutions. And after that, there are civil lawsuits for damages, which may take up to ten years or longer.
So, while the external world will most probably have moved on, within your organisation, you will continually be thrust back into the vortex-like accident funnel, re-connecting you with the tragedy, especially as it does not stop for those directly affected for which you have to care.
What happened cannot go away. It is now part of your history and you will have to deal with it for years to come. You will have to mentally switch back and forth between a normal public environment, which has “forgotten” what occurred, and the tragedy - in and out of the “accident funnel”. You have to be prepared – mentally above all – to be in the funnel for the long run.