Crisis and Crisis Management
The study of crisis and crisis management is a very vibrant field within public relations. There is a strong imperative for understanding crises and crisis management. All organizations should realize they are vulnerable to crises so they must prepare for the eventuality. Once management realizes crises are possible, it must grapple with what a crisis is and what constitutes crisis management.
A crisis can be defined as "an unpredictable, major threat that can have a negative effect on the organization, industry, or stakeholders" (Coombs, 1999, p. 2). This definition is derived from a synthesis of other crisis definitions and presents the three critical features of a crisis. First, a crisis cannot be predicted but it can be expected. Crisis managers know a crisis will hit but cannot say exactly when-a crisis is unpredictable. Second, a major threat has the potential to disrupt organizational operations in some way.
A crisis might close a production line or require inventorying the return of defective products. This does not mean operations are always disrupted, just that the potential exists. Quick actions by the crisis management team can prevent the crisis from fulfilling its disruptive potential. Thierry Pauchant and Ian Mitroff (1992) called smaller problems "incidents." Incidents are fairly easy to cope with and will not disrupt the organizational routine. Third, the crisis can threaten the organization, the industry, or the stakeholders. The crisis can harm any or all three of these entities. Consider an explosion at a petroleum processing facility that kills three workers. The organization may be shut down for repairs and loss of production time. The safety of the entire industry may come under scrutiny because of the publicity and investigation surrounding a high-profile accident. Nearby residents may have been evacuated after the explosion as a precaution against...