Thursday, August 03, 2006

When Crisis Plans Fail 

There are times when crisis plans and controlled communications break down. I have written that often enough. Here is an example of a time and place where it happened and the reasons why. It is a brilliantly written, moment by moment replay of 9/11 from the North American Aerospace Defense Command center that was supposed to protect our skies from hijackers and attackers. The piece includes the original voice tapes taken as the disaster unfolded.

No one knew what the hell was going on. Bits and pieces of information were spilling in from every direction, some accurate, much of it not. The major in charge was struggling to remain in control while the center was completely blind, unable to tell interceptor pilots where to fly.

The only sad part of the story is the apparent attempt by generals at the end to "spin" it in order not to make the Air Force look bad. Otherwise, one is proud of these men who rode out one of the most frightening episodes in modern US history.

This crisis had all the characteristics of one beyond reach. It was distant from the command center. Communications were poor because the hijackers had turned off airplane beacons. Information was partial. It unfolded so quickly no one had time to figure out what was happening. It played out on global television. Union Carbide's disaster at Bhopal, India was the same type.

So, listen to crisis communications experts and make disaster plans, but know in your mind that there are times when they will be useless.


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