Since evidence of the recent security breach at Sony was discovered on 20th April, Sony have hesitated and stumbled over their communications with the Police and their own customers. According to a BBC News report this morning (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-13304551) there is no evidence of personal information or credit card data being misued but Sony has shut down a website displaying some data belonging to American customers. The Sony crisis has now been going on for 20 days, and many customers are still unsure of when the crisis might end!
How long can a crisis last?
Crises come in all shapes and sizes, some are sudden shocks and some seems to accumulate over time; they can be over quickly or can last for a very long time. In 2005 the Buncefield Oil Depot explosion and fire was a crisis which lasted different periods of time for each different party involved; this is quite common and provides a good example of the different perspectives.
For members of the public, the crisis lasted a few days as black smoke billowed out and closed a section of the M1 for a short time. For local residents in the Hemel Hempsted area, property damage, fear and anger lasted for weeks and months as they faced uncertainty about why the depot had exploded and whether it would be rebuilt. For the organisations based at the industrial estate alongside the oil depot, the crisis lasted months as some of them failed and they too faced uncertainty about the future security of the site. For the Hertfordshire Fire & Rescue Service and the Hertfordshire County Council the crisis lasted for many months as the irs continued to burn and the social and planning implications of the event became clearer. For the the fuel companies involved, BP and Total, the crises also continued for many months as hey struggled with the ongoing Government inquirey and restructured their resources. In many ways the crisis has yet to be fully resolved. Although a full report was released about the explosion and fire, when you drive up to the site on Cherry Tree Road it’s a desolate forgotten waste land, cordoned off by temporary fencing.
Other examples are provided by the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill last year and the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan, both of which will continue to affect communities and organisations for many years.
How do you know when a crisis is over?
If you talk to some people in the NHS hey would argue that the crisis is never over, they seem to be in constant crisis! However luckily for most organisations this is not the case and most people can distinctly remember the moment when they realised that business as usual rules no longer applied, that the situation has changed and that this was crisis….so how do you know when a crisis is over?
The end of a crisis is usually not as sudden as its beginning. The urgency of meetings and decisions seems to slowly fade, funding that was available is reallocated to more urgent projects, and the executive board don’t seem as interested in crisis updates or planning.
Perhaps the NHS staff in question are right, perhaps we are all always in a state of crisis. Some from smaller organisations have also commented that they are always in a state of crisis, either struggling because they are doing poorly or struggling because things are going so well that they need to keep up and are desperately trying to maintain momentum!
If this is the case then perhaps, as the business world continues to increase in complexity, we need to ask ourselves why our business as usual and crisis methods are different? and whether crisis tools and structures could help during business as usual?