Every organisation is vulnerable to crisis. Awareness and preparedness for prevention of crisis plays an important role in minimizing its impact and fatalities. This IFATCA Crisis Management Guidance Material aims to assist Members Associations in successfully preparing themselves to face a crisis event.
What would you find here?
- Definition of emergency, crisis and disaster
- Crisis management in ATM: contingency planning, risk assessments
- Resilience engineering approach elements to enhance crisis management
- Elements and principles for a better crisis communication
- References and supporting documentation
CRISIS. What Crisis?
In ATM we can find different types of disruptions. A clear distinction should be made between emergencies, crises and disasters in order to develop and provide appropriate response plans. However, what may begin as a small routine emergency may turn into a major crisis or a major disaster. Conversely, not all emergencies end up being a crisis. It would all depend on the timing, nature and surrounding context of the event. This suggests that results and coping mechanisms with major events are dynamic and in a state of mutual construction (E.P. Borodzicz, 2005).
are “unforeseen but predictable, narrow-scope incidents that occur” (Perry and Lindell, 2006) In ATM, emergencies represent situations of danger following predictable patterns that can be handled with normal existing procedures, ideally laid down in any management plan, and manageable under known OPS framework. Some examples could be: engine failure, icing, pressurization problems, transponder failure, radio communication failure, etc.
are situations “which must be urgently dealt with under conditions of uncertainty “ (Rosenthal, Boin and Comfort, 2001). The response may appear to be unclear since they do confront ATM managers with large quantities of different informations. Rather than the management of a single entity, a crisis constitutes a series of events (Heinzen, 1996). Usually, crisis have a major political and media implications.
imply loss of life and severe, long-term damage to property and infrastructure. “Disasters do not cause effects. The effects are what we call disaster” (Dombrowsky, 1995).
IFATCA's definition of crisis
“State of inability to provide air navigation service at required level, affecting system or personnel, following an unusual or unforeseen situation” (WP 93 - Sofia, Bulgaria, 2015) Crisis may occur in a number of different contexts, making comparisons very difficult. Nevertheless, there are 3 elements common to most crisis:
- A threat to the organisation
- The element of surprise
- A short decision time
Following ICAO Crisis Management Framework Document1 some scenarios that may lead to aviation crisis are:
- Volcanic ashes
- Nuclear event
- Armed conflict
- Hazardous chemicals event
- Security threats (terrorism)
- Airborne spread of diseases/pandemic
- Major failure of ATM system
- Industrial action
- Cyber attack
- Heavy meteorological situation
- Threats from space (space debris, space weather)
- Shortage of fuel
1 ICAO. (2014). Crisis Management Framework Document (EUR Doc 031).
Can you prepare for a crisis?
YES, OF COURSE YOU CAN!
Crisis management involves identifying an emergency or a crisis, planning a response and confronting and resolving either of them in order for normal operations to be resumed. It is of utmost importance learning from it to better confront other crisis situations in the future. Regardless of everyone’s good intentions and the low probability and expectation of a crisis event, Member Associations should get ready with the worst scenario in mind. As it has been argued, not all disruptions have to lead to a crisis situation. In fact, most of them are handled with existing operational procedures (e.g. most emergencies, degraded system situations). A robust contingency plan and risk assessment process would help in dealing with the vast majority of disruptions.
- Contingency planning involves setting the policies and procedures which will guide an organisation in case of overlooked, possible emergencies. This can include documentation such as guidelines or activities such as simulated exercises in order to be better prepared. According to ICAO Annex 11 "air traffic authorities shall develop and promulgate contingency plans for implementation in the event of disruption, or potential disruption, of air traffic services and related supporting services in the air space for which they are responsible for the provision of such services." (ICAO Annex 11, Chapter 2.30). ICAO Annex 11, Attachment D (Material Related to Contigency Planning) describes basic solutions to be considered after a crisis has occurred.
- Risk assessment identifies and describes potential threats and estimates the likelihood and consequences of the occurrence and acceptability of the risk. Different situations are gathered into different groups on the base of their probablitity of occurrence and their potential consequences. This matrix leads to cost benefit analysis, determination of acceptable risks and investment into risk mitigation measures.
- While contingency plans and risks management are strategic, Crisis Management is concerned with responding to, managing and recovering from unforeseen events. Beforehand preparation is of utmost importance.
MANAGING CRISIS SITUATIONS: Phases and Methods
Phases in ATM Crisis Management2 subject to be applied at different levels (sub-regional, regional, national or international) are:
2 IFATCA WP No. 93, Sofia, Bulgaria, 2015.
Contingency plans and risk assessments are essential to prepare for and cope with events of disruption.
In this phase crisis is handled in accordance with published and trained plans.
Debriefing with all parties involved is a must in order to evaluate and learn. Outputs of the evaluation should be incorporated into contingency plans.
The OCIR method:
3 IFATCA WP No. 93, Sofia, Bulgaria, 2015.
The local contingency plan is put into operation. This should include, but is not limited to actions related to contingency, staffing, inform internal and external stakeholders and perform risk analysis, all on a local level. The main purpose of the operating phase is to continue the safe and orderly flow of traffic. This is the most important and continuing step in the OCIR model and mandatory to handle a crisis situation. The three following steps are more in-depth and can, if timely initiated, get a broader view and result in faster and more creative crisis management and solution.
Consultations shall be held with the aviation sector, government and other relevant local parties. Also, the media should be involved: many recent examples have shown that if the media is actively approached, the information flow is more manageable and might be influenced.
One or more subject-matter experts can be particularly useful and predictive in any crisis situation. Obviously with natural disasters, but also when an armed conflict, a plane crash or an economic crisis occurs. An on-site expert can be of great value. This person can be quickly consulted on changes in the situation and is supportive to a crisis response meeting. In daily operation, many ANSPs already do this by stationing a meteorologist in the OPS room.
The disruption of services in a particular airspace is likely to significantly affect the services in adjacent portions of airspace. Therefore, cooperation with neighbouring countries is of great importance.
Crisis communication is one important aspect of your Crisis Management. The basic steps for crisis communications require advance work in order to minimize damage. Some steps need to be undertaken before the crisis occurs, a few others after the crisis.
Steps of crisis communication:
Without the pressure of an actual crisis, carry out brainstorming sessions on all potential crisis that could occur and affect your organisation and begin thinking about possible responses, about best case/worst case scenarios.
IDENTIFY YOUR CRISIS COMMUNICATION TEAM AND SPOKESPERSONS
Ideally, the organisation’s CEO or staff representative Chairman would lead the team but not all organisational leaders are effective comunicators so you need to go and identify spokespersons within your organisation. Someone close to the operations room can serve as spokesperson or liason agent. Spokespersons should have:
- The right skills: dealing with the media and the public is not always easy. Some very effective written communicators might virtually get lockjaw in front of a camera. Tasks (on-camera, press releases, public meetings, employee meetings) should be properly assigned to the correct person.
- The right training: to minimise the chance of misunderstadings, your spokespersons need to be properly trained in dealing with the public, the traditional media, social media, face to face, internal communication, and so on. Don’t forget that in the heat of a crisis, public can be very hostile.
Rumours can sometimes create more damage than the initial crisis. Consider having someone on call 24 hours a day during the most intense days of the crisis.
IDENTIFY PROPER COMMUNICATION CHANNELS AND MONITORING SYSTEMS
On one hand, it is essential to establish notification systems that will allow you to rapidly reach your intended target stakeholders using multiple modalities: SMS messages, press releases, social media platforms (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, Linkedln, Google+) . Be aware that nowadays news after a crisis nowhere spread faster and out of your control than on social media. Social media is a strong crisis communication tool when:
- You need to reach a large group of people at once.
- You want to position your organisation as the narrator of the crisis.
However, don’t forget that due to regulatory compliance, sometimes the use of social media is not allowed. This represents a challenge in your crisis communication preparedness because it could mean that while spokespersons are facing the world by answering media enquiries, some other members of the team need to be actively calling and emailing people and entities that matter most to their business.
On the other hand, knowing what’s being said about any crisis event and monitoring feedback from stakeholders allows you to adapt your strategy and tactics if needed. After all, any effective communication involves also listening. Monitor everything from discussions, questions, inquiries on social media, emails, newspapers, etc.
IDENTIFY AND KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE
In order to identify exactly your stakeholders begin by asking yourself and your communication team who, in the middle of a crisis, do you need to communicate with in order to protect your members staff and minimize the negative reputational impact on your organisation. Odds are: the general public, the media, government organisations, partner organisations, shareholders, employees, subsidiary brands, etc.
DRAFT AND HAVE YOUR CRISIS COMMUNICATION MESSAGES PRE-APPROVED AND READY TO GO
In the middle of a crisis you don’t have the luxury of spending days/hours drafting and approving your messages. This is a big part of your crisis preparedness. Think about your top five to ten highest-risk crisis scenarios and draft bulleted options of different messages you would want to communicate immediately after a crisis breaks. Don’t forget to have them pre-approved by the appropriate people, which includes legal advisers. A general crisis message would include:
- date of occurrence
- what you know at this point in time (be factual and short)
- a compassionate and reassuring statement
- what you are currently doing to solve the situation
- when you would provide further information (stick to the date since it would set expectations)
ASSESS THE CRISIS SITUATION
Have your crisis communication team ensuring that the right type of information is being provided. Continue developing crisis-specific messages if needed. Don’t forget to keep it simple, no more than 3 or 4 main messages. Assessing allows you to adapt your strategy as necessary.
Once everything is over ask yourself “What did we learn from this?”. A formal analysis of what was done right or wrong, what could be done better next time and how to improve is another must-do activity for the crisis communication team. Review and refresh your crisis communication plan accordingly.
Principles for effective crisis communication:
1. MAKE SURE YOU ARE ALLOWED TO TALK TO THE MEDIA
Some ANSPs/organisations do not allow it, in which case you would be facing retaliation.
2. BE FIRST
Crises are time-sensitive. The first message to reach the intended audience may be the accepted message and all following information would be compared to that initial message.
The general public and also professional audiences are looking for sympathy and accessibility.
4. BE RIGHT & CREDIBLE
Prepare the facts before giving the message. Accuracy establishes credibility. Do not make assumptions. Repeat the message several times. In doubt, say nothing. That’s better than saying something wrong that could be used against you at a later stage.
5. YOU ARE ONLY ONE ELEMENT OF THE PROCESS
ATC is only one part of the aviation domain. Keep to your own area and level of expertise.
6. DEFER TO EXPERTS
Let the investigation process continue and defer to experts/third parties should the need arise.
7. BE AWARE OF CULTURAL DIFFERENCES
Ask for advice.
- Lie, guess or speculate
- Get stressed by, upset or angry with the reporter
- Use expert, very professional jargon difficult to understand to general public
- Discuss confidential information
- Use the expression “no comment”
- Talk about things outside your area of expertise
References and supporting documentation
Borodzicz, E.P. (2005). Risk, Crisis and Security Management. West Sussex, England: J. Wiley & Sons.
Costella, M.F., Saurin, T.A., de Macedo Guimarães, L.B. (2009). A method for assessing health and safety management systems from the resilience engineering perspective. Saf Sci 47(8):1056–1067.
Cutter, S.L., Barnes, L., Berry, M., Burton, C., Evans, E., Tate, E., et al. (2008). A place-based model for understanding community resilience to natural disasters. Global Environ Chang 2008;18:598-606.
Dombrowsky. (1995). ‘Again and Again: Is a Disaster What We Call “Disaster”? Some Conceptual Notes on Conceptualizing the Object of Disaster Sociology’. International Journal of Mass Emergencies and Disasters, 13(3), 241–254.
Heinzen, B. (1996). - Crisis Management and Scenarios.
Hollnagel, E. (2007). Risk control through resilience design. Conception des systèmes de travail et Maîtrise des risques (p. 117-119), Institut pour la Maîtrise des Risques, January 30, Paris, France.
ICAO. (2018). Annex 11 – Air Traffic Services - Attachment D (Material Related to Contigency Planning). Montréal, Canada: ICAO.
ICAO. (s.d.). Crisis Management Framework Document – EUR Doc 031. Paris, France: ICAO.
IFATCA. (2015). Crisis Management – IFATCA PLC & TOC - WP No. 93. Sofia, Bulgaria: IFATCA.
Perry, R.W., Lindell, M.K. (2006). Emergency Planning.
Rosenthal, U., Arjen Boin, Louise K. Comfort, eds. (2001). Managing Crisis: Threats, Dilemmas, Opportunities. Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas.