How to Thrive in the Chaos of Crisis

Director of PR, Valerie Wunder shares her first hand experiece with the Miracle on the Hudson and what she learned about herself and how to handle a crisis.

By: Valerie Wunder

On January 15, 2009, I was sitting at my desk in Tempe, Arizona where I worked in the communications department of US Airways, one of the nation’s largest airlines at the time. The media line rang, and my colleague put the caller on hold and said, “Reuters is saying one of our planes is floating down the Hudson River.”

That event is known as The Miracle on the Hudson. There’s a movie. The pilot wrote a book. But to me, that day is when I put my years of crisis training to the test. Here are some things I learned that day, not only about how to handle the chaos of a crisis, but about myself.

Have a plan. Practice. Make it muscle memory.
Ok, let’s be real. When you are in the middle of a crisis, you aren’t going to say, “Excuse me while I consult my crisis plan to see what to do next.” Nine times out of 10, a crisis plan is just that- a document. However, if you know the plan, understand your role, and drill the heck out of it, you’ll automatically know what to do in the heat of the moment. If you aren’t prepared, you could make mistakes. Practice won’t make perfect in a crisis, but it will help you understand your role and how to execute.

Everyone wants to help. Give them a job.

It’s human nature to want to help. Everyone at your company should have a role in a crisis situation, whether it is sending press releases, staffing executives during briefings, or answering the phones. If you aren’t sure what your role is, the time to ask is now, not during the event. 

Know your audience. 

My job in the corporate communications department was to issue press releases and work with the media. There is a communication cadence in crisis, and it is tempting to deviate from that cadence and try to answer questions or provide information, but you have to be careful. For example, during the Miracle on the Hudson, the media knew who the pilot and first officer were before I issued the press release detailing the flight crew. It is easy to try to speculate, but until you have confirmation of information, you cannot release it.

It’s ok to be scared. Just don’t let it control you.

A crisis situation is often chaotic, stressful and scary. However, you can minimize the fear by knowing your role, knowing you are prepared, and by leaning on your coworkers who are likely feeling the same emotions as you. 

Debrief, debrief, debrief. And then debrief again.

Take the lessons learned into your next drill. Nothing is perfect, and there is always room for improvement. Operating under stressful situations can tell you a lot about yourself and your coworkers. I learned that I needed a push to get started, but once I did, I worked well under pressure. Now, when facing a crisis, I take a moment to take a breath, and then I lean into the discomfort of not knowing what is going on and take things one step at a time. You can’t be all things to all people, so embracing your role and executing to the best of your ability is all you can do.

There are many definitions of crisis. Learn how to prepare for anything.

Crises don’t always have to be made into a movie to be a big deal. They can be big, small, internal, external, environmental, or even political. If you aren’t sure what defines a crisis, don’t have a plan or want to run drills, Slide Nine can help. Our team is well-versed on crisis management and can help you and your company be prepared for any event.

If you’re looking for a team to help your business during crisis situations, contact us.