Drill & Blast

Navigating the four stages of crisis management

In July, the world was captivated by the rescue of the Wild Boars junior soccer team in Thailand. The 12 teenagers and their young coach were trapped underground in a limestone cave system flooded by monsoonal rains.

A 10,000-strong rescue effort from 15 nations, including more than 100 divers (including nine Australians), located the boys after 10 days. It was equipped with helicopters, ambulances, drones, drills, pumps and diving equipment. About 1.6 billion litres of water was pumped from the cave system.

The rescue team extracted all 13 young men within seven days. They were shepherded, one at a time, through narrow, flooded caverns. Each trip in “bone-chilling” underwater temperatures lasted five hours.

The rescue effort was successful, despite one casualty in the extraction phase (a former Thai navy SEAL). The media coverage was exhaustive but measured – indicating the rescue team, as well as the Thai Government and foreign diplomats, deftly handled the media horde.

{{quote-A:R-W:300-Q:"There are lessons in crisis management from the rescue of the Thai junior soccer team."}}There are lessons from Thailand in crisis management for extractive SMEs. Although quarries are surface pits, air blast overpressure, flyrock, rockfalls, vehicle collisions, trips and slips on plant and equipment, dust and noise pollution, and other unsafe practices can “break” an operation.

Careful site planning, a commitment to robust safety and environmental responsibilities, and positive community relations can “make” an operation. While accidents cannot always be predicted or prevented, if your site has a decent reputation, it could be the difference.

Jane Jordan, a crisis management guru, recently wrote that the Wild Boars rescue carried all the hallmarks of a crisis story that the media adores. She described four stages that are common in new and old media:

  • “Breaking news”, ie what happened?

  • A focus on the victims and the appropriate response, ie “make or break”.

  • The “blame game”, ie who is accountable, why did it happen?

  • Fallout/resolution. There may be a happy ending and supplementary coverage about lessons from the incident. If there’s fallout, there is potential for the incident to be ongoing in print and online, and to be dredged up endlessly for political points in a repeat crisis in the applicable industry.

The fourth stage can be particularly damaging to an extractive operation’s reputation. The way an operation controls its messages and manages adverse coverage – from proposing a greenfield or brownfield development to co-operation with investigating authorities after a workplace accident or an environmental incident – could affect the long-term viability of the business. And if the business has a black mark, the ramifications of the incident can be amplified a hundredfold.

As Jordan says, what the media and its patrons want is a narrative that shows somebody cares about what happened, and has the contrition, fortitude and principle to ensure it isn’t repeated.

Of course, the “four stages” don’t account for resistance in quarrying from stakeholders to the operation’s reasonable efforts to impart its message, and distortions of the message with distracting half-truths and exaggerations. However, that will always be beyond your control – what’s important is to have a narrative from the outset and stay “on message” (particularly in a crisis scenario), showing the right levels of empathy, conviction and courage.

Even if you’re surfing a tempestuous wave, the odds are it will dissipate if handled correctly. You can reach the shore with your reputation intact – and with the capability to contend with future challenges steadily and transparently.

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