Questions included issues such as:
- Which industries are best prepared with emergency response and business continuity program?
- How did I come up with the four steps needed to successfully manage a crisis?
- What is the most reliable indicator between the pre-crisis and the acute-crisis?
- “All too often you do not have any idea of how a person will react in a crisis until you are in the middle of it. In recent years I have been in the middle of a few business crises where the key members of the team just couldn’t perform, yet it was never addressed. (People were afraid to make waves). How can you address a performance that is unacceptable in the middle of a crisis.
Based on their questions, and their enthusiasm, I expect to see some of these students on crisis management teams for their organizations; some even will be the CMT administrator. It bodes well for whatever organization is employing them.
Speaking of Emergency Response Personnel
I noticed an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer on Aug. 30, 2007 about an ER individual who never received his proper due. “Richard Jewell, the former security guard who was wrongly linked to the 1996 Olympic bombing, was found dead [Aug. 29, 2007] at his western Georgia home, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation said.”
Mr. Jewell discovered a suspicious backpack at the Centennial Park during the Atlanta Olympic Games in 1996. He notified concertgoers to move away from the suspicious backpack. While he was able to move most of the people away from the platform where the backpack was located, the bomb exploded. Although the bomb killed one person, and injured 111, Mr. Jewell was considered a “hero” because his actions saved hundreds of other people from injury.
Three days after the explosion, an unattributed report in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution described him as “the focus” of the investigation. Other news media, to varying degrees, also linked Jewell to the investigation and portrayed him as a loser and law-enforcement wannabe who may have planted the bomb so he would look like a hero when he discovered it later.
In their search for the bomber, FBI investigators felt Mr. Jewell fit the profile of a bomber. Mr. Jewell’s home was searched and his background exhaustively investigated. Although he was never arrested, nor named as more than a “person of interest,” Mr. Jewell’s reputation was besmirched. Eighty-eight days after the initial news report, U.S. Attorney Kent Alexander said Mr. Jewell was not the bomber.
Mr. Jewell claimed the negative media attention had ruined his reputation. He sued several media companies, including NBC, CNN, and the New York Post, and settled for undisclosed amounts. He also settled a suit against Piedmont College, a former employer.
A lawsuit was still pending against the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which was the first news organization to report he had been labeled a suspect. A trial was set for January, 2008.
Last year, Mr. Jewell was working as a sheriff’s deputy in western Georgia. He also gave speeches to college journalism classes about his experience. A year ago, Gov. Sonny Perdue commended Mr. Jewell at a bombing anniversary event.
The Olympic bomber was eventually caught. It turned out to be antigovernment extremist Eric Rudolph, who also planted three other bombs in the south. Those attacks killed a police officer, maimed a nurse, and hurt several other people. Rudolph was captured after five years in hiding. He pleaded guilty to all four bombings in 2005 and is serving life in prison.
Mr. Jewell never recovered from the shame of being wrongly linked to the bombing in the news media. Jewell’s name became shorthand for a person accused of wrongdoing in the media based on scanty information. The Jewell episode led to soul-searching among news organizations about the use of unattributed or anonymously sourced information. It behooves business continuity professionals to keep in mind the actions of the news media with regards to an innocent man trying to do his job. Imagine what they might do if the target is large organization such as yours. Make sure your crisis communications plan has been completed and has been included in your exercises.
"Appeared in DRJ's Winter 2008 Issue"