The Golden Hour and the First 24 Hours!
In the vast majority of cases, regardless of the duration, the end success or successful resolution to a crisis is determined by the initial actions in the first 24 hours. Often referred to as the “Golden Hour” in emergency medicine, the initial hour of the first 24 hours is the foundation upon which the primary phase is predicated. The events, information and decision making process during these two phases will place both individuals and multi national corporations upon a path that will over time will provide less opportunity for change and influence than at this juncture.
While the incidents and information injects, whether actively or passively collected, may change, the fundamental decision making methodology will remain relatively constant due to the leader or crisis management teams experience, skills and training. It is for this reason that the greatest emphasis due to the potential outcomes remains the burden of those in a position to determine the outcomes.
In broad terms, individual entities or multi-dimensional companies are classified into two categories when managing a crisis or significant event. The first of those categories is that of the Responder who is largely driven by the events and is forced to react to each and every information inject or demand due to the absence of preparation and planning joined with the lack or limitation on resources. The second of these two categories, and the most desired, is that to the Implementer who is characterized by the ability to activate resources and follow a pre-prepared and trained plan with the support of an array of supporting stakeholders, constructed responses and proactively formulated decision making guidelines that reduce the time from event to response.
The Implementer would typically be equally experienced as they are trained with significantly more emphasis on the latter. The primary and secondary phases of the first 24 hours will see the Responder desperately attempting to understand the situation, often with limited redundancy and support, while trying to time appropriate responses and activation of resources with little understanding of the strategic goals or longer term effects of these crucial decisions. This will be further exacerbated by the lack of experience or knowledge on the time taken to implement plans and the activation of vital resources.
In contrast, the Responder during the primary and secondary phases will be aligning support plans and stakeholders with preferred outcomes and anticipating events to potentially mitigate escalation of the situation or becoming reactionary focused. Typically the Implementer will seek to maintain a rapid escalation of support elements and appropriate resources with the option to then gradually deescalate or stand-down a range of options appropriate to the incident once they have sufficient control of information that the situation does not warrant the engagement of such resources or services.
History and more contemporary times are littered with examples whereby Government Leaders, Military Commanders, Corporate Leaders, Community Leaders and the like have failed to identify the impact of the events or incidents that have ultimately lead to an apparent disproportional result. Their failure or lack of appropriate response, relative to the potential impact and not necessarily the current information or perception, has lead to dire strategic consequences. As a result, it is these initial tactile decisions and responses that can in all likelihood determine the eventual outcome, favorable or otherwise.
The Golden Hour in medical terms is the most crucial time in which to both stabilize a patient suffering from significant injury or illness and to determine the best course of action in order to provide them with the most appropriate form of medical care supported by adequate resources. This decision making process is often done in remote locations, at the scene of an accident or within the emergency rooms of the nearest treatment facility. While this reference is centered more towards an individual or groups affected by such events the process and outcomes are indicative of the interaction it has with all the stakeholders affected and the commonalities faced by business in general.
Firstly, the affected parties may well be key elements to an organization or business that is dependant upon their contribution and will undoubtedly respond with all available resource for both the preservation of life and the continuity of business. Secondly, the process for escalation and decision making, including the activation of services and resources, will be made in the absence of a technical expert such as a doctor. As is the case with almost all business crisis in the initial stages. Even then, the measure to which any trained and experienced expert pertaining to crisis management will be limited to a large degree by the actions of the first responders and their support resources.
Tactile and spontaneous decisions made in the immediate stages of a developing incident that could lead to a crisis or disaster event have strategic consequences. These consequences may not affect an immediate impact but overtime could overshadow the incident itself. For instance, the decision to act in the absence of consultation or verification could result in legal, compliance, ethical, morale, code of conduct, medical or criminal violations to which the parent organization will be responsible, or held to account, for the actions of one or more responders. Irrespective of the fact that the decision at the time may have in fact saved lives, prevented further disasters or simply maintained business continuity the strategic consequence could be just the opposite.
While it is neither effective nor possible to script every potential incident and provide policy and processes to support such events, especially in the event of crisis, it can go a long way to mitigate many of the aforementioned issues and negative impacts. Even if during the post incident autopsy it is confirmed that a sound and consistent decision making process was employed with an appropriate degree of accountability and supported resources but ended in a less than favorable outcome, it will hold the organization and the individuals in far greater stead to know they did their utmost at the time but the situation was not recoverable despite best efforts and planning than to have made spontaneous decisions and decrees on the fly.
Enabling first responders, supervisors and crisis management elements to draw upon the collective knowledge of their peers and industry experts, with pretreated plans, budgets and designated resources appropriate to the risk and potential impact will significantly reduce the time from incident to response and prove to be a better overall strategy for the management of limited and significant crisis events. These plans should be both comprehensive and accessible to those that require access it but also simplified for immediate reference and implementation. This is equally applicable to any support services or resources that may be required in the event of particular incidents. Should partial or full responsibility of supporting this process be apportioned to external agencies or third party providers then they in turn should be equally if not more prepared for their roles and responsibilities. Sadly, all this amounts to nothing if the plan is not widely disseminated, trained and rehearsed with a degree of regularity to account for changing circumstances and new talent and roles.
While crisis management is often discussed and held up as the benchmark of preparedness and effectiveness, this is essentially still the realm of the Responder. In order to manage a crisis there is a disproportionate amount of time spent waiting for information injects, set circumstances, triggers and qualifying actions before implementing a plan that is known to be in existence and its results determined by the measure of its application. Crisis leadership is the true virtue of the Implementer. By proactively assessing events and mobilizing resources and the means in which to act before the situation demands, reduces the timeline of impact and in most cases reduces the overall affect the event/s may have on an organization and its personnel. It is often a far more cost effective application of resources also.
In the modern and developing business world there is simply more information and access to information than ever before. While this has lead to many efficiencies and advancements it has not advanced the capacity or effectiveness of crisis management elements at a comparable rate. If this were the case we would incur little to no crisis events and very incidents affecting organization and their personnel would ever need be reported in the media. Effective crisis leadership is learned by training and exposure with sufficient support services and resources. The critical time in which to apply this talent however remains the same, the Golden Hour and the first 24 hours. No amount of preparation and weighty plans will resolve undesirable events in the advanced stages as a direct result of poor leadership and management in the primary phases. It is therefore of paramount importance adequate depth, training and resourcing be focused on this pivotal stage.