Managing the Victim Dimension of Large-Scale Disasters
JAMES E. LUKASZEWSKI, ABC, APR, Fellow PRSA
ABSTRACT: The most volatile component of all crisis response is victim management. Failure to promptly, humanely, and empathetically see that victims’ needs are met will eclipse an organization’s response, and even a flawless response will be remembered for its angry survivors, relatives, public officials, sometimes competitors, but almost always the critics. The two most crucial ingredients of crisis management are effective and accurate communication and then prompt resolution of the issues surrounding victims. This paper familiarizes and sensitizes technical expert readers with the extraordinary impact and emotional power victims bring to any crisis situation. Some important techniques and approaches are discussed, including the nature and causes of victimization and why victims have so much power; the behavior of management and its advisers that triggers, initiates, or prolongs victimization; what victims feel and why they tend to act and remain so upset; and what victims need—validation, visibility, vindication, and extreme empathy/apology—along with constructive strategies that can resolve these different situations quickly and often avoid litigation. When disaster strikes, we do get glimpses of the physical and infrastructure damage, but the news and most of the pictures are about the victims. If anything, while the broken facility, structures, and topography of the land or substructure of the earth do get talked about, it is the relentless pictures, descriptions, interviews, commentary, and desperation of the victims that determine the coverage, the public consciousness, and the legacy of the tragedy. The most glaring deficiency in the crisis and business recovery plans I review each year is the absence of a victim management strategy.
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Published OCTOBER 2012, Leadership and Management in Engineering. By James E. Lukaszewski