Crisis management rule #1: Which is the best way to manage a crisis? Simple, avoiding it.
Let’s play then a game I’ve just thought of.
We are passengers of the RMS Titanic, on the night of April 14th, 1912. It really doesn’t matter in which of the three classes we are travelling in. It matters how we think, how we react and what we are going to do.
It’s not about “What can we do, to diminish the damages and deaths”, nor “Is there anything we can do?” or “We’ll do what we can”.
It’s just: WE MUST SAVE OURSELVES, ALL OF US. WE HAVE TO. THERE IS NO OTHER OPTION.
Let’s see how the game develops.
First stage: What do we need first?
My option is that the very first step should be a diagnosis of the situation. Difficult enough, considering the circumstances. We’ve all paid a fortune for our tickets, we are more or less in a wealthy position, we are enjoying the state of the art ship, in a trip from England/France/Ireland to New York City. We’ll be crossing the Atlantic Ocean in a “floating fortress” instead of a “flying fortress”. The atmosphere is of power, self-confidence, control and even some arrogance. So we don’t have it easy, to realize that everything is not going so fine. Maybe none of us can take into account that the ship is travelling at full speed, nor that there had also been some alarms of icebergs in sight.
Let’s assume that some of us, (how many? maybe 5 of us, in 2.227 souls), have some notions on the risks that this kind of trips might involve, and could even realize that the night is freezing cold. That the area we are reaching in the North Atlantic is swarming with icebergs. Still we need to make up in our minds that the Titanic could, “potentially”, not be as unsinkable as it is supposed to be.
At this point we could say we start to feel some kind of slight concern.
Second stage: Awareness
We managed to get together and smoking our cigars, we start to put some loose ends together. We might pay a visit to any of the decks and check that although the ocean is plain as a pool, the temperature is almost polar. We can also compare our speed, with previous observations in the last days, just by seeing the shape of wake, and even the angle of the bow wave. We come to the conclusion that some reasonable and objective risks are beginning to take shape, beyond subjective fears.
We are now quite convinced that something has to be done.
Third stage: Strategy
We are facing now probably the most analytic part of this exercise. We need to consider all the options, in order to make the most effective decision and course of action.
We start to write down the list of options:
a.- Communicate our risk assessment to as many people as possible, and lead a riot, forcing the crew of the ship to slow down.
– It has been difficult for us to reach to the conclusion that there is a certain risk in the current status. What would happen if we transmit this message to people who are happily enjoying their trip to New York City? How credible will we sound? Who should we be addressing, if not anyone we come across? How many supporters might we add, before it’s too late?
– We succeed in convincing maybe a hundreds of passengers and agree to carry on with the riot. We will then have to face police on the ship, and much of the crew. There’s a slim chance that they listen to our explanations, but since the crew is hierarchically structured, they will simply obey orders. The President and Director of the White Star Line was on the ship in that trip as well, and in fact, he was directly putting pressure on the Captain, to arrive to New York in advance to the scheduled time. So this wouldn’t be a possibility.
b.- The absurd ones:
– Throw overboard anything at hand to drag the ship: oars, paddles, chairs and whatever other object. Too many people needed as well as for the previous option. Too high are the decks to sea level.
– Build up a protection all along the ship hull, like cushions, life jackets, mattresses, and so on, on the floating line. No use, the icebergs could hit under that line.
– Kidnap the captain, the crew, and seize the ship: no way, too difficult afterwards to pilot the Titanic by ourselves.
– Abandon the ship and try to save ourselves waiting in the middle of the ocean for another ship to rescue us. Not many chances on our side.
c.- Final option:
We need the Captain, we must stay on the Titanic, but we need him and the crew to obey us, instead of his boss, the President of the Company. That is difficult, but at least the range of action is reduced to a dozen of men. We now need just to gather a bunch of people more, and put the plan into action.
Fourth stage: Deployment
We first talk, as a matter of urgency, to each one of our relatives and acquaintances, counting on them on one side, that they will trust our judgement, and that they will follow us in our plan. From the 5 of us in the beginning, we manage to get another 5 people more. We still need at least a couple more. We decide that those outstanding ones must be strong, wise, calm and with some knowledge of what is going on. It sounds quite reasonable now, that we should address some of the members of the crew. We succeed in convincing three of four of them, that the situation is becoming more and more dangerous each hour that passes. They join us really quickly and unexpectedly, only because, they were having the same concern since hours ago.
These members of the crew also help us to reach the bridge, where we find the Captain is not there. We send someone of the crew to get him right away. When he enters the bridge, his face is of complete bewilderment. We explain our view on the situation, which he finds to our surprise, absolutely reasonable, but impossible to carry out. We let him know that, same as his President, we are not giving him an option. He actually feels relieved, since that is his own opinion too. So he feels backed by part of the passengers, that are supporting him in the notion that the full speed is utterly unwise, in the current conditions.
Fifth stage: Saved!!!!!
Unbelievably, we managed to avoid a situation we will never know if it would have happened. In fact, we wouldn’t actually want to find out. The President of the White Star Line, fired the Captain with immediate effect, and replaced him with the Chief officer. However, the whole of the crew refrained from leaving the Captain and stood for him, until the President had no other option than leaving things as they were, until reaching the New York harbour. He knew that even then, there wouldn’t be much he could do: the Captain had already expressed his decision on this trip being his last one.
End of the game.
The Titanic sunk for something that we could call “Systemic risks” adapting it’s true meaning to a set of circumstances that only together could build up an uncontrollable situation, with very, but extremely very scarce possibilities to happen, but with devastating consequences. Now it’s our turn.
As homage to all those passengers and crew members, left to the whim of a stubborn and arrogant big fish, this is the list of victims, survivors and statistics from the true story.