James E. Lukaszewski ABC,APR, Fellow PRSA, President of the Lukaszewski Group Division of Risdall McKinney Public Relations

Most responses in crisis situations fail in the first hour or two. That’s because the most challenging aspect of readiness for urgent situations is the strategy for first response; literally, what you do first, second, third, etc. Problems become emergencies, crises, or disasters due to the hesitation, timidity, and confusion that occurs as the threatening nature of a situation rapidly unfolds is recognized, and management is overwhelmed.

When a crisis occurs, management has a crisis of its own.

A successful first response depends on the activation of appropriate counter measures and proactive decision making that were pre-authorized during the crisis response and readiness planning process.


If we’re looking for the one word definition of readiness work, it is this concept of pre-authorization. If decisions can be programmed into a response scenario and executed instantly, the most successful response and the overall success of dealing with the challenges presented by crisis situations will be met.

The most powerful ingredient of scenario based readiness work is what happens when a specific threat is identified, hypothesized, and time lined. Many of the critical decisions that will have to be made in the sequence of events can be identified, brought to management, and decisions made well ahead of time.

The Golden Hour

Perhaps the most useful and appropriate model or metaphor for first response strategy is “The Golden Hour” concept, which comes to us from wartime battlefield medicine. It was probably the Korean War that taught us the benefit of bringing sophisticated medical care and facilities to the front lines rather than transporting the wounded miles behind the front lines for medical treatment. The lesson was that the severely wounded who received medical treatment within minutes of injury had a survival rate enormously higher than the soldier who was treated well beyond the first 60 minutes of injury, if they even survived the journey. Time and again, major problems turn into crises or worse due to lack of initial momentum to do something, to make decisions, and to begin grinding down on the problem. Speed of action beats smart action every time. Preauthorization enables more smart decisions earlier in the response.  

The First Response Checklist

An appropriate, scenario-based first response checklist will help deal with the most urgent, crucial matters and decisions as early as possible. This is possible because crisis managers considered a wide variety of decision points during the planning and testing phases of readiness preparation, and pre-authorized many of those decisions to achieve a more prompt response.

Relax when you review this checklist. It is complex and comprehensive, and based on years of experience mostly learning from things we failed to do when we should have. One of the potential criticisms of this approach could be the “fear of overreacting.” This is a totally phony fear. In 30 years of crisis management, some involving enormous tragedy, not one single case of overreaction has ever been observed or documented. To the contrary, more common is indecision, timidity, hesitation, and confusion leading to far broader litigation exposure, larger clusters of victims, a longer public memory of less than appropriate behavior, and serious damage to an organization’s reputation.

Note that the First Response Checklist also includes monitoring your responses and dealing with the issues and collateral damage that responding always causes.

I have also included an After Action Analysis outline below the jump.Continue Reading First Response Strategy & The Golden Hour: A Metaphor for a Successful Response

James E. Lukaszewski ABC,APR, Fellow PRSA, President of the Lukaszewski Group Division of Risdall McKinney Public Relations

When we analyze what causes management communications programs to implode, explode, derail, self-destruct, or simply slide into the ditch, there are identifiable behaviors and activities that precede or predict disaster or negative collateral damage. Here’s a checklist

My job sometimes is rescuing attorneys, often from themselves. Perhaps the quintessential illustration is a comment made by a corporate general counsel recently, whose organization was responsible for a number of victims, including fatalities. Her opening line to me was, “We’re not the empathy department in this company.” However, the reason she was talking to me was that