How to Deal With the Crisis

A crisis is often an impossible situation. You must make immediate decisions without sufficient information. You need to keep people safe, but you don’t have the time or resources for routine security measures. The Guardian recently asked people facing extreme situations how they know what to do. Here are their tips.

Discard unnecessary decisions

Multitasking is a myth . If you want to do a good job, you cannot do many other things at the same time . Pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger says he was taught to drop irrelevant decisions in a crisis so you don’t clutter your brain trying to think clearly. You will also have to give up some of your normal activities. As he explains:

We have a three-page checklist designed for use when landing from 35,000 feet, and this usually takes half an hour. But I broke protocol and took only those actions for which we had time: less than three and a half minutes passed from the moment of collision with the birds to the moment of landing.

Expect uncertainty

When a crisis develops, you don’t know what will happen next. Karim Brohi, a surgeon on duty during the London Bridge attacks, was in charge of the emergency department to evaluate and treat patients admitted to his hospital. But the workload of the hospital depended on factors that were beyond the control of anyone. He says:

We’ve seen about 30 patients and expected the second wave to get stuck in the Borough market, but that didn’t happen. It is important for us not to worry about incorrect information, because we should be able to respond no matter what.

Prepare for the next phase of the crisis

Julia Brotwell, Team Leader of the British Red Cross, flew to the site of the 2015 earthquake in Nepal, but did not wait to receive a call; her policy is to call the office and start packing when she knows she might need her help in a crisis.

She also drew attention to aftershocks, wondering if the next earthquake might be real. And she was prepared with a backpack in case of that earthquake:

Two weeks after the first earthquake, I was working in our office on the sixth floor of the building when the second earthquake hit. It was like driving through a fairground where the floor moves beneath you. I got everyone out of the office, but we had to go down five flights of stairs. Most people ran without their belongings, but I always have a bag with extra phones, water, and extra clothes at the door of the room I’m in, and I grabbed it when we got out.

Examine your biases

In a crisis, you may have to make decisions in a split second on tiny pieces of information. Brett Lovegrove, former head of London’s counterterrorism department, explained how he took the time to understand how his brain fills in the blanks:

When I was a young firearms officer in the Metropolitan Police, I had a number of situations where I did not shoot, but could shoot, and it was important for me to understand why. The only way to do this is to walk into a dark room and look at what I was relying on. I found it to be a mixture of my role models and my upbringing. I learned a lot from my father, and although we sometimes have different views, I value diversity and make decisions for the right reasons, looking at the person, not their past. I firmly believe that crisis leaders must make quick and difficult decisions based on what is right and not let their own prejudices come to the fore in their responses.

Think about how your reaction affects other people.

When people depend on you, you don’t have the luxury of worrying. Several crisis responders interviewed by the Guardian mentioned the importance of not only staying calm, but also appearing calm to those around you, especially when you are the established leader in a situation. Sullenberger chose his words carefully (“This is the captain. Prepare to strike”) because, as he explains, courage can be contagious.

Keely Foster, deputy assistant commissioner for the London fire brigade, notes that not everyone will react the same way. To keep your team effective, you must consider the reactions of each person:

I’m naturally calm, but how you lead people around you is also important, and you need to change your leadership style to treat different people differently. Because you are directive, you can easily alienate people, and once they feel out of touch, they may stop giving you the information you want.


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