The tragic condominium collapse that occurred recently in Surfside, Fla., has shed light on the importance of crisis management. Identifying threats before they arise can be a challenge. Emergencies can be difficult, if not impossible, to anticipate, but how to respond to them can be thought out beforehand. Proper planning is the first step in handling a crisis.

The concept of crisis management is not new. There have been plenty of instances where disruptive events impacted businesses, the economy, the environment and the people living in the surrounding areas. It’s critical to understand that crises tend to snowball, where one small mistake turns into a more significant issue.

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Through this tragedy, corporate leaders, real estate corporations and any business or individual involved in the communications industry can learn valuable lessons. Crises can happen to anyone or any company; staying in front of them is the ultimate goal.

Some of the lessons to be learned are already emerging. Identifying them and understanding their importance will assist companies if they experience a crisis and inform how they’ll respond to it.

Lessons in Crisis Management 

There’s still a lot of confusion surrounding the 13-story condominium collapse that left at least 97 people dead. Many are pointing to major structural damage as the root cause of the collapse, but investigators plan on reviewing the scene after search crews complete their work to identify the actual cause. Tragedy followed by liability in cases of poor workmanship or slipshod maintenance is, unfortunately, nothing new.

Engineers from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) were sent to Miami-Dade County to gather evidence and determine what triggered the collapse. People in the area and families of the residents are searching for answers, and it’s challenging to determine when the general public will learn how this tragedy occurred.

Below are six lessons in crisis management that we can learn from how the the Florida condominium collapse was handled.

1. Take Swift Action When Issues Arise

The City of Surfside released various documents detailing the state of the condo, including information about structural issues. The parking garage and the pool were two features that needed major repairs before the collapse.

Whether or not this contributed to the collapse is still under investigation, but the lesson to be learned here is that proactive action in mitigating risks is vital in crisis prevention. The best way to avoid a crisis is to assess vulnerabilities early on. In this case, correcting structural damage in the building was a necessary step that should’ve been taken.

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2. Only Release Accurate Information

The nature of a crisis poses a challenge for authorities when they’re set to release information. In cases similar to the condo collapse, the death toll, missing person count and injuries sustained are all critical pieces of information that must be shared. Families worried about their loved ones rely on officials to give them the most accurate numbers promptly.

It’s crucial for those handling a crisis to refrain from releasing inaccurate information too soon, as this could backfire and cause public outrage. It’s better to guarantee the data is correct and release it later than to backtrack on hasty words and apologize for making a mistake. This will improve credibility for the people involved.

3. Trust Is Crisis Currency

Businesses thrive when their customers trust a product or service, and it’s no different when a crisis occurs. Establishing trust when handling a problem is vital—trust is crisis currency. When media outlets cover an event as disruptive as this one, officials need to be open and transparent with the information they provide.

Using vague language to describe an incident only leads people to believe myths and rumors that develop after a crisis has occurred. When officials are granted a public platform, like a press conference or an interview, they must use their time to speak in specific terms and answer questions directly and quickly.

4. Communicate Effectively

Crisis communication plays a significant role in crisis management. How leaders communicate to the public is essential when addressing a crisis. Avoid pointing the finger or making snap judgments. Being thorough and transparent is the best way to go.

In Florida, the condominium association hired a crisis communications firm to handle all of the incoming media questions and other communications concerns. The volunteer members of the condo association’s board shifted their responsibilities to the firm and are now available to handle other inquiries and address the lawsuits they’re facing.

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Using the latest communications technology, like cloud-based software, can assist businesses with their public outreach and help keep everything organized.

5. Have a Strategy in Place

Because crises can happen spontaneously, organizations need to do their due diligence and put measures in place before they strike. Having a crisis plan allows companies to operate more effectively when making tough decisions regarding a crisis. Crisis planning should include delegating responsibilities, choosing someone to lead and deciding which problems should be addressed first.

It’s unclear whether the condo association had any plans or protocols in place to handle this kind of catastrophe. Based on the fact that they hired a crisis communications firm, it’s unlikely that they had a strategy to combat an event as big as this one. It’s important to note that crisis planning begins with risk analysis—evaluating the possible risks that contribute to a crisis better equips businesses to face it head-on.

6. Be Flexible to Changes

Information is always subject to change. While it’s essential to have plans in place, remaining flexible is something businesses will benefit from when handling a crisis. Most crises evolve; it’s rare for one event to stay the same as more information comes to the surface.

Change can happen overnight as a result of a crisis. Remember to update the general public about the current status of the situation to maintain trust and prevent further crises from occurring. Although the condo collapse was one event, it triggered conversations about building regulations, guidelines for condos to follow and crisis management in general.

These are only some key takeaways to be learned from the harrowing Florida condo collapse. The investigation may take months to complete, and the precise cause is yet to be determined.

The Importance of Crisis Management

No one knows when or how a crisis will strike, but planning for one is a guaranteed way to make future decisions a bit easier. Setting a clear course of action helps businesses navigate uncertainty in the wake of a crisis. Companies should have crisis strategies in place so they’re ready for whatever curveballs will be thrown their way.