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When Disaster Strikes: A Lesson in Crisis Communication

By Suzanne Spurgeon  March 9, 2014

Weeks into the mystery of Malaysia Airlines flight 370 and there are still no concrete answers.  The world has watched as the families have been subjected to one theory after another by the airline, government officials and many, many air industry experts--AKA "talking heads."  CNN is covering every detail as if it is breaking news.  To be sure this tragedy has captured our interest, but it time for some "just the facts" coverage of this developing story.  Just because the bells and whistles are available in news coverage, doesn't mean it is a good idea.

From the very beginning the airline has done a horrible job of protecting the families from the media.  Who can forget the images of devastated family members against a crush of media.  To be sure, this airline mystery is unique in the modern era.  But other airlines have handled disasters with more sensitivity.  

We have conducted crisis communication drills with other airlines and protecting and comforting families was the number one concern.  Sure, crisis communication is also about an airline's image.  But there is no "spin" on earth that will cover up insensitivity by an airline during a disaster.  The same is true in any industry.  Think back to the 2010 BP oil spill and the CEO who was sent packing after some serious missteps; or the mining company CEO who seemed to forget about the families in this ugly news conference in 2007.



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