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Your Crisis Communications Plan, Step Two: Brainstorm “What Ifs?”

March 15, 2013

But first, kudos to Carnival Cruises, which experienced yet another (potential) crisis yesterday, when reports circulated widely about power problems and non-functioning toilets on the Carnival Dream (how easy is it to see the headlines saying “Carnival DREAM become a Nightmare!”?).

And, to make life more interesting, there was a television reporter on board:

Kris Anderson, a reporter for Memphis TV station WREG and a passenger on the Dream, told CNN his friends had chided him for booking a Carnival cruise.

“I said, ‘What are the odds of it happening to two ships in such a short period of time?'” he told CNN. “Look what happened now.”

And cruise expert Carolyn Spencer Brown, in an interview with ABC-TV (, noted:

“It’s mind boggling,” said Cruise Critic Editor in Chief Carolyn Spencer Brown. “Accidents happen but this isn’t an accident anymore. Three times is something to be concerned about,” she said, referring to the Dream, the Triumph and a 2010 engine room fire on the Splendor that left the ship without power.

Just days before at the annual Cruise Shipping Miami conference, Carnival President Gerry Cahill had outlined the four-point plan they had devised to investigate the causes of the Carnival Triumph’s difficulties, and take steps to avoid future issues. When the DREAM developed issues while in port in St. Maarten, Carnival swiftly arranged for charter planes to transport everyone home, and offered refunds and a discount on a future cruise(more at

Well done this time, Carnival!

And now, what are the most formidable crises YOU could face? This is the time to gather the crisis communications team you assembled last week – perhaps off-site, to avoid the distractions of your office – for a half-day brainstorming session.

Be creative – and pessimistic.

Explore every aspect of your product or services that might precipitate a crisis, including:

  • The geographic areas in which you operate
  • Political climate
  • Security issues
  • Financial concerns
  • Complaints from staff or guests
  • Weather
  • Logistical issues (e.g. a tour operator might look at everything from their phone and Internet service to the airlines that carry their guests)
  • Health considerations (food poisoning, epidemic, etc.)
  • Employee satisfaction ― or dissatisfaction.

You can undoubtedly add to this list: be sure you do.

Consider including your Board of Directors and perhaps other stakeholders in the brainstorming session ― especially if they might contribute experience or a perspective that would otherwise be missing.

Let your exploration be wide and deep: nothing’s “too crazy” or “can’t happen to us.” It’s helpful to ask everyone to share good – and bad – crisis experiences they’ve had, and to share what they learned from it.

Here are five essential questions to ask:

  1. What are the five worst crises that could befall our business or organization?
  2. Which are the most likely to occur?
  3. Which have the greatest potential to threaten our continued existence?
  4. How would we deal with each?
  5. How can we prepare NOW?

Remember that the Tragedy of 9/11 has been referred to as a “failure of imagination.” At the time, no one in authority could conceive of such acts happening anywhere, let alone in Manhattan. However, in retrospect, the signs were there to be seen, and acted upon.

Happy brainstorming!

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