When the crisis really is the 400-pound gorilla in the room

What’s your best crisis-management move when the 400-pound gorilla in the room … is a 400-pound gorilla in the room?

That’s what officials at the Buffalo Zoo asked themselves late yesterday morning, after a silverback gorilla escaped his exhibit into a locked area one step away from public release — an escape halfway to nowhere.

The agitated gorilla bit a zoo keeper, but she was fine after taking refuge in a locked cage with a female gorilla she knew and her baby. [Which has all sorts of good Planet of the Apes lessons attached to it if we wanted to go there.]


Donna Fernandes, the zoo’s president, and her staff did a commendable job in what had to be an extremely fluid and scary situation. From a crisis point of view, planning well in advance for such an event — be it lion or tiger or bear — and probably drilling repeatedly over the years to fine-tune it, is ideal. Always plan and practice for the crisis you must know will eventually strike.

Everyone knew what to do, a police SWAT team arrived, staff took zoo visitors to secure locations and eventually a vet tranquilized the male gorilla, 24-year-old Koga. He later returned to his large glass enclosure.

Full disclosure, I’ve worked with the zoo team on past crises. Fernandes and her team did everything right yesterday without any help. They implemented the crisis plan, made sure everyone was safe, subdued the animal and then held a news conference when all returned to normal.

Fernandes knocked over this crisis like a line of sequential dominoes: A workable plan in advance; following the plan for everyone’s safety; factual information released as soon as possible; transparency; taking responsibility; opening an investigation.

Kudos to all.


About steveoncrisis

The content is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It comes from Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and as managing editor and editorial page editor at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower and Associates, one of the nation's largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agency with six offices in the Northeast and Southeast.
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