Tweeting Titantic disaster after 100 years, what a crisis to manage

Over the weekend, various Twitter habitues reported on the sequence of events leading to the Titanic’s demise 100 years before as if they were live. Along with various commemorations, this juxtaposed today’s near-instant communications with the dot-dash format of 1912.

That raised a question: How would a crisis manager today handle the Titanic disaster. She was the unsinkable symbol of the Industrial Revolution‘s prowess, success and, it turned out, arrogance. Big, strong, powerful and luxurious, she nonetheless went to her Atlantic grave with 1,500 people, insufficient lifeboats and a flawed design.

If a crisis manager today, sitting in New York or London, received word that its client White Star Line‘s ship struck an iceberg and sank, how would she/he handle it?

At the outset, we might be dealing with less of a crisis than occurred in 1912. Titanic took 2.5 hours from iceberg impact to sinking. With today’s near-instant communications, that would have provided some time to detour more ships and rescue planes.

The next consideration, of course, is that everything we do today is more regulated, largely because of the horrors that befell whole industries, like shipbuilding, railroading, shirtmaking and the like.

Yet faced with the facts that hundreds died in the sinking of a supposedly unsinkable ship, that lifeboats were insufficient to get everyone off and that design flaws allowed supposedly water-tight compartments to flood, what would be the response?

Initially, say for the first two days, the focus would be on rescue and survivors. But as the magnitude of the crisis built, the man-made blunders would overwhelm everyone involved.

CEO, builder and board would have to resign. Facts, as transparent as possible, would need to flow to the world’s media. Minutes after the ship sank, media helicopters and planes would fly over the scene.

Passengers would upload video of the sinking and deaths. Phone calls to family from the survivors and the doomed would play on television. It would be like the intentional crashing of Flight 93 on 9/11, without as many heroes.

Repeated apologies, creation of an independent board of inquiry, complete transparency on who was responsible and setting up a fund for victims and survivors would be immediate first steps. So would informing internal constituencies, including shareholders, employees and government regulators.

Producing top company leaders for the inevitable Congressional and Parliamentary investigations would be required.

As crises [past and potentially present] go, Titanic is a grandaddy of them all. It would take a team of crisis managers months if not years to hold White Star Line’s reputation together. Bankruptcy would likely result and reorganization under a new name likely.


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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