ment, that much more dangerous. And
we haven’t even begun to talk about man-made crises such as energy blackouts,
infrastructure collapse, and industrial
Caring Isn’t Learning
On July 17, 2007, TAM flight JJ3054
crashed at Congonhas airport in São
Paulo, killing all 187 people aboard. The
Brazilian Public Safety Ministry attributed
the crash to four problems: a failure to
close the airport in heavy rain, faulty construction of runways, inadequate alarms in
the cockpit, and insufficient pilot training.
The August 2007 cover of Exame magazine put it more succinctly: “A country
that doesn’t learn.”
Notice the headline was not “a country
that doesn’t care.” Countries care about
aircraft ac-cidents. They care about dengue
fever, hurricanes, earthquakes, pandemic
flu, and more. Countries invest in supplies, personnel, and plans. But, based on
results, it’s not enough.
We must stop confusing caring with
learning and we must stop confusing
stockpiles of supplies with preparation.
We must stop blaming unskilled people for
failing the first time they handle a major
crisis. We must stop expecting unskilled
people to handle major crises. We must
help crisis decision-makers get the skills
How do we help unskilled people
become skilled? Experience is critical,
but on the-job-training during a crisis is
too late. We need to learn not from tragic
experience but before tragic experience.
Moreover, we must expand our view of
what we must learn and who must learn it.
It’s not only about first responders practicing moving supplies and equipment.
It’s also about senior officials practicing
the tough decisions they’re expected to
make and coordinate under enormous
The good news is that it can be done
and it doesn’t have to bankrupt us. In fact,
it saves money as well as lives.
Preventive action, in terms of long-term investments and policies, is necessary. But money and materiel alone don’t
solve mismanagement. The cure for crisis
mismanagement is better crisis management skills, and that means helping leaders
build the skills they need.
We emphasize that “better crisis-man-agement skills” does not imply replacing
managers themselves. We emphasize also
that it is unreasonable to expect anyone
to manage a crisis well when that person
has little or no relevant experience. So, we
need to safely create that experience before
a real crisis hits. We need to invest in cri-
sis-management skills for those leaders, in
government and in industry, in whom we
entrust our lives and prosperity. We need
to invest in those skills not only because
they pay off for us all but also because few
people have had real-life experience managing large-scale disasters.
We say crisis management skills
because no one knows in advance what
crisis he or she will face.
First responders — law enforcement,
fire fighters, medics, the military, and so
on — have protocols and frequent training. Not so for senior leaders, in business
and in government. Like first responders, senior leaders need to practice their
crisis skills safely and effectively. Teams
of senior leaders with excellent skills can
make and coordinate better decisions,
under pressure. They can be the heroes
who prevent or reduce human and fiscal
misery when a crisis hits.
The key is a good, fast, cost-effective,
safe way for senior leaders to get the
advantages of experience.
Rehearsals are necessary but not sufficient. They highlight certain issues —
radios on different frequencies, equipment
in the wrong place, even missing keys
— but rarely those involving teamwork
at senior levels or the massive problems
when everything goes wrong. Rehearsing
isn’t even practical when the scenario
is too big or complex, yet that’s exactly
where we most need preparation.
The ideal is for senior leaders to say,
“gee, that felt just like the simulator” after
they handle a crisis. Which is exactly what
some simulation-trained leaders have said
after successfully handling a crisis.
Mark Chussil is a founder of Crisis
Simulations International, LLC ( www.crisis-simulations.com). He is also founder and
CEO of Advanced Competitive Strategies,
Inc. ( www.whatifyourstrategy.com). He has
published extensively and has lectured and consulted on
six continents. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Yale
and his M.B.A. from Harvard.
Pedro C. Ribeiro is the founder of Stratech/
TheProjectOffice ( www.stratech.com.br)
specialized in strategy, project, risk management and crisis prevention. A former
director of Ernst & Young Consulting,
Unisys, and EDS, he has more than 30 years of executive and consulting experience. He holds an M.B.A. from
The Wharton School, with specialization at Harvard and
MIT, and has presented seminars in Europe, United States
and Latin America. Stratech is a partner in Brazil of Crisis
46 DISASTER RECOVERY JOURNAL FALL 2009