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Malcolm Cole, Director – Media and Communications

Here at the SAS Group, we spend a lot of time working with clients to anticipate, plan for and – hopefully – avoid crisis situations. At the heart of all of the response plans we prepare is a single, simple, philosophy:

Open and honest dealings with the people affected by your issue will always lead you to the best possible result.

Often a crisis situation will arise due to circumstances beyond your control. For example, last night’s widespread power outage that caused the floodlights to fail at the ‘Gabba (that’s the Brisbane cricket ground, for the non-sporting readers), forcing organisers to cancel the match. 

Gabba LightsClearly, that’s not a great outcome, especially for those at the ground. However, it wasn’t necessarily a total disaster, with the home team chasing a massive total and having lost their two star batsmen in the first three overs. (Again for the non-sporting folks – that’s pretty bad.)

Plenty of Brisbane fans as they left the ground were urging the Energex repair crews not to rush the repair job. Most fans at that point considered the disappointing draw to be better than the inevitable thrashing that was clearly on the cards if the match resumed.

There was, however, an equally common sentiment among the departing fans: “What’s going on?” Disappointment at the electrical failure was compounded by frustration at the complete lack of information from match officials. Fans in some parts of the ground could not even see that one of the light towers was not working, and there were no announcements about why play had stopped, what was being done and what the likely timeframe was for play to restart – if at all.

Sometimes in a crisis it’s simply not possible to answer those questions. But is it critically important to let people know as much as you can about the situation, and to try to keep them in the loop about when the next updates might occur.
In the case of the ‘Gabba lights out, these updates might have included:

• What’s happened? (The lights have failed on one tower, and we’ve ascertained it’s a problem wider than the ground. Please stay in your seats. We’re in touch with the power provider and will let you know what they say as soon as possible.)
• What happens to the match? (We’ve talked to the umpires/match officials, and they have advised that …)
• What about the players? (The players will remain on the field until the next update/will leave the field and stay in the dressing rooms…)
• What happens next? (We expect an update from Energex at 8.30pm/8.45 etc, and will let you know what they say.)
• When will a decision be made on whether the match continues? (The match referee says we can achieve a result if the lights come back on by…)
• Will I get a refund if play is abandoned. (No – the terms and conditions on your ticket are entirely in our favour. Tough.)

Instead, in the absence of any sensible information either at the ground or on social media, fans simply began to drift away.  While something such as a power outage is beyond the control of organisers, the resulting information pointed very clearly to a lack of forethought and forward planning about how to handle such an issue. And really, it was a relatively minor and entirely foreseeable issue.

It prompts the question of how well the organisers would respond to a genuine emergency – a fire, a building structural failure or a premeditated attack. On the basis of last night’s information vacuum, I think the answer is not very well prepared at all.

How ready is your organisation to respond to an external shock? Contact us for help on protecting your reputation in a crisis.

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