Flight MH370 demonstrates that crisis management is a learned skill

Tony Ridley, CEO of Intelligent Travel

Tony Ridley, CEO of Intelligent Travel

Crisis leadership professionals will tell you that crisis management is a learned skill, developed by focused education and refined by real world experience and practical application. It is not a capability assumed with promotion or senior appointments and likely the weakest of all disciplines within a company’s leadership team due to the exacting nature necessary in developing the right skills and routine opportunity to practice, writes Tony Ridley, CEO of Intelligent Travel Pty Ltd.

Experience and capability are immediately put on public display in the event of a crisis. The disappearance of Malaysian Airways flight MH370 provides very valuable lessons for leadership teams and management of crisis situations.

Ownership and authority

In matters of national pride and global opinion it is not unusual for governments and commercial sectors to play representative roles in crisis management. The Malaysian Government and Malaysian Airlines jointly collaborated throughout the handling of flight MH370. The problem is that these roles and responsibilities have not been clearly defined or maintained. The result is conflicting communications, delayed response and unclear responsibilities. Public sentiment has been overwhelmingly negative as a result.

It is paramount that ownership and authority responsibility be crystal clear to all, along with consistent management of these roles.

Crisis management MH370 security managementScenario mapping

Complex incidents involving many plausible outcomes can create an overwhelming number of variables for strategy planners. This can be compounded by public comment or conspiracy theories.

Nevertheless, it is critical in the early stages of an incident such as the disappearance of MH370 that comprehensive mapping of all scenarios is documented and counter-management plans are assigned for key aspects. If not, a process of ‘crisis pursuit’ will emerge whereby crisis management teams are on the defensive responding to enquiries, accusations and the media. This consumes vital resources and erodes the effectiveness of management. Realistically, these plans should be documented in advance as part of crisis and resilience planning.

Public awareness

There are many aspects of aviation and international travel that the general public is unaware of and any real or perceived threat to the safety of international travellers will immediately draw global attention.  Therefore it is mandatory the public be educated in select awareness aspects of international aviation.

Segmenting initial and ongoing messages to include technical aspects not widely understood or known by the public is vital. Many can be prepared in advance, but a lack of disclosure or public education in the event of a crisis can amplify negative sentiment and suspicion.  This will be picked up and communicated by the media, compounding the problem.


Crisis management teams and systems should be designed to account for days, weeks or months of sustained response operations. Initial communications and management will be undermined by lack of endurance in the system and representative management.

Sustained management is not only required in terms of time but also across multiple channels such as television, print, social media, and forums. It is a 24/7 news environment and communications need to focus on dominant global areas not just the country of origin.

Objective analysis

Performance, effectiveness and results can be measured objectively. However, objectivity does not just relate to non-company or government elements, but other cultures, terms of reference and expectations, especially if they are part of the affected group within a crisis. This appeared lacking or too low a priority during the management of flight MH370.

The USA, China, Australia and UK all had greater interest and influence in the crisis but were not adequately engaged or understood as playing pivotal roles, despite relatively simple measures for grading their level of interest and influence.

• Tony Ridley is the CEO of Intelligent Travel which delivers instant and detailed travel health, safety, security and risk management content to travellers at the time of enquiry or booking.

For more information visit www.intelligenttravel.com.au

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