In this month’s Human Resources Executive, Jared Shelly has a fascinating behind-the scenes report of the HR role in crisis management as it played out during the Somalian pirate hijacking of a US merchant ship this past April. The report takes you into “The Situation Room” in Virginia Beach where the crisis response team of Maersk Line Limited met the unfolding situational challenges. Human Resource director Susan Lebrato played a pivotal role on the crisis team in communicating with both internal and external constituencies. As the crisis unfolded, this entailed coordinated planning, information sharing, and communication with governmental agencies; getting information to and providing support for the families of the ship’s crew, particularly the family of Capt. Richard Phillips; writing press releases and taking a public role in responding to media inquiries; and planning public and private events to welcome the crew home.
The communication role was particularly sensitive – while seeking to be as open as possible in communicating with staff and family members, this had to be balanced with the fact that international media were clamoring for new angles to the story. Because negotiations were ongoing and because pirates had access to major news channels, it was essential that external communications be measured and cautious.
While most HR managers won’t be thrust into managing crisis communications for an international incident with pirates, company crises that spill over into the public realm happen every day, and the HR role is pivotal for both internal and external communications, as well as in overall crisis management. While it’s impossible to plan for every contingency, the basic response to any crisis can be planned in advance: crisis team identified; alternate means of communications in place; spokespeople trained; list of core values and goals outlined. Here’s a helpful Crisis Planning Checklist designed for planning and response to natural or man-made crises.
More resources on HR crisis management and crisis communications
Crisis Management and HR’s Role
Crisis management in today’s business environment: HR’s strategic role
HR lessons learned in the aftermath of Katrina
Tips for supporting employees who are on international assignments
Crisis Communications – using social media in an emergency – where blogs and Twitter have played a major communication role in crises like the Virginia Tech shooting and the Fargo Floods. We’ve also blogged about harnessing social media in a crisis.


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