Sunday, April 26, 2009


Often, the human reaction to a crisis is “This cannot be happening. This is unreal!” People may be stunned by what they are seeing or experiencing. It’s as if the mind stops trying to comprehend the shock or horror of the event. In some cases, people run away, an instinct known as “fight or flight,” because we as humans are compelled to seek safety or refuge when faced with danger.

In other cases, we decide to tough it out, to fight back, to gain control of the situation as best we can. For example, when he witnessed the horror of September 11, 2001, occurring right across the street from his office, William Nickey, the Northeast Region Human Resources Director at Deloitte & Touche USA, says,

  • My first reaction to this event—in my heart—was that I had to get home to Long Island to be with my family. But then my mind took over, and I told myself I had a job to do. Looking back, I realize now that I was in shock for the first 48 hours, but I made it through, not only playing my role as HR director but also becoming a Disaster Recovery Project leader. Deloitte and Touche began immediately to make contact with all of our people, and miraculously, we lost only one employee who had not made it out of the World Trade Center.

In a crisis, we are compelled to act out of fear, confronted by the immediate threat of the situation. Mory Framer, a pioneer in trauma counseling, says that this inner resource is actually denial and that through denial we can regain control over the situation. What irony! Those who are effective in leading in the face of a disaster are in denial too. But because they encounter the denial at this stage, rather than doing so earlier and consequently avoiding the planning phase, they are able to help their organizations as opposed to putting them at undue risk.

Dr. Framer says, “The human condition gives great impetus to action through the fight/flight syndrome. When we don’t or won’t flee, we fight (within ourselves) to regain control in order to help others. The trauma or disruption we are facing creates internal energy that can be used to regain self-control.”

A second insight from Dr. Framer is that employees, family members, friends, and colleagues may not react to or recover from a fearful situation as quickly as successful leaders do. It’s necessary to understand and allow for this dynamic in the human side of emergency planning. Managers must be careful not to assume that their employees are gaining control as quickly as they are. You’ll learn more about this in THE NEXT..... PUBLISH POST ?

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