Here’s the latest crisis management lesson from the Capitol Riot: Chains of command matter


Congressional hearings and inquiries into the January 6 riot at the Capitol continue to highlight the crisis management lessons for business leaders.

As reported by the Washington post Yesterday, Major General William J. Walker, commanding general of the DC National Guard, “… told lawmakers on Wednesday that the restrictions the Pentagon was placing on him on the eve of the Capitol riot prevented him from doing so. to send forces more quickly to help quell the violence. “

Walker said he did not receive permission from his chain of command at the Pentagon to send forces to Capitol Hill until three hours and 19 minutes after receiving an urgent call at 1:49 p.m. on January 6 from the chief of Capitol police saying a request for the safeguarding of the guard was imminent, ”according to the newspaper.

Chains of command are essential in a crisis

The critical crisis management lesson learned Walker’s testimony to Congress is that in any crisis, chains of command are important. The ability to quickly make and obtain decisions about a crisis – what to do, when to do it, how to do it, where to do it, who will do it, and why to do it – can be the tipping point to the extent that or wrong businesses and organizations react to a crisis.

Time is of the essence in any crisis situation. Every minute that goes by without reacting to the situation can make it more difficult to respond, manage and recover from the crisis. Business crisis management plans should include provisions for immediate reaction to a crisis. These provisions should include:

  • A description of the events or activities that will trigger the implementation of the plan.
  • Who will decide when the plan goes into effect.
  • Members of a crisis response team who will be responsible for implementing the plan.
  • A process for notifying all team members that the plan has been activated.
  • A timeline for testing the plan to make sure it works, and for conducting exercises with members of the response team to help ensure they will be able to work together when the need arises.

Two critical factors

Katie Achille is a crisis management communicator and managing partner at The Devon group, a technology public relations and marketing services company. She noted that “the most effective chain of command depends on two critical factors: the structure of the organization and its existing crisis management plans. Ideally, businesses of all sizes will have a designated crisis team in place before the need arises.

Members of the team

“More often than not, those involved in mitigation and management will include the executive team, legal counsel, communications and, potentially, operations. There should always be a spokesperson in place who has media experience and / or training, ”Achille advised.


“Failure to act, whether due to inexperience or lack of preparation, will cause a delay in communication, which in today’s ongoing information cycle leads to speculation and increased surveillance. The media and the public expect information and responses almost as soon as an incident occurs, ”she said.

Speed ​​matters

Constance hubbell, president of The Hubbell Group, a strategic communications and crisis management company, said: “Traditional chains of command mean a waste of time, which is ruinous in the age of fast-paced social media that has both accelerated and compressed information cycles.

“Crisis management today means flattening command structures in order to minimize the time required for information to pass from ground level to C-suite, which requires defining emergencies in advance, training people to recognize them and empower them to escalate problems immediately.

“Doing this effectively,” said Hubbell, “involves pre-established protocols, clear channels that remove layers of management, intensive training, and regular practice. Businesses can learn a lot about crisis management from those whose crisis responses literally mean life or death. ”

Define roles

“When an organization has clear and defined roles as to who is responsible for every detail, writing internal communication and media statements, who can speak to the media, it makes the process more effective and efficient.” , according to Rachel Brockway, director of public relations at Serendipit Consulting.

She said: “Being effective and efficient is of the utmost importance in a crisis situation because the faster an organization can make decisions, get the right approvals and respond, the more effective the outcome will be. The biggest lesson here is that if your organization doesn’t have a crisis plan in place, or if your plan hasn’t been updated recently, it’s time to create or update it. . “

Be accessible

Heather Sugg is the senior vice president of William Mills Agency, a marketing and communications agency. She observed that “whoever is placed as a first point of contact must have a proven reputation for being readily available and accessible. I have seen issues in the chain of command if the gatekeeper is not very responsive, time can be very tricky in these situations. “

“It’s also important to make sure all associates know the chain of command. I have seen divisions within companies dealing with their crisis on their own, without thinking about stepping up communications with customers at the enterprise level. In most cases, this translates into a message that needs to be handled, on top of the original crisis, ”Sugg advised.

Have and execute a strategy

Ravi Kathuria is the founder and president of Cohegic, a management consulting and executive coaching company. He said: “There are three aspects to crisis management: strategy, execution and communication. The chain of command must reflect all three aspects. “

He said: “A clear and visible strategy minimizes confusion and ensures that everyone is on the same page. Execution must ensure an appropriate and well-balanced response that receives strong and sufficient input from experts.

“Communication must be shared in a timely manner internally and externally, be truthful, substantive, sincere and empathetic. Cohesion between strategy, execution and communication is essential to manage the crisis, ”said Kathuria.

The role of the CEO

“The communications team includes spokespersons, technical experts if necessary and the communications manager,” recommended Kathuria. “The CEO should be deployed only in strategic instances to deliver key messages. Having the CEO become the daily spokesperson increases the risk of inadvertent pitch or message errors. “

He recalled that “Oscar Munoz United Airlines came across as insincere and condescending in a passenger abuse cases creating a public relations nightmare.

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