America has encountered the unthinkable. Terrorist acts of this magnitude are having a rippling effect and have already devastated countless families, businesses and communities across the world. Though life must go on, it is imperative to address the human side of crisis before we can effectively regain control and make order out of chaos.

Bruce T. Blythe, CEO of Crisis Management International Inc., a worldwide company dedicated to handling the human side of crisis, is engaged in the recovery and response to this horrid course of events. CMI responds to corporate critical incidents in all 50 states through its network of experienced crisis professionals. Presently, CMI is assisting multiple companies throughout the nation in response to the recent terrorism attack on America, providing crisis management consultations and on-site assistance for employees and affected families. Says Blythe: "More than anything, people need to regain a sense of control. Their reality has been shattered, and their personal safety has been threatened. We need to offer reassurance that the world and our surroundings can once again be safe and manageable."

Whether you are responding to this tragedy or preparing yourself to respond effectively during any crisis, the following steps will hopefully help you regain some semblance of order in your company:

  1. People matter most, and first and foremost, you have to know where your people are and whether they are safe. Once management has accounted for all personnel and contacted their loved ones, they should gather the company together at any conference-type facility as soon as possible to discuss the impact.
  2. Once gathered, the company should provide all known information to all personnel. They should let people know what to expect in the near future, including traumatic stress reactions they may experience and what the company will offer the impacted individuals and their families. It is also important for the company to ask the employees if they have any questions and be prepared to dispel any rumors that may have circulated.
  3. Identify all "at-risk" individuals--people who are experiencing severe reactions related to the incident. Many at-risk individuals will be easy to identify, such as victims, witnesses and close friends or relatives of the victims. However, there are many other people who still may be at risk, such as individuals who have recently lost a loved one or were involved in another highly traumatic incident. Although these individuals were not directly related to the terrorist attacks, they still may suffer from traumatic stress. People needing help may not always come to you--you must seek them out and provide whatever assistance you can.
  4. Provide professional psychological assistance to all in need. Assistance can be provided through groups and on-site individual assistance by qualified mental-health professionals who specialize in dealing with traumatic stress.
  5. Maintain communications to and from all employees. It is imperative to keep everyone up-to-date with the latest information. One effective way in which to keep lines of communication open is to distribute daily bulletins or other company announcements. Especially if your company was close to the epicenter of this horrific event, let everyone know the status of the safety of all personnel.
  6. Assess the escalation potential. The leaders of the company should look at exactly what has happened and brainstorm what else could possibly happen as a result of the incident. Some questions to consider: Does the company have any ongoing foreseeable risk, including legal and medical implications? Keep in mind that even if the risk is only a perceived risk by personnel, it still must be properly addressed. What type of interruptions in production should the company expect? What can the company do to mitigate the aftereffects, such as absenteeism and low morale?
  7. Company leaders should start to plan for return-to-work issues. Keep in mind, it is crucial to deal with the needs of the workers before asking the employees to return to work as normal. If you ignore your people's needs, you will encounter outrage and significant morale problems.

Overall, a company should be prepared, informed and responsive. America could not be fully prepared for what happened on September 11. From here, we can only respond effectively, and it is your responsibility to help individuals and their families begin the long recovery process.


Grace Burley is a crisis communications expert in Atlanta.