Pursiainen is professor of societal safety and environment at the Arctic University of Norway and teaches a course in crisis management. His post in the snows of Tromsø has given him time to reflect on the lack of literature on crisis management as a discipline. Previous books, he says, have concentrated on disaster planning and control in specific contexts, such as civil emergencies or threats to corporate reputation.
Crisis is a much abused term, he says, arguing that for a situation to justify the label, it must satisfy the criteria of involving a threat to an organisation’s goals or values, limited time for decision making due to an approaching deadline or rising costs of inactivity and numerous unpredictable events or uncertainties that make it hard to predict the outcome of actions taken.
The majority of the content is grouped under the six chapter headings that reflect the stages of the crisis management cycle: risk assessment, prevention, preparedness, response, recovery and learning. The first three of these are self-evidently not about managing crises in progress but about forecasting them, heading them off where possible and shoring organisations against their effects where not.
It is in these pre-crisis stages that the skills of risk analysis and control OSH practitioners use every day are valuable.
In some areas of crisis planning and response the book is clear there is no single correct path. On leadership, for example, Pursiainen is clear that those who run a hierarchical management structure are not necessarily less likely to handle a crisis well than leaders who prefer a collegiate structure.
In other areas, he is more dogmatic. Of crisis communications, he says, “the rule of thumb is: tell it all, tell it fast and tell the truth. Experience has shown that this maxim, namely that one should never try to lie, deny, hide or ignore the situation is the winning strategy.”
The practical advice on issues such as dealing with the press, mixed with more theoretical content on cognitive biases or SWIFT techniques, both of which will be familiar to readers of this magazine, builds up to a comprehensive overview.
The book offers illustrations of good and bad crisis management but most are taken from large-scale disasters, such as the Chernobyl or Three Mile Island nuclear incidents. Some smaller examples of organisational crises, even hypothetical ones, would have been welcome.
That aside, this is a well written, extensively researched and fundamentally useful guide for any safety and health professional who wants to widen their understanding of broader crisis management.