Aviation is a dynamic and challenging business, inundated with many risks, most of which the industry has no control over, i.e., oil prices, financial downturns, regional conflicts, competition, and more.
For the operators, every takeoff and landing holds risk, but it is calculated risk. We hire experienced, qualified and trained professionals to manage the organization, and to fly and maintain the aircraft.
However, every now and then, things do go wrong, and we need to be in a ready position to respond accordingly. This readiness has different facets, from an individual’s position, to the organizational aspects.
In simple terms, the individual has to be mentally capable (at times even physically capable) and professionally trained to cope and manage crises when they do happen. The organization has to be fully prepared with proper plans, procedures in place, along with the necessary logistics and financial aspects. Plans and procedures have to be frequently practiced, at least through tabletop exercises.
Having said that, one fact remains true, an operator is unable to fully undertake a task such as the response to a major disaster alone. They need the assistance and support of an emergency service provider with first-hand crisis and emergency management experience, with teams of specialists who have supported a variety of organisations through complex crises.
During the first hours following a major accident, the crisis management team will be severly tasked dealing with conflicting information and confusion. Once the dust settles and the crisis management team take full charge of the crisis at hand, they keep the people most affected in the forefront of their minds. Every strategic, tactical or communications decision they make that helps those most affected will also help to take care of their organization’s future. The crisis management team and those involved in the response plan should keep one question in mind, “If this was my family, what would they need”?
Athletes don’t reach the finish line without a lifetime of hard work and practice.
Organisations often make the mistake of being reluctant to invest in emergency preparedness, because there is no immediate benefit. You CANNOT expect to do well in a crisis situation, if you have not invested appropriately and trained for it!
Your muscles need to be strong, your mind needs to be focused, and your spirit has to have built up resilience and endurance.
When the unthinkable happens, the airline has to be prepared – way in advance – with plans, people, training, resources and pre-existing relationships with suppliers, government agencies (when possible), and partners.
In the first 24 hours, the rescue phase will be completed, the accident site will be secured by the police and the aircraft accident investigators will have started their work. When an operator hears news that one of their aircraft has been involved in an accident, the Incident Management System and emergency response plans and processes are implemented.
The organization will come under the spot light with overwhelming media coverage, an influx of telephone enquiries, the need to care for survivors, implementation of family assistance operations and multiple agency coordination. In addition there will be the recovery, identification and repatriation of the deceased and the processing and return of Personal Effects to the next of kin. The operator will also be involved as an adviser to their State investigation authority as the investigation progresses. It is also necessary to maintain normal business, so far as this is possible.
The demand for a fast, transparent and effective response and communication of the effectiveness thereof has increased exponentially as traditional and social media has become virtually instantaneous.
Social media has become the first source of information for much of the public and the media alike. Social media has accelerated the speed with which information is circulated. With each and every one of us a potential real time reporter equipped with a device in our pockets to share news with the world, organisations need to be prepared to communicate and respond as quickly as it takes our interconnected selves to click like and share.
A disaster will have a profound and a potentially life changing impact upon all those involved. The operator therefore has a responsibility to ensure that their response is performed to the highest standards, comprising both compassion and service excellence.
Editor's Note: Mr. Salah Mudara is a MENASASI Board Member