You should know it is fog season in New Orleans. With fog season comes some significant lessons about human behavior in a crisis.
Dive in with me, if you will, on an incredibly foggy morning. We are crossing a 12 mile long bridge over Lake Pontchartrain from Mandeville, Louisiana to New Orleans. We’re on this 12 mile bridge because the 24-mile long Lake Pontchartrain Causeway bridge is closed because of zero visibility.
The fog is so thick it’s as though our headlights are reflecting off of a bright, white wall.
Our forward visibility is at most three to four feet.
If you were in this situation, what would you do?
What would you foresee happening?
I was actually in that situation on December 31, 1996. I was still asking myself this question and preparing for a possible crisis, when a white, Ford F-150 pickup truck swept by me. He was in the left lane driving far too fast. It took only a flash for him to disappear into the fog.
Within an instant I saw his taillights bounce high into the air. He had rear-ended a slower moving car. The two cars were then faced sideways blocking both lanes of the interstate.
Because I was driving slow… I was able to stop short of making impact. But then I heard the horrendous sounds of screeching brakes behind me.
As I looked in my rear view mirror. I could see headlights closing in on me rapidly.
I steered slightly to the left; the lights veered to my right and smashed into the truck.
I was witnessing the beginning of what would soon be a 70 car pile-up.
There were more screeching brakes… more headlights… more crunching metal.
I continued to steer slightly more to the left and out of the way with each continuing wave of arriving headlines. Each cluster of cars piled into the debris field in front of them.
Soon a green minivan hit the pile and flew in the air tumbling end over end. It landed upside down. Soon a small white pick-up was being crushed like an accordion.
The sounds of crashes seem unending. By now I had inched from the right lane, across the left lane, and onto the shoulder of the bridge. I was making spit-second decisions. I was taking action based on the events around me.
Then there was a brief lull. I reached my left hand slowly across my body and unbuckled my seat belt so I could help rescue those in need. I suspected some are likely dead. The lady in the flipped minivan was first on my mind, followed by the guy in the truck that was squished like an accordion.
But before reaching for the door handle I glanced in the rear view mirror one last time.
And as I looked up into my rear view mirror, all I could see were these letters. They were backwards: G- r- e-y-h-o-oohhhhhhhhh…
I jerked the car one last time to the left until my rims were grinding against the curb. And by some miracle… the bus slipped by me in slow motion.
And as I followed the bus with my eyes, there in front of it was the first car to have been hit. It was still blocking the highway. The woman driving the car had been frozen in panic. All this time she had done nothing. All the while I was making spit-second decisions and taking action to avoid being hit. Meanwhile she was just sitting in her car, sideways across the left lane of traffic; the left lane now occupied by the Greyhound bus that was sliding past me in slow motion as the bus driver stood on his breaks. And the woman in the car… I watched the horror on her face… she raised both of her hands across her face. I watched as she screamed…
…and the Greyhound plowed into her car door. He windows shattered into a thousand shards of glass. Her car crumpled like a tin can, spinning down the bridge the way a tin can spins when kicked down the street by a child.
Then there was silence.
I exited my car. I crawled out onto the railing of the bridge.
I walked around the back of my car into the piles of crumpled cars and dazed drivers. The space between my car’s right side and the side of the bus was approximately eight inches. I eased between my back bumper and the bus so I could go check on the lady in the first car.
Out of 70 cars, my car was the only one without a scratch. No one had hit me.
It was a miracle. But I also did something the driver hit by the bus did not do: I took action.
In this world… there are some people who react and respond… and there are some who fall into fog of decision paralysis.
The fog of decision paralysis often strikes people in public relations, the men and women in the c-suite, and the leadership positions in the corporate world. When faced with a crisis, they often do nothing to effectively communicate to key audiences, as if they are paralyzed with fear.
Sure, fire crews are authorized to fight their fire without approval. But it often takes 4-8 hours for a news release to be written, approved and released, following the onset of a crisis.
Doing nothing is unacceptable. Doing nothing makes things worse.
In the age of Twitter, you must decide today how you will communicate at the speed of Twitter when a crisis strikes.
If the answer eludes you, call me at 985-624-9976. Your answer awaits.
by, Gerard Braud