Monday, September 19, 2011

Reno Air Tragedy & The Discipline of Disaster Response

In one horrific, brutal instant this year's Reno Air Races turned from awe-inspiring, heart-pounding excitement to tragedy as a P-51 Mustang nose-dived into the crowd. The stories of shock, horror and heroism have filtered out over the last few days as investigators seek to find the cause of the crash.

The Today Show posted new video of the crash this morning. If you have the stomach to watch it you will understand what I mean when I say "horrific, brutal instant." Most disasters unfold this way.

The emergency response to this incident was heroic. Consider this: Within 62 minutes of the crash, EMS workers transported 56 injured patients, many critically injured, to two area hospitals.

That heroic response didn't just happen. It was practiced.
  • In July, the Reno Air Races held an emergency drill where they simulated a plane crash into the grandstand with mass casualties. Local EMS, Fire and Police took part in that exercise
  • The morning of the crash, EMS officials walked through procedures for a mass casualty event
  • The NTSB had a team at the race in case of a crash
  • News updates were issued by nearly every agency involved across multiple platforms; social media, news releases, blogs, impromptu press conferences and interviews
I've said before that great crisis communications starts with a great imagination. It's ok to be diabolical in a drill and it's ok if the staff fails during an exercise. That's how they will learn and be better in the real world. 

Success in emergency response and crisis communications starts with an honest assessment of what the worst-case scenario could be and training to be ready for the worst-case response. It takes discipline and courage to spend money, time and resources on something that most of the time will never happen. 

Pull out your crisis plan this week. Talk through a worst-case scenario with your staff. The worst-case is probably not going to happen.

If it does, realize that there will be people whose lives depend on how willing you were to be ready. 

Bill Salvin


  1. It's a testament to the discipline and foresight of the responders in Reno that they were so prepared. A great lesson for any operating entity that has potential for a crisis event.

    Tom Mueller, BP

  2. Completely agree, Tom. Thanks for reading and for taking the time to comment.