When crisis management is in crisis | Sunday Observer

When crisis management is in crisis

2 October, 2022

“The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.” – Antonio Gramsci

All the reports from local and international news agencies to research institutes and funding agencies such as the IMF, World Bank (WB), and Asian Development Bank (ADB) refer to the current situation in Sri Lanka as a political crisis created by an economic crisis.

What most of them do not talk about is the social crisis which led to the economic crisis in the first place. If one faces a crisis situation and intend to come out of that then one certainly has to find and eliminate the root cause of the crisis.

As anyone would expect, the time factor involved in that process is very important since, as Gramsci has pointed out, a great variety of morbid symptoms can appear during that time.

An individual may recognise a particular situation as a crisis due to the limited knowledge or the way the person has processed the information through his/her way of thinking. There may be others who do not see the same situation as a crisis at all and therefore they will be able to help the other to get out of the crisis easily.

Examples of such situations are seen almost daily basis with new technology. Though a blank computer or phone screen in the middle of reading something can be a crisis for the older generation who are not familiar with the equipment, it is just a normal expectation for the youngsters who know what button to press. In that situation a five-year old grandchild can bring the grandparent out of the crisis.

Military action

Sri Lankans may still remember the time when an unattended bag or a package in a public place was a crisis, for good reasons of course, that required military action.

There are people who face a crisis when they have to travel in a vehicle or go to a place where they notice another person with a certain skin colour or from a certain ethnic background due to the way their thought process work.

Almost all such people can be helped out of respective crisis situations with a little information, knowledge and training, or even with some counseling. But when a group of students, employees, villagers, people from a certain religious or ethnic background, or a whole nation is experiencing a crisis it is not that easy to help them out of the situation without proper understanding of the root cause, a plan to manage it, and a path to a sustainable solution.

Crisis management has become a prominent area of discussion and training for managers and leaders of organisations. One can find many books and academic papers written on the subject and seminars, webinars and workshops conducted all over the world. Before one tries to manage it, one should have a good understanding about what a crisis is.

The Oxford Dictionary defines ‘crisis’ as: “a time of great danger, difficulty or doubt when problems must be solved, or important decisions must be made”. Some people see disasters as crises while disasters are divided in to two parts as ‘man-made disasters’ and ‘natural-disasters’.

Segregated approach

This type of a segregated approach itself may very well be making it harder to avoid some crises since ‘man’ is also a part of the nature. Though any disaster is a crisis, there can be crises that are not disasters. The whole world is facing a climate crisis and the increasing rate of environment pollution is also a crisis. Some experts describe crises as predictable outcomes of ‘un-ness’. Meaning, they are the outcomes of un-operational, un-planned, un-realistic, un-expected…., and un-wise strategic choices made by the decision makers.

Crises involve an accumulation of adverse conditions, severe threat, uncertainty, and the necessity for prompt and wise decision making.

Sri Lankans may have had enough and more opportunities to improve their knowledge about crises since their colonial days. The country is experiencing an economic and financial crisis that is leading to a political crisis which might even end up as a humanitarian crisis. Our political parties and most of the politicians are in a constant identity crisis not knowing where exactly they would fit in.

According to literature in the medical sciences a crisis is: “the point in the course of a disease at which a decisive change occurs, leading either to recovery or to death”. The task facing the clinician is to detect that a crisis is at hand, to diagnose its underlying cause(s), and to take the necessary steps to divert the course of the patient’s condition from impending disaster towards recovery.

Medical crises are challenging for various reasons such as: non-specific symptoms, time constraints, inadequate drugs, equipment, or assistance, inexperience of the attending medical team, and sometimes the inability of the team leader to trust a junior’s creative idea even when they are running out of options.

In crises, clinicians themselves often experience anxiety, overlooking the basics, running out of theories and manuals, and are prone to confirmation bias.

As we know, if this task is not managed adequately, the consequences can be tragic, irrespective of the reason(s) for the inadequacy.

Regular intervals

That is why people such as: medical professionals, emergency responders, fire fighters, and law enforcement personals conduct emergency drills in regular intervals.

Some situations require a well-coordinated involvement of several professional groups to manage the crisis. Therefore, communication and collaboration among stakeholders are essential elements of a proper crisis management procedure.

Having precompiled algorithms, manuals, and a coordinating system and keeping them updated is also very important in the process.

Unfortunately, Sri Lankans are not able to find any such material in managing the type of crises they are facing today. Perhaps, creating such a support system should also be a vital part of the management plans of the present crisis.

However, just as they wouldn’t go to the same medical team who has been responsible for deaths of several patients due to mismanagement of crisis situations, it shouldn’t be that difficult for them to understand that they shouldn’t expect the same team of politicians and professionals who have been responsible for the similar crises in the country, repeatedly, to help them out of this crisis either.

Though there is criticism about the Chinese involvement in the Sri Lankan foreign debt crisis, there may be other things we can learn from them too. John F. Kennedy once famously said: “when written in Chinese, the word ‘crisis’ is composed of two characters.

Current situation

One represents danger and the other represents opportunity”. This may very well be as good an opportunity as any other for Sri Lankans to look at the current situation not only as an economic and/or political crisis but also from the perspective of an imminent threat to the social fabric and the institutional order of the country.

The writer has served in the higher education sector as an academic over twenty years in the USA and fifteen years in Sri Lanka and he can be contacted at [email protected].