Dreamworld disaster a lesson in crisis management

Sometimes you can do everything in your power to minimise risk but things still go terribly wrong. The way you then deal with the disaster presents its own set of risks to your business and its ability to make it out the other side.

One of Australia’s iconic theme parks, Dreamworld on the Gold Coast, made headlines for all the wrong reasons in October this year following a terrible accident that claimed the lives of four innocent tourists.

In the weeks following the tragedy there was a great deal of speculation about Ardent Leisure Group, the owner and operator of the park, as well as the broader safety standards of theme parks nationwide.

“The Dreamworld example is what we call crisis management, so it’s dealing with the reputation impacts to the company,” explains Rick Stone, of risk management consultancy Tigertail.Caution tape

“[Businesses] need to be able to plan for dealing with that sort of crisis.

“It’s primarily a communications art, and it’s about ensuring that you are maintaining the reputation of the organisation and therefore the value of the organisation.”

As Rick points out, a crisis can have wide-reaching affects not just for the business at the centre of the incident, but also for businesses in the same community or industry.

“Anybody who operates a theme park or an amusement park, certainly in Australia at the moment, has a communications challenge and a reputation challenge as a result,” he says.

“If you are a coach operator who takes kids to Dreamworld, you’re probably getting cancellations. If you’re a hotel operator nearby, you’re probably getting cancellations. This is common, particularly after natural disasters, where people say ‘I’m not going to insert-name-of-place-here because they’ve just had a bushfire’.”

With this in mind, Rick suggests that your risk management plans not only look at the prevention of accidents and risks, but also include strategies for how to deal with a crisis that does unfold – whether it directly or indirectly impacts on your operations.

“If your business includes people coming to visit you and something happens that makes coming to visit your area less desirable, then that has an impact on your business … you have to think about how you [would] deal with that.”

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