Over the years I have managed several crises. My success depended on two actions. These actions were critical to success.

First, stay calm, analyze the situation and decide what you can do now in the current state.

Second, analyze what you can do in the future now’s, current states. This means the in the next minute, hour, day, tomorrow, and so forth. Understand that as the current now moves forward during a crisis the situation will change. Future now’s may change your actions, so you must remain flexible.

You are always dealing in the current state while moving toward a future current state.
Here are some examples of what may be helpful for you.

My first crisis was simple. We closed our restaurant at the Stafford hotel from 2 pm to 4 pm each day. We kept our coffee shop open during this time. The coffee shop had few customers. I do paperwork in my room during this time.

We had a new waitress. I explained to her that she had made a good process and I think you can gain more experience by working at the coffee shop during this slow time. That is what we did.

I am in my room. I get a desperate call from Ms. Walker my cashier. She said, “You better get down here, you have a problem.”

I got to the coffee shop, it was full of customers. A tour bus had stopped at our hotel. My new waitress was not there. I went into the kitchen, she was crying. She said, “I can’t serve all those people.” I said, “Yes we can. Here is what we will do. I will start on the counter you start with a booth. We will serve one customer at a time. They will probably only want coffee and Pie. We will just focus on one customer at a time.” This is what we did. In the end, we served every customer.

This is a simple crisis. But the method still stands. What can we do now? Stay calm and focus on now.

Over the years I handled more complicated situations. I saw firsthand that a major crisis can get beyond your resources. This means you have to gather the resources you need from other areas. Communication channels are most important for these resources to come to your aid.

As a Business Office Manager, I am charged with keeping the lights on for our customers. At 4 pm on Good Friday 1985, I stood in the West Blocton office looking west. There was a black cloud coming toward the office. I was new to this situation being the new manager. I had been a District Accounting Manager before this position. I saw what the Operation Department did during a snowstorm in February. Now, I would have to perform this alone.

What to do now. I knew the trouble tickets would start printing shortly. I called my lineman to the office. We sat in my office and waited. The calm before the storm. The tickets printed and we determined what areas to check first. They knew the distribution line system. We made decisions on what sections to check first. This was critical information.

My first now, I knew I needed the help of the office lineman. This was key, I stayed calm and sought help.

I sent my office lineman to trouble areas. They got the line energized, or let me know what was needed to get it back on. The lineman found trees down on lines and poles down. I called the District office and let them know we needed tree crews and Crew help. I then dispatched the tree crews and line crews. We worked all night. I got home at 10 pm on Saturday.

Now, the biggie, April 12, 2011, the Tuscaloosa Tornado. I worked as a supervisor in our Western Division Control Center. I scheduled the dispatchers and help them perform their job. I was the coordinator with the transmission control center in Birmingham. These roles were assigned to me before this storm. We watched the tornado on our tv monitors. Each member of our team knew what our role would be. We were calm and ready, we were trained. We performed our jobs before on other storms. This storm was bigger. We worked 16 hours a day for eight days.

We used communication in a big way. Our division leaders came to the storm room prepared for this purpose. Their goal was to analyze and forecast our needs. These needs were tremendous. We had to have outside help from our company and our sister companies. We used contract crews, tree crews, and community agencies. These were the resources we needed to get the power on for our customers.

Each member of our team knew their role. We were calm. We knew it would take us days to get our customers on. We had never experienced a storm like this. In the end, there were over three thousand customers we could not serve; their buildings were gone.

The key to managing a crisis is to stay calm; you know the crisis is only temporary. You must do what you can do now. How can you help your team in their roles? How can you get the outside help you need? You operate in the current state while you prepare for a future state.