I’m pretty sure that everyone has at least heard something about the collapse of an apartment building in Miami, FL in the US. There have been 4 confirmed fatalities and depending on the source there are between 99 and 159 missing as of the latest updates. As an incident, this is absolutely a disaster and the Incident Management Teams are leading from the front – coordinating resources and establishing a clear unity of messaging as the search and rescue operations proceed.(BBC, SKY NEWS, CNN, FOX ) the Crisis Management teams have yet to take the field, but I’m sure they are very busy preparing to do so once the dust from the scene begins to settle.
While the building collapse is horrific, this incident is going to provide an amazing opportunity to observe and learn from some of the best first responders and incident managers in the world. It is also going to be a significant crisis that throws a lot of attention on the Crisis Management capabilities and capacities of the local community, the property owners, the government bureaucracy, and elected and appointed officials.
What was known before the collapse?
There are also some interesting stories coming out about the collapsed property that are going to make crisis management extremely challenging. There are multiple reports that the building was known to have been “sinking” over the past several decades (mostly from UK news sources – SUN, INDEPENDENT ) and that the property owners had been previously warned of an increased risk of structural collapse. One source states that the building had been inspected earlier this week (NBC). There is a lot of civil precedent that knowing something is wrong with a product and not taking action creates a significant amount of liability when someone ends up injured or killed in a manner associated with that product. The best example is probably Liebeck v. McDonald’s Restaurants, where McDonald’s knew that their coffee was being served at dangerous temperatures and did not take any action to mitigate the associated risk.
I have to wonder if the research reports about the state of the building were ever taken seriously, or if they were labeled as “too hard to deal with” and filed away so people could conveniently ignore the risk.
I’m sure there are lawyers salivating over the news coverage as you read this content.
Incident and Crisis Management
While the incident is ongoing, and falling into a defined process established by well developed and practiced emergency action plans, I see the Crisis as just beginning. Was the long-term understanding of increasing risk of structural collapse communicated to the right people? How about to the residents? Were the property owners taking any action to manage that risk? How did the structure pass inspection and then catastrophically collapse in the same week?
I think this might turn into a very interesting case study in Crisis Management and Crisis Readiness – looking at the property owners, the local community, the government bureaucracy, and the elected and appointed officials. There are going to be a lot of players in this effort, and the variations in readiness and preparedness to manage the crisis are quickly going to become apparent.
As an experienced first responder – I’ve been “on the pile” after structural collapses like this, I understand the horror of the response and the incredible complexity of what the responders are doing. My heart goes out for those who lost their lives, lost family members, or have any connection with anybody among the missing. Everyone on that scene is in my thoughts and prayers (for what they’re worth). We are going to learn a lot about urban search and rescue – the teams have new equipment and protocols that have never been tested domestically, or at all in some cases. While the responders are saving lives, and later recovering remains, the data being collected will be invaluable in helping us learn how to respond better to this type of incident in the future.
As a Crisis Manager – I’m laying out drinks and popcorn to watch how this situation evolves. I think we are going to see some masterful efforts at controlling and mitigating this crisis. Unfortunately, I also think we are going to see examples of what not to do or say. In either case, there are going to be opportunities to learn a lot, no matter how the Crisis Management efforts move forward.