What’s The Difference Between An Issue, A Crisis And An Emergency

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In the grand scheme of things knowing the difference between an issue, a crisis and an emergency can help you craft appropriate communication strategies to weather the storms.

From our last post, where we defined the life cycle of an issue, but we never really answered the big question: What is an issue?  So, an issue is a trend or condition that, if continued, would have a significant effect on how your company is operated, as one researcher sees it. That is to say, “an issue is a type of problem whose resolution can affect the organization,” says W. Timothy Coombs, a leading crisis communication researcher.

But there are two types of issues: crisis and emergencies. And each of these will affect your company differently.

Crisis: A crisis is an unpredictable event that is a major threat to your company, an entire industry or to stakeholders. Simply, a crisis is a crisis when it is of such magnitude that its occurrence will fundamentally change how you do business.

Emergency: The difference between a crisis and an emergency lies in the details. Yes, an emergency poses a treat to your company. Severe weather would be a good example of this. Yes, an emergency is unpredictable. And, yes, it will impact the company and, perhaps, the stakeholders. But the difference lies in two distinct areas. First an emergency won’t affect a whole industry. Usually emergencies are localized. Secondly, unlike a crisis that alters the fundamentals of an organization’s operations, an emergency temporarily disrupts them. Your company will usually recover fully from an emergency.

Recovery is the sticky part. However, understanding what is an issue, crisis and emergency helps with communication management. More on this later.

Previous posts in our series:

How To Manage Issues Before They Become A Crisis

What Is The Life Cycle Of An Issue?

About The Author: This is the third in a series of articles on issues management from our digital colleague, Rodger D. Johnson, who is a social media public relations counselor. He helps global companies, small businesses, and non-profits use public relations and social media strategies to strengthen brand equity. You can learn more about him at Get Social PR

About the Author

Harry Hoover
Harry Hoover is a partner in My Creative Team, the agency that makes Fortune 1000 clients look good. His communications career spans 35 years and runs the gamut from print and broadcast journalism, government and corporate communications to advertising and public relations agencies. He is the author of Born Creative: Free Your Mind, Free Yourself and Moving to Charlotte: The Un-Tourist Guide.

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