Crisis Management for Physical-Activity Programs

By Connaughton, Daniel; Spengler, John O. et al. | JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, September 2001 | Go to article overview

Crisis Management for Physical-Activity Programs


Connaughton, Daniel, Spengler, John O., Bennett, Gregg, JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance


A child in physical education class suddenly collapses and stops breathing. Someone phones in a bomb threat at a high school football game. A set of bleachers collapses during a basketball game. The short-and long-term outcomes of each of these crises will depend greatly on whether a plan exists to handle such events. Sport and recreation managers, physical educators, coaches, fitness instructors, and others involved in providing physical activity must not only try to prevent crises, but also plan for them.

A common mistake that many such individuals make is thinking that they will know exactly what to do in the event of a crisis. In an emergency situation, however, they often have no specific plan of action, and their staff may not know how to react properly, quickly, and calmly. Having an established crisis-management plan (CMP) that is understood and regularly practiced by all staff members could prove invaluable in the event of an actual crisis. Since it is impossible to conduct a physical-activity program that is 100 percent risk free, all programs should have an appropriate CMP covering a wide range of potential crises.

Most crises have certain characteristics in common. For example, they often give rise to allegations that tell only part of the story and stimulate negative impressions about the organization. Additionally, they are almost always disruptive to the organization. The mission of the organization is usually placed on hold until the crisis is resolved. Finally, a crisis is usually unexpected, which places the organization in a reactionary mode. Therefore, it is important that an organization develop a CMP to prepare for such events. The purpose of this article is to inform physical-activity providers about the various strategies involved in crisis management.

Developing a Crisis-Management Plan

The primary goal of crisis-management planning is to develop comprehensive, written contingency plans that are based on existing resources and operational capabilities and that will enable staff members to deal with crises effectively (Connaughton, 2001). CMPs cannot be copied from an appendix in a book or from plans developed by other organizations; they must be specifically tailored for individual programs. Each program has unique factors that must be considered, including, but not limited to, the nature and location of the program, its participants and staff, the local emergency medical services (EMS) response time, and the facilities and equipment involved. Despite the uniqueness of each program, several basic components should form the foundation of all CMPs.

The initial step in developing a CMP is to formulate a planning team that will carry out the process. The team's primary task is to identify the possible crises that might arise in the organization. There are several methods of identifying potential risks. These methods include consulting with outside experts, reviewing industry trends, and studying accident/injury report forms. The locations where past incidents occurred, the nature of these incidents, and how they were handled will be valuable information in developing a CMP. Initially, it is necessary to consider all situations in which there is potential for crises to occur, from minor injuries to major catastrophes.

The next step is to develop an action plan for crisis response for each major category of hazard that may confront the organization. The nature and severity of specific emergencies that threaten an organization must be considered. In developing a plan, it is often best to begin by hypothesizing the worst scenarios and circumstances and then the best possible outcomes.

Several crucial components should be considered when developing CMPs. First, personnel issues should be addressed. The action plan should identify, by job title, those employees who will handle the crisis. The specific responsibilities of each such employee must be carefully outlined in a simple and very clear format. …

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