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The Harkcon First 15, Crisis Communications Strategy

"All problems become smaller when you confront them instead of dodging them."

- William F. Halsey, Fleet Admiral, US Navy during World War II

Crisis Leadership Model: The First 15 A 4-Phase Model + Crisis Communications Strategy.

The First 15TM Incident Response System is active from long before an event occurs and continues to remain active until the organization is fully recovered. The four main phases include

  1. Preparing for a crisis;

  2. Assessing the situation;

  3. Responding to a crisis; and

  4. Recovering from a crisis.

The First 15TM Incident Response System encourages organizations to establish a deliberate planning process in the Preparation phase. Although the details and complexity of this process will certainly vary between organizations/agencies of different types and sizes, First 15TM provides a prescriptive method to prepare in advance of an incident. The planning process begins with an innovative and proprietary internal analysis to explore and define the unique environment in which the organization/agency operates and the parameters that will necessarily guide the remainder of the planning process. Through detailed preparation for the worst case scenario, you will simultaneously enhance your readiness to respond to all other incidents, of any size. The First 15TM planning process will result in the following.

  1. Organization-specific planning parameters and limitations

  2. Identification of organizational strengths and weaknesses

  3. Establishment of tiered response concept based on ICS principles

  4. Templated incident response plans for the highest priority threats

  5. Details necessary to recover from incidents

  6. A robust and continuous training and exercise program

  7. Improved coordination and relationship with first responders

  8. Various policies and procedures to improve responses to non-templated incidents

The First 15TM Incident Response System then presents and describes several foundational principles for continuously assessing for threats, responding to and recovering from incidents in the next 3 phases. We then guide the organization through a review of each principle to determine if it is applicable to the organization's needs. If it is selected for implementation, we tailor it to the specific requirements of the organization and assist with developing policies, procedures, and detailed incident response plans.

Although the distinct phases of the model allows for distribution of resources, effort, and focus, they are interdependent, interwoven and connected to each other like links in a chain. Each phase runs into and overlaps the other as the crisis occurs and evolves over time. In fact, like a chain, it is only as strong as its weakest link. Any weakness in planning, assessing, responding or recovery efforts can cause you to potentially lose control over managing the crisis. All four phases must reinforce/support each other in order to minimize the impact of the crisis and maximize your chances of quickly returning back to normal operations.

Crisis Communications

Underlying the four phases of the model is Crisis Communications and the need to communicate in an open and honest manner with everyone involved in and impacted by the crisis. The First 15TM Incident Response System includes specific detail on how to plan and conduct communications before, during, and after an incident.

Each of the five focus areas – the four phases and crisis communications – are associated with 3 Sentinel Habits, which must be learned, establish, and reinforced at every level in order to create a vigilant and responsive First 15TM Incident Response System.


About the authors:

Mark Ruckstuhl is part of the leadership team at Harkcon Academy. He is a 1989 graduate of the United States Coast Guard Academy and he served in the Coast Guard for 25 years, primarily in operational afloat positions but also in several leadership positions in the Coast Guard Training System and at Headquarters. Since retiring in 2010, he has been a consultant for Harkcon Inc, leading and conducting various high-profile human performance analyses for federal law enforcement agencies.

Denny Harkins worked in the Arizona Department of Corrections for over 26 years, including 18 years in the warden ranks running prisons of every size and custody level. During his tenure he oversaw a comprehensive staffing study for the ADOC and was part of a team that brought the incident command system to Arizona Prisons, after which he served as Incident Commander for three major inmate disturbances. Since retiring, he has been actively engaged in ministry, public speaking and as a consultant in crisis response for Harkcon Academy.

Harkcon Academy is a branch of Harkcon, Inc., an award-winning Service-Disabled, Veteran-Owned business committed to providing comprehensive organizational and workforce performance analysis, training development & delivery, and performance support solutions in both domestic and international environments. Harkcon Academy's speakers, instructors, and training specialists each have a deep and rich background in government, military, and private industry. Harkcon Academy brings a wealth of expertise to bear on every course, workshop, exercise, or consulting session in which they are involved.

For more information about this or any of the new initiatives at Harkcon Academy, visit or contact Mark directly at

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