THE INFLUENZA A (H1N1): Malaysia Experience
Helping organization to understand the impact of inappropriate or poorly thought out
communication during crisis is one of the most important strategic management
services can provide. According to Ruin (2002), continued exposure to crisis would
adversely erode an organization’s reputation. To have a strategic management that
deals with crisis requires a tool that has value without insulting the manager's
intelligence, has impact without belaboring the obvious, inspires action without over-
simplifying, and illustrates options and choices without teaching unnecessary, ill-
advised lessons in crisis management and communication.
Research and planning are the most essential roles in crisis management, because
they allow the organization to identify and address potentially threatening issues to
prevent and manage a crisis. Crisis preparation helps organizations anticipate,
identify and organize strategies and tactics to prevent or modify the impact of events
(Stocker, 1997). Therefore it is important to see thee crisis management as a test of
the quality and character of manager leadership in the organization as much as it is
a test of skill (Hesselbein, 2002).
2.0 THE INFLUENZA A (H1N1) CASE STUDY
The 2009 flu outbreak in Malaysia is part of a larger flu pandemic involving a new
type of Influenza A virus subtype H1N1 A (H1N1)) virus. The first death related to the
H1N1 virus in Malaysia was reported on 23 July, 2009 and so far there have been 73
deaths reported. On July 6, 2009 Malaysia announced that it was shifting from
containment to mitigation to tackle the spread of the virus. The federal government
has declared a national health emergency in Malaysia due to the H1N1 outbreak and
is considering imposing a health curfew similar to the week-long shutdown of non-
essential services and industries in Mexico.
As of 11 August 2009, the country has over 2,253 cases, beginning with "imported"
cases from affected countries, including the United States and Australia from May
15, 2009 onwards, and the first local transmission on June 17, 2009. From August
12, the Malaysian Health Ministry said that it had discontinued officially updating the
total number of H1N1 cases within Malaysia in line with guidelines issued by the
World Health Organization.
Health Ministry Director-General Tan Sri Dr Ismail Merican has advised Malaysians
returning for holidays from the United States, United Kingdom, Australia and the
Philippines must quarantine themselves at home for seven days. On June 25, 2009
the Health Ministry issued a statement to all employers to allow seven days
unrecorded leave for staff placed under quarantine for A (H1N1) or going into self-
quarantine after visiting Australia, Mexico, the Philippines or the United States. The
Health Ministry has said most imported cases of the Influenza A (H1N1) reported in
the country involved people who returned from these countries. School authorities
have been told to monitor students and staff members for symptoms of influenza A
(H1N1) such as fever and flu to avoid locally transmitted cases.
On May 15, the Health Ministry confirmed Malaysia's first case of A (H1N1) infection
of a 21 year-old male student who had arrived at the KLIA on May 13 via a Malaysia
Airlines flight from Newark and on transit at Stockholm-Arlanda Airport, followed by a
second case on May 16 of a female student in Penang who shared the same flight
as the first patient and boarded an AirAsia flight from KLIA to Penang International
Airport. In response to the country's first case of Influenza A (H1N1), the Health
Ministry urged calm among the populace as the situation is under control and the
Health Ministry has taken all the possible precautionary measures to control and
contain the disease.
This unfortunate outbreak is a test to the crisis management of the Malaysian Health
Ministry to be better prepared to protect the Malaysian population from the threat of
infectious diseases. However, it also made realizes that something important was
missing from its service delivery process within the Ministry of Health and other
related government departments and agencies in term of the communication
planning, procedure, work-coordination, and task-execution during the crisis.
3.0 INFLUENZA A H1N1: CRISIS COMMUNICATION PLAN
Since the Nipah virus outbreak in 1999, the Health Ministry have put in place
processes to be better prepared to protect the Malaysian population from the threat
of infectious diseases. Malaysia was fully prepared during the Severe Acute
Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) situation and the episode of the H5N1 (bird flu)
outbreak in 2004.
The Malaysian government has developed a National Influenza Pandemic
Preparedness Plan (NIPPP) which serves as a time bound guide for preparedness
and response plan for influenza pandemic. It provides a policy and strategic
framework for a multi-sectoral response and contains specific advice and actions to
be undertaken by the Ministry of Health at the different levels, other governmental
departments and agencies and non governmental organizations to ensure that
resources are mobilized and used most efficiently before, during and after a
pandemic episode. But unfortunately too much responsibility are been up on the
Health Ministry to deal with the epidemics and lack of support and
miscommunication between inter-government departmental and agencies can be
seen as crippling the flow of Influenza A H1N1 disease containment procedures.
The Crisis Response Committee Management headed by the Health Ministry to
tackle this outbreak must also allowed all the others government departmental
managers within the committee to achieve collective support, prevent post-trauma
stress reactions, and to put people and national interest first. It must fulfill three
1) prevention of post-traumatic stress reactions by reaching affected individuals
and groups before they have a chance to seal over
2) communication of crisis-related information in order to contain fears and
3) fostering of confidence in management as in control of the crisis and
demonstrating concern for people and nation welfare.
One of the first jobs of the Crisis Response Management Committee is to make
decisions about how to bring crisis-specific information to the attention of people. It is
crucial that this information come from management. There must be a coordinated
process for deciding the method of communication. This is also the time for
establishing what the facts are, what if any constraints there may be on what
information can be shared, including legal issues, issues of confidentiality, and, if
necessary, dealing with the media.
At intervals thereafter for the duration of the intervention, the Crisis Response
Committee must meets to evaluate and to plan for the future. This information can be
quite important in the recovery and healing process and it is always important for a
work organization such as the Health Ministry and any other government agencies to
use a trauma as an opportunity for productive change. This may come in the form of
improved safety regulations and the implementation of improved intra-group of
government departments and agencies management communications.
4.0 LEARNING FROM THE CRISIS MANAGEMENT: THE MALAYSIA
Action in crisis very much reflects the general competency of an organization, in this
case the Crisis Response Committee Management headed by the Health Ministry,
as the test of crisis demonstrates how well the organization’s structure and policies
have been formed to serve the organizations goals and withstand those
circumstances which might interfere with them.
Crisis may be further defined by examining the primary types of crisis situations.
Using terminology of the Institute for Crisis Management (ICM), the two primary
manifestations are sudden crises and smoldering crises. Sudden crises are
circumstances that occur without warning and beyond an organizational control.
Consequently, sudden crises are most often situations for which the institution and
its leadership are not blamed. Examples of these may include natural disasters,
disease outbreak (like Influenza A H1N1), terrorist attacks and sabotage.
Crisis control management involves five phases which are: signal detection,
preparation and prevention, containment and damage control, business recovery,
and learning. Each phase reflects an obstacle that any given organization manager
may overcome to improve the structure and operations of the organization he or she
serves. For example, in the Influenza A H1N1 case, both the containment and
damage control, as well as the Crisis Response Committee Management headed by
the Health Ministry reputation recovery phases are concerned with returning the
organization main business back to the previous state level it had achieved prior to
This, however, is a shallow management-style approach to the problem. Crisis
management would use these phases as a means of learning, the last phase of a
crisis, which generally does not apply to corporations led by corporate managers.
Learning entails reflecting on the cause and effect of the crisis and developing a
“business-anew paradigm” which restructures the institution to make it stronger on all
levels. An important aspect of this particular competency is the consideration of
specific threats that may seem counterintuitive. As such, it is essential to allow the
possibility that some vulnerabilities stem from an organization’s own leadership. Two
other competencies include making wise and rapid decisions as well as taking
During the crisis, managers should have the resources for a precise and complete
understanding of the nature of the organization, and therefore the ability to make
effective and innovative decisions in times of crisis. The understanding necessary for
these kinds of decisions is achieved by the final competency: learning from crisis to
effect change. It is only with this policy that organizations such as the Health Ministry
and any other government agencies will be most prepared and most effective in
In a crisis prepared organization, leadership and managers learn from each crisis. In
order to be crisis prepared, the Health Ministry should always conduct an
assessment of its readiness to meet crises. This will include both an audit of what
crises they are likely to face, as well as an evaluation of systems. Audit methods
may include survey questionnaires, focus groups, interviews with individuals from
upper and line management and specialized functions, and review of existing
policies, procedures and resources that bear on prevention and response to crisis.
On the same time, the organization must also develop policies, procedures, and
available specialists as result of audit. Being prepared means following through by
training personnel in policies and having meaningful procedures for timely and
coordinated response. Too many organizations have crisis plans “ready on the
books” but fumble when a real crisis presents itself. Here is where the involvement of
top management separates the truly crisis prepared from the crisis prone.
5.0 STRATEGIC COMMUNICATION MANAGEMENT FOR CRISIS
MANAGEMENT RESPONSE MODEL
During crisis management, it is up to the Crisis Response Committee Management
headed by the Health Ministry to act as the coordinator between the Malaysian
government and the public. The Strategic Communication during Crisis Management
Response Model which was developed by the Institute of Crisis Management (ICM)
in 2006 consists of three components, namely operational response, management
response and communication response.
(a) Operational Response
Operational response occurs at the point of crisis and where full information of the
crisis can be gathered. At the operational response stage, emergency response
procedure are implemented to protect employees and business operations, as well
as to access the situation so as to give the head office a clear picture of the situation.
The top management upon receiving detailed report should take necessary actions
to overcome and mitigate the situation.
(b) Management Response
As soon as the management has been informed about the occurrence of a crisis, the
crisis management team shall be activated. The team should consist of members
from the three components in the model. Doing so will ensure the uniformity of the
information and collective decision on action plan can be carried out to overcome the
crisis. An organization with no standard procedure/manual in handling crisis will
definitely face many difficulties. The team shall advise the top management on
immediate appropriate action to be taken.
(c) Communication Response
Communicating to the public during a crisis is not easy. This challenge is normally
given to the designated spokesperson that is properly trained with public relations
and communication skills, He must be skillful enough to deal and face the media as
to ensure all questions and demands are attained. Effective and well planned crisis
communication will minimize adverse impact to the organization during a crisis.
During a crisis, strategic communication management should always proceed in
such a way it can harvest the most effective outcome from the three components
collectively in order to generate a unified response to the crisis. This will enable the
Public Relation Division of the Committee to release accurate information to the
public and avoid confusion (Bahtiar, Hassan & Saidathul: 2005).
Any organization may fall into another crisis because of its failure in dealing with the
public. This may lead to confusion, along with financial and personal losses due to
poor public image. Dealing with the crisis reflects the quality of the organization
response to a crisis and the efficiency of their decision making process.
As such the Health Ministry plays an important role in maintaining good and cordial
relationship with the media whose audiences are the general public and those as
part of the team of different government departments and agencies in the Crisis
Response Committee should be skilled and experienced in executing the task given.
A well-organized in communication during crisis management being must be in place
to as not only advert imminent situations from becoming ugly but will also lay the
foundation to fostering good relations with the public’s critics.
6.0 CRISIS COMMUNICATIONS MANAGEMENT: PROCEDURES AND
In crisis management, the managers’ role is to develop and document the action
plans to facilitate communication of critical continuity information. Coordinate and
exercise with stakeholders and the media to ensure clarity during crisis
communications as follows:
a. Establish Crisis Communications Program
b. Develop Processes and Procedures to establish Programs for Proactive Crisis
c. Exercise Crisis Communications for the Program
d. Implement Crisis Communication Plan at time of disaster event
The crisis manager should demonstrate a working knowledge in the following areas:
1) ESTABLISH CRISIS COMMUNICATIONS PROGRAM
(i) Define Objectives, Scope and Program Structure
(ii) Develop guidelines for communications with Emergency Response
(iii) Define escalation procedures
(iv) Establish Communications standards and guidelines
2) ESTABLISHING CRISIS COMMUNICATIONS POLICIES
2.1) Developing Processes and Procedures to establish Programs for
Proactive Crisis Communications
(a) Identify groups to receive communications
(i) Internal groups (examples include: corporate, lines of business,
(ii) External groups (examples include: media, customers, vendors,
suppliers, public, local state and government agencies)
(iii) Media (examples include: print, radio, television, and internet)
(iv) Stakeholders (examples include: patient, people)
3) DEVELOP COMMUNICATION PROCESSES AND PROCEDURES FOR
EACH IDENTIFIED GROUP
(i) Internal Groups
a) Identify designated communications spokesperson (HR, PR and
b) Identify most effective methods for communications
c) Establish engagement criteria
d) Ensure communications align with organizational requirements.
e) Agree upon frequency of communications which include pre, post and
(ii) External Groups
a) Identify designated communications spokesperson
b) Identify most effective methods for communications
c) Establish engagement criteria
d) Ensure communications target specific external audiences.
e) Agree upon frequency of communications which include pre, post and
a) Identify designated communications spokesperson methods for
b) Establish engagement criteria
c) Ensure consistency in messaging throughout the organization.
d) Agree upon frequency of communications
e) Develop ongoing methodologies to manage media relationships.
a) Define stakeholders as any persons or groups that have a vested
interest in the organization and or can be affected by a crisis situation.
b) Identify designated communications spokesperson
c) Identify most effective methods for communications
d) Establish engagement criteria
e) Ensure consistency in messaging throughout the organization.
f) Agree upon frequency of communications which include pre, post and
4) EXERCISE COMMUNICATIONS PLANS FOR THE PROGRAM
4.1) Document Crisis Communications Exercise Standards and Guidelines
a) Scope and Objectives
b) Establish Exercise Schedule
c) Identify Crisis Management Declaration Team
5) DOCUMENT CRISIS COMMUNICATIONS EXERCISE REQUIREMENTS
a) Scope and Objectives
c) Identify Test Type
6) CONDUCT CRISIS COMMUNICATIONS EXERCISE AND DOCUMENT
CRISIS COMMUNICATIONS EXERCISE RESULTS
a) Open Issues
b) Lessons Learned
c) Update Communications Plans based on findings
7) IMPLEMENT CRISIS COMMUNICATION PLAN AT TIME OF DISASTER
a) Crisis Management Declaration Team authorizes implementation
b) Implementation begins as per processes/procedures
7.0 ORGANIZATION CRISIS COMMUNICATIONS POLICY: DO AND DON’T
1. All crises should be reported immediately through proper channel.
2. Only the chief spokesperson and back-up spokespeople are authorized to
release information to the media and to the public. All other staff, board and
committee members should be professional and helpful to the media by
connecting them with the spokespeople, but will neither speak to the media,
nor provide any information.
3. There should be one designated crisis management lead person, directing
and coordinating all aspects of the organization’s response including
managing the messages and the media.
4. There should also be one designated spokesperson who is actually interacts
with the media and other inquirers. In some cases, particularly in the event of
a “small crisis,” the two may be the same person. In others, the jobs may be
divided to facilitate efficient handling of the situation.
5. "No comment" is never an acceptable response. If an answer is unknown or
cannot be immediately answered, make note of the question, tell the inquirer
you will get back with him/her, and do so.
6. If the question cannot be answered due to a policy such as sharing personnel
information, let the inquirer know that.
7. Personnel matters are to remain confidential.
8. When possible, responses should be proactive, responsive, and action-
9. Recognizes the importance of media relation to public trust. In times of crisis,
maintaining effective media relationships will be particularly critical in
bolstering public confidence in the sector as a whole.
Crisis communication in organization always fall into two groups which is either crisis
prone or crisis prepared. Managers of crisis prone organization deny the inevitability
of crisis and its increasing presence as a part of workplace life. Consequently, these
organizations lack the policies, procedures and resources that they will need to
respond to crisis effectively and in a timely fashion. Therefore any organization that
deals with crisis management must always work and move as one team which is a
crucial component of crisis readiness. Crisis response requires teamwork, and it
requires an ongoing process of consultation, information collecting, and decision-
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