Don’t Give Up the Ship: Demonstrating the Benefits of Rigorous Crisis Management Training 

Too many business leaders think rigorous crisis management training is a waste of time. The defining moment in the career of a respected U.S. Navy captain shows its value. 

On Patrol in the Persian Gulf 

If you’re like me, you’ve never heard of U.S. Navy Capt. Paul Rinn. I only learned about him a few weeks ago when someone sent me a link to his obituary. The person who sent it thought I might be interested in Rinn’s philosophy about the importance of crisis management training—and the role this played in the defining moment of his career. 

I certainly was interested. In fact, I agreed with Rinn’s approach a hundred percent.  

And there could hardly be a better example of the value of that approach than what happened to Rinn and the warship he commanded in the Persian Gulf in 1988. 

The Samuel B. Roberts Hits a Mine 

The story started on April 14 when Rinn’s ship, the U.S.S. Samuel B. Roberts, a guided missile frigate, struck an Iranian mine while protecting Kuwaiti oil tankers during the Iran-Iraq War. 

Actually, the story started well before that, in 1984. That was when Rinn was made captain of the Roberts, then still under contstruction.  

Rinn made a commitment to make the frigate the best ship that ever was. He succeeded in getting his officers and crew to embrace this ambition, and when the ship was finally commissioned, in 1986, he created a shipboard culture of high standards and great dedication. He and his crew thought carefully about the threats and situations they were likely to encounter. They trained intensively to make sure they were as combat ready as possible.  

In Rinn’s obituary in the Washington Post, a fellow Navy captain describes his approach this way: “We’re going to practice this over and again, until it’s perfect. And then we’re going to practice it perfectly over and over again.” 

On the Roberts’ maiden voyage, Rinn’s devotion to training, teamwork, and thoughtful preparation won it an award as the best overall ship in its squadron. 

Two years later, when the ship struck the Iranian mine, this commitment saved the ship. 

Coping with a Fifteen-Foot Hole in the Side 

The mine blew a massive, fifteen-foot-hole in the Roberts’ hull, broke the keel, started fires, and cut off the ship’s electrical power. The ship rapidly began taking on water, threatening its ability to stay afloat. Ten sailors were severely injured, including Capt. Rinn, whose foot was broken.  

Naval analysts who studied the incident later marveled that the ship didn’t sink. 

But Rinn and his crew, over the course of a four-hour struggle, were able to contain the flooding, put out the fires, get out of the minefield, and save the ship, which eventually made it to the friendly port of Dubai.  

The heroism of the captain and his crew during that four-hour battle can hardly be overstated. But what really saved the Roberts was Capt. Rinn’s commitment to training and the many hours of intensive drills he and the crew participated in before the emergency. 

Lessons from the Sammy B. 

After undergoing repairs in Maine, the Roberts put in an additional 27 years of active service in the Navy. Paul Rinn went on to captain another warship, be inducted into the hall of fame of the Surface Navy Association, and lecture frequently to Navy personnel on the lessons of his experience. 

What lessons do Rinn’s experiences, and those of the Sammy B., as the ship was affectionately known by its crew, have for business leaders and business continuity professionals? 

It’s safe to say that no one reading this blog post is likely to be steering a warship through the Persian Gulf any time soon. 

However, everyone in a responsible position at an organization today knows the experience of trying to safely navigate through challenging waters containing potentially dangerous obstacles. 

Rather than naval mines, the common threats businesses face today go by such names as active shooter incident, pandemic, cyberattack, social media crisis, reputational emergency, power outage, extreme weather event, wildfire, and loss of a critical vendor. 

If one of these challenges strikes your organization, blasting a figurative hole in the hull, are you and your crew ready to cope?  

If you do not mind sinking, you do not have to do a thing. You can hang on to the idea that training is a waste of time and that your employees will be able to improvise an effective response when the time comes. 

But if you want to give your team and yourself a fighting chance to save your ship, I suggest you take a page from Capt. Paul Rinn’s book: make a commitment to excel, enlist the support of your crew, think about the threats you’re likely to face, and practice meeting them—over and over again. 

Saving Their Ship 

A commonly held belief among business executives is that it’s not worthwhile to train staff in crisis management and disaster response. Many executives cling to the idea that their employees will be able to improvise a sound response if and when something bad happens. 

A more realistic approach is that of Navy Captain Paul Rinn. Through a long-term commitment to thoughtful, intensive training, he kept his crew at the peak of combat and emergency readiness. As a result, following a mine strike that should have sent the ship to the bottom, he and the crew were able to save their ship. Their experience is a vivid demonstration of the benefits of rigorous crisis management training. 

Further Reading 

For more information on crisis management training and other hot topics in business continuity and IT/disaster recovery, check out these recent posts from BCMMETRICS and MHA Consulting: 

 

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