Emergency! What SCUBA Dive Instruction Can Teach You About Responding to a Business Crisis

SCUBA instructor saving a person from drowningA few years ago as a hobby, I became a SCUBA Instructor. It was a great weekend gig that kept me outside, in the water, and interacting with divers eager to learn about our oceans.

To ensure I knew what I was doing in the unlikely event of an emergency, I attended Emergency First Responder (EFR) training. It wasn’t anything fancy, but it was enough given that we were rarely far from a 911 call.

Since then, I haven’t had the need to use my training much when SCUBA diving, but I have applied the fundamental Emergency Response lessons many times in my own team meetings and collaboration efforts. Whether facing a crisis with your most important business client or with an injured diver, the key steps are the same.

Emergency Response Fundamentals


The first thing you must do is assess the situation. Is this a small or large problem? Do you need to call for help or can you deal with it locally? Don’t just look at the immediate problem (the patient) – make sure to assess the surrounding environment. Look up, down, and around. For instance, is what created the problem (a gas leak, an unhappy customer) a continued danger to you, your team, or your other customers? Can you start working on the patient or problem or do you need to seek higher ground first? At this stage, don’t be shy about asking for help from others to ensure you didn’t miss anything.


If you decide you need help then call for it immediately. Don’t hesitate or prevaricate: just do it. Better yet, have someone else do it while you remain focused on the problem and getting to a solution. Calling for help could mean dialing 911, calling your boss, informing someone else in your hierarchy, or all of the above!


After you’ve called for help, you need to stabilize the problem. You need to get to a state where at least the problem isn’t getting any worse and continuing to cause damage. Some problems have already gone nuclear and all you can do is gawk at the mushroom cloud and resign yourself to the cleanup. But others are manageable and much can be done.

  1. Get your patient to safety. If your best customer is vocal about not getting the service they need, first make sure they understand that you are there to solve the problem.
  2. Make sure the airways are open. Keep the lines of communication going!
  3. Stem any loss of blood. Don’t let that customer walk out the door angry.


One problem with novice emergency responders is that they get caught up in the situation and their perception narrows. They forget to involve others. Don’t let that happen to you: keep a clear heard, stay focused on the whole problem and not minor side issues. Delegate tasks whenever possible, especially those that take your focus away from the problem at hand – like finding a blanket to keep the patient warm!


Many people do all the right things: they assess the problem, call for help, and then stabilize the situation. But once they do these steps they think their job is done, and they can go have a beer until the real pros arrive. Not so. Until help arrives you are in charge of the problem! Stay with it and continue to check in until you know your patient is out of danger.

So how do we translate these steps into a repeatable meeting agenda template we can all use for our emergency meetings? Take a look.

Emergency Response Meeting Agenda

In a business setting I’ve heard these meetings referred to as “Red Light Events” or “All Hands on Deck”, with each basically following this format.

  1. Situation Report (Assess the Situation)
    What happened? Keep to the facts and don’t editorialize. After the initial meeting, stick to what has changed from the previous Situation Report.
  2. Brainstorm Solutions (Call for Help)
    Get help from your colleagues to quickly outline possible solutions and don’t discard anything until you have all your ideas down. Then whittle away based on what’s the best use of resources vs. possible outcomes.
  3. Action Plan (Stabilize and Delegate)
    Once you’ve identified the appropriate solution, create your action plan. For every action item, assign a name and due date, and most importantly, make sure everyone understands their assignments. You don’t want any confusion or delays due to misunderstandings that could’ve been cleared up in 10 seconds during your meeting.
  4. Next steps
    The first and most important ‘next step’ is to schedule your next check-in; do not let any meeting end without knowing when you’ll review results – i.e., Don’t forget to check back in on your patient! All other next steps will depend on the situation and your action plan.

This is obviously a simplified view of emergency management and how it applies to business situations. What are other techniques you’ve found helpful when responding to the inevitable emergencies in your workplace?