5 Crisis Management Lessons From a Family Vacation

Last Updated Sep 5, 2011 9:45 PM EDT

My family spent most of last week in Acadia National Park in Maine. We had a memorable time, though traveling with small children (a 4-year-old and an almost 2-year-old) while one is immensely pregnant (I'm due in early October) is always challenging. In our case, the aftermath of Hurricane Irene added some more drama. But as we battled our way through the Northeast, I realized that a family vacation involving an unexpected encounter with a natural disaster offers great crisis management lessons that can extend to the work world as well.
1. Nothing is risk-free. We assumed Hurricane Irene would wreak havoc on the coast -- our planned driving route from Philadelphia to Maine -- so we decided to divert inland through upstate New York and Vermont. Little did we know that we were driving straight into the center of the storm damage. After our road became blocked to the north and the south, we spent the first night basically as refugees in a roadside inn in the Catskills with no plumbing, water in the basement, and a raging river next door that had risen way beyond flood stage and took out several trees and chunks of the property.

2. Realize things could always be worse. So the accommodations weren't ideal. But we soon learned we were sharing the hotel with people who'd lost their houses in the flood. That put things in perspective.

3. Motivation sometimes involves lying. "Everything is fine!" I told my children as I lined up our shoes by the door so we could evacuate in the middle of the night if the water rose higher. "Just keep playing with your trucks!"

4. Keep trying until something works. We thought the first night was the worst of it, and I-87 re-opened on Monday. But soon after crossing the border into Vermont, we encountered a scene reminiscent of post D-Day northern France, with mangled bridges, shelled roads, and shocked residents of small towns trying to clean up after the fury. We kept detouring until we got stuck in Ludlow, where we were told that 4 of 5 routes out of town were blocked (we'd driven on the 5th one in). But we decided to try one of the routes that seemed less bad than the others. We wound up being one of about 10 cars let around a downed tree and half-missing road headed up to Rutland, and then we detoured on a dirt road for a chunk of the way to Burlington. There, for the first time, we saw pictures and TV footage of what had happened and realized how lucky we were to have made it to northern Vermont.

5. Celebrate when things go right. By Tuesday, officials were able to spread the word on road closures, and US 2 across northern Vermont, through New Hampshire to Maine was absolutely fine. Every time we crossed an intact bridge, I gave a little cheer. Finally we made it to Acadia and could relax.

What lessons have you learned from a challenging situation?