Crisis Case Study: Jacksonville Landing Shooting (step-by-step response)
September 10, 2018, Georgia Comensoli and Michelle Wang
Two people shot, eleven people injured from a shooter opening fire at an online gaming tournament in Jacksonville, America.
It’s one of several shootings in the city in nearly as many years. Regardless of what legislation is in place, the best way to keep people safe in public areas is to be prepared. Even with strict gun rules here in Australia, people still illegally access firearms (or other makeshift weapons).
Let’s lay out the facts
EA Games was the host of the Madden NFL 19 Classic Qualifier. It would be the first of four events.
EA Games organised for the qualifier to be held at a games bar called GLHF Game Bar in Jacksonville Landing shopping centre.
The tournament’s prize pool was approximately USD 1,255,000.
An unknown number of staff, players and spectators were inside the bar.
There are at least two exits leading out of the bar.
The tournament was being live-streamed.
Just after 1:30pm (26 August 2018), numerous calls came through to 000 notifying authorities of shots fired in Jacksonville Landing shopping centre.
The shooter had opened fire on other players with a hand gun. At the time, the event was being live-streamed on the Internet, showing a split-screen view of what was happening in-game as well as a live feed of the players. While the video was cut just before the shooting happened, the live-stream still captured audio of the shots.
The BBC reported witnesses and victims fled the scene as soon as the shooting began. Some of them ran across the road where a local fire department was conducting routine training exercises, alerting them to the situation. The fire department was then able to administer first-aid and flag down police.
The police alerted those in the surrounding area and the media, warning them to ‘stay away’, and were able to control the area after confirming there was only one active shooter.
Next steps, once the shooting had finished
It soon became clear that three people had died, including the shooter. So what would be expected next from the businesses involved?
Based on Crisis Shield’s Message Response Model and Coombs’ situational crisis communication theory (2014), once all the key facts are known, the message sent out to key stakeholders of EA Games and GLHF Games Bar should be built on the following structure:
What we know: update all stakeholders and clearly define the facts to avoid misinformation spreading.
What we don’t know: explain the areas that you’re still investigating – a large, complex matter such as a shooting will need more time to unravel properly.
What we’re doing: explain the steps taken to resolve the immediate situation – show that you’re cooperating with the relevant authorities to ensure the investigation goes smoothly.
What we want you to do: demonstrate sincere care and concern for all stakeholders involved, and explain how you will keep all stakeholders up to date on your mission to resolve the various issues, taking into account the emotional states of witnesses and victims as well as a community shaken by a shooting.
EA addressed the situation within a few hours of the shooting, posting several statements through their Twitter account and telling the BBC they were “devastated by this horrific event… a senseless act of violence that we strongly condemn.”
As it is a complicated incident, EA made sure to firmly establish their cooperation with the investigating authorities, and chose to cancel the remaining three events of the tournament. According to EA CEO Andrew Wilson, it was done so EA Games could “run a comprehensive review of safety protocols for competitors and spectators.”
They also showed their support to the gaming community by expressing their sympathies, donating USD 1 million to the victims and setting up a fund for others to contribute alongside their donation, then announcing a tribute livestream to bring the community together.
Local politicians then made public addresses, sharing condolences to the families who had lost loved ones, and took the opportunity to highlight the need for gun reform.
The owner of GLHF Game Bar released a statement several days later, saying that he is “shocked and saddened at the needless loss of life,” and called the shooting an “isolated incident.”
The statements from EA Games and the owner of GLHF Game Bar both showed empathy and gave facts about the incident, however only EA’s statement established their cooperation with the authorities for investigations into the shooting. EA was also the only one who followed up with a donation to victims, the creation of a fund, and a livestream to bring the community together, actions that would no doubt create goodwill from those watching their actions closely.
GLHF Game Bar has been shut down due to not having a permit to hold the Madden NFL 19 tournament – it is located in a restaurant called Chicago Pizza that was altered to create the bar, supposedly without approval. EA Games still has a long road to recovery, with a suit being filed against them seeking relief to provide safe spaces for tournaments, claiming that EA failed to provide security and inform local law enforcement about the tournament (amongst other things).
Most incidents that involve fatalities will receive intense scrutiny and legal review. In our opinion, the best way to prepare your business for such scrutiny is to do exactly that: prepare. Plan, train and test for worst case scenarios. A strategic and thoughtful response that follows a pre-prepared (and stress-tested) plan should aid in the protection of life, infrastructure and reputation.