Crisis Insights from the Bondi Junction Attack

Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Written by Peter Roberts, Associate Director, Crisis Communications, Sydney. 


People categorize to make the world more meaningful.  Our use of categories helps us better understand, whether that’s to gauge the affordability of things, improve our long-term wellbeing, or judge the suitability of a potential partner. In short, categories help.


Sometimes, however, events fail to be categorized; their characteristics throw us off balance as we try and fail to comprehend their happening. That was the case on the afternoon of Saturday, April 13th for many of us living in Sydney as a 40-year-old man took the lives of six innocent bystanders at the Westfield shopping centre in the city’s Bondi Junction.  


The scale, pain and senselessness of the attack challenges us to categorize it as something more than a crisis. The label does not seem appropriate enough considering the pain involved. We tend to see crisis as an organizational pre-occupation; corporate wrongdoing, or mishap, with victimhood measured by the reputational yard, not lives. It is, however, a crisis – albeit a rarity, but an incident that captures the need to be always heretical in our crisis planning. As crisis practitioners, we do our clients and employers a disservice if we don’t include the darkest of scenarios in our threat measurements. Such moments are rare, but their scarcity should not stop us from legitimizing their likelihood.


Unsurprisingly, the Westfield operators appeared unaware, and the cruelty of hindsight will probably ensure that this is presented a little more harshly by some in due course. However, the fact is that the Westfield X account and their accompanying website was in promotional mode for too long at the time of the attack, with a Star Wars competition sitting uneasily on centre stage. This, of course, was unfortunate, but a collective mindset that’s sensitized to such possibilities will recognise the criticality of peace-time work, including the development of wording for such occasions, however infrequent they may be.


At Kenyon, we advise our clients to make sure your social media team is part of the initial call-out procedure in a crisis. It’s critical that visitors don’t land on a page with inappropriate content. Special care needs to be taken to stop all planned posts, which can inadvertently cause deep offence.