By David Klucsik

Everyone knows the axiom, “Don’t sweat the small stuff.”  Another axiom advises the opposite, “The devil is in the details.” In a crisis context, which is correct?

In fact, both are probably right, concurrently or at different times and for different reasons.   A successful crisis response could hinge on tending to the details, the simple stuff, long in advance of the first alarm.

Last month’s five-year anniversary of the Notre Dame Cathedral fire in Paris underscores the point.

The world watched in horror—on live feeds—on April 15, 2019, as flames ripped through the roof and quickly spread inside the iconic cathedral, treasured for its unmatched religious, historical, architectural, and artistic significance. Throngs of people watched, wept, prayed and sang hymns from the adjacent banks of the Seine, or at their phones or home TV screens, fearing the loss of priceless relics and a proud symbol of a nation’s heritage.

Fortunately, five years later, the symbol endured, and the most revered relics survived intact. Among other ancient, holy relics of saints and events, Notre Dame housed the purported Crown of Thorns from Jesus’ condemnation and crucifixion, perhaps the most precious Christian relic.

Yet, saving the Crown and other relics turned on the details, the “small stuff.” If not for remembering certain details, the inferno could have been catastrophic for the relics, owing to the confusion of the moment—and a lost, misplaced or inaccessible key and phone number.

Since the 2019 conflagration, scores of news stories and video clips have explored the details of the fire, from potential ignition points and centuries-old materials, to painstaking analysis, craftmanship and historic documentation required for authentic restoration.  The merging of art and technology on this scale is as impressive as the cathedral itself.

However, Only a few stories have highlighted certain small details- the devilish details. They’re important to note for crisis communicators.  For indeed, church officials were momentarily helpless when they couldn’t recall how to access the relics to remove them from their normal safekeeping.  And one of the staff members who would know was traveling somewhere in France on holiday, potentially unreachable.

Fortunately, the firefighters and art and artifact rescue teams were blessed amid the fire, smoke, and fog of confusion, shock, and alarm.  The “keys” to the relics were located, and the artifacts were removed just in time to save them.

The faithful might say that St. King Louis IX, St. Genevieve, St. Denis, St. Joan of Arc, and all of the French saints must have sung a deafening chorus of prayers to beseech the fortunate outcome.

To be sure, a successful crisis plan and response depends on understanding the big picture of people, preparation, procedures, facilities and technology, and often, outside support.  Good luck helps, too.

At the same time, the devil often resides in the simplest details, like names, email and physical addresses and phone numbers, recharged batteries, passwords, codes and keys, gasoline in the tank, and vacation schedules. You know, the small stuff.

Instead of relying on divine intervention, PSC can help organize your organization’s crisis communications planning, from the big picture to the small but important details.  To learn more, contact PSC’s David Klucsik at, 609-516-6764.