In today’s business environment, everyone is acutely aware of the damage that any crises can cause. Certainly, the clean-up begins as soon as the incident is over. However, today’s crises have a much different twist than those of the past.
Today, companies face not only operational challenges that create havoc not only within their customer base, but they must contend with a wide variety of issues that less than ten years ago, would not have fallen into their domain. For example, today a company that closes a division may force management to answer questions about future plans. An isolated shooting incident will cause the scrutiny of safety and security procedures. Or, redevelopment plans may bring community outrage about renovation efforts.
Because of this, more and more companies are taking proactive steps, and developing a crisis management response plan for each part of their operations.
But, what should go in this type of plan? How can it be most effectively pulled together? What’s the best way to implement it?
Remember, even when there is someone on staff that can handling an emergency, all too often, others may not be unaccustomed to working with the press. Naturally, reporters are usually not too far behind the crisis, itself. As a result, communications are handled poorly, leaving reporters, clients and employees with an unfavorable impression.
The most effective plan includes guidelines and suggestions for internal operations, as well as external communications. The key, however, is to provide enough information and corporate guidelines to allow the on-site personnel to be extremely effective, but the directives must be general enough to provide latitude to do what they think is best under the specific circumstances at the time. The result will be consistent responses within the corporate guidelines, with proper and immediate reactions to the crisis at hand.
What follows are some basics to consider.
MAKING THE PLAN WORK
As always, crisis management planning should begin ‘at home.’ The first step we recommend is to review basic parameters for your company. What crises are likely to happen? Who is responsible for arranging for clean up? What role will security officers have for what type of crises? What about contacting employees, clients and others that may be impacted? Here’s how to get started.
1. Do your homework. Are there any back-up procedures already in place that need to be updated? Don’t forget about in-house computer systems back-up and records storage.
Then, find out what can be done to prevent disasters. Does a construction site need to be cleaned up? What about security procedures, how long has it been since they were reviewed and updated? Are there any other potential problem areas that need to be taken care of? Remember, take off the rose-colored glasses and get to work — before something happens.
2. Make a list of the five most likely crises that may happen. This may range from a small fire, to a full-scale natural disaster such as an earthquake or tornado.
If there are no formal procedures in place to handle issues, begin outlining who is responsible for general procedures such as contacting employees, clients, working with the fire department, etc.
3. Walk specific company locations with everyone on your management staff. While this may seem simple, it’s surprising how often (and how easy) it’s overlooked. Remember, when an emergency happens, management may not even be in the office, given many employees are now remote. Make sure the person who will be handling the phones knows what to say, who to contact and where things are.
4. Contact your local fire department, hazardous waste company, and any other emergency personnel and ask what their procedures are. Local fire department officials are usually happy to complete a walk-through of properties, as well as review plans and procedures, if they haven’t already. And remember, it certainly helps to have these relationships in place, BEFORE you need them!
5. Create your crisis management team. Make sure to include not only on-site and corporate personnel, but any vendor contacts or outside specialists that you may need. These may include attorneys, environmental specialists for toxic waste issues, various clean up contractors, and even the local chapter of the Red Cross.
6. Make sure the entire team have an up-to-date list of phone numbers for everyone involved. Include office, mobile, home, and any other pertinent phone numbers that will be helpful.
7. Identify your media spokesperson and have a designated back-up person available. Depending on the management structure and the issues at hand, on–site personnel as well as corporate spokespersons should be included.
8. Delineate specific areas of responsibilities for each member of the team, and write it down. Remember, in the middle of a crisis this advance planning will not only save time, it may save lives.
9. Begin preparing information for external use. This may include facility information sheets that detail factual items about the company, any specific properties such as when it was built, renovated, square footage, type of tenants, etc. Photos should be included, if at all possible.
10. Determine your best method of communication. Remember, in the middle of a major disaster you may not have power or communications systems. Are there cellular phones in place with pre-assigned numbers that can be given to specific team members? What about an 800-message system or an emergency website that is pre-designed and ready to launch? In today’s world of technology, there is no reason for communications to fail.
Once the internal operations have been reviewed, and the appropriate suggestions have been completed, a written plan must be developed. This written plan provides the road-map that is the basis for an in-place and functioning crisis management plan.
The written plan, coupled with a crisis management response program, will allow every team member to handle any crisis quickly and efficiently. Then, everyone can get back to business!