All organizations, whether large or small, public or private, non-profit or for profit, are subject to avenues of crisis. The crisis these organizations face can be the loss of a key partner in a small business, fire, flood or other natural disaster, computer virus, or any other of a myriad of occurrences. How an organization prepares to handle all forms of crisis will determine the probability that they will survive the crisis and continue to do business.
Importance of Planning
One of the maxims in emergency management is “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” Another is “Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance.” Both statements convey the importance of planning to react to events before the organization is staring down the barrel of the crisis gun.
While all dollar amounts are relative to an organizations operating budget, the cost to develop emergency response plans can mean the difference between being in business after the disaster strikes and being out of business. An estimated 25 percent of businesses do not reopen following a major disaster, according to the Institute for Business and Home Safety (Disaster Preparedness). Failure to adequately prepare presents a serious risk of not being in business. Planning resources are abundant on-line. FEMA and the Small Business Association all developed guidance for all levels of business to begin planning.
The most important aspect of crisis response planning is to gain the support of corporate level management. Those individuals, including the CEO, must sign-off as a full partner in the process. Active participation by corporate management lends credibility to the process, showing that the senior level personnel are serious about being prepared.
Planning for the threats that can affect your organization must include natural disasters, man-made disasters (such as a hazardous materials incident), and public relations/product disasters. A hazard and vulnerability assessment must be conducted to find out what the key threats are to the organization. Once these issues are fleshed out, the process of planning to respond to the particular disaster can begin.
A core team of key stakeholders should form the response team. This team can and will be augmented by other affected department heads depending on the specific crisis faced by the organization. The core team will provide stability and a level of continuity throughout the processes of planning and response.
It is important to plan for different scenario types, but there should be a standard set of procedures followed for all crises. A trained public information officer should represent the organization at all times. Personnel that may be called upon to speak to the media in the midst of a crisis as company experts must receive some form of media training. The company must have a policy of being proactive in dealing with situations that affect the public or any shareholders, both for regulatory compliance and for reputation protection.
The Public Face
As is often said in Washington DC, often the cover-up is worse than the crime. The same can be applied to the perception of a company and their handling of information released to the public and regulators. It is much easier to retain one’s credibility than to attempt to regain one’s credibility. Being honest, proactive, and upfront will gain more credibility than offering piecemeal information. News reporters will always find someone to give them information, even if it is not correct or well informed information. It is best to have an official representative in front of the cameras putting forth the company’s planned response than to have the reporters creating a sensationalized report.
The best way to ensure an organization can handle or survive a crisis is to be prepared in advance for the crisis. The other key to a successful outcome is the training of the staff that will participate in the crisis response. Plans sitting on shelves, not reviewed, and not exercised and practiced are useless. The plans need to be reviewed on a regular basis and, more importantly, they need to be tested in advance of the crisis to be sure that they are effective.
Disaster Preparedness. Retrieved January 20, 2007, from US Small Business
Administration Web site: http://www.sba.gov/npm2006/
Emergency Public Information Pocket Guide. (2006). (5th ed.), Oak Ridge, TN:
Emergency Management Laboratory.