Crisis and disaster planning are now common business-operation terms. Almost every business could be consumed by a nearly endless variety of crises, from a natural disaster such as a flood or hurricane which can devastate a facility to a terrorist strike to a deranged employee or customer bent on revenge to financial turmoil.
“A crisis is any event that can seriously harm the people, reputation or financial condition of an organization,” notes Laurence Barton, a crisis consultant to businesses and author of Crisis Leadership Now. According to a PricewaterhouseCoopers survey, 49% of all US-based multinationals have experienced a high-level crisis in the last three years – some event that had a catastrophic impact on one or more business units. Some 53% of these companies said they had experienced a true crisis due to a natural disaster, while 31% reported a complete shutdown of a business unit while 20% reported significant problems due to management upheaval.
Communication, the First Step
A business-continuity plan prepares your operation for a wide range of events that could interrupt business as opposed to simply doing damage. Though a storm may not structurally damage your facility it may cut off power for an extended time period — possibly days, adversely affecting equipment and operations. It may make it impossible for key employees to get to work, supplies to arrive or orders to ship. A key customer suddenly declaring bankruptcy may force you to absorb a staggering financial loss. What steps would you take under these circumstances? Do you have back-up equipment? An alternative?
Who’s on First?
During normal conditions but especially during a crisis, staff should be the first to know about key issues before news is released. It’s demoralizing when employees learn about events at their job site from a news report or neighbor. It also erodes trust staff has in management.
Keeping control of all the moving parts is one of the keys to crisis-communication management. Too often management focuses on the technical systems that need to be replicated. While it is very important to get your office up and running as soon as possible, in the event of a disaster that makes using a physical location not available, the initial communications to staff and the public can have a dramatic effect on the lasting results of a crisis. Your image and reputation may be at stake.
How you make sure all personnel are informed and react in times of crises happens with proper planning. Every business should have a detailed decision tree of who is to be contacted, what should be communicated and when.
A Crisis-Communications Blueprint·
- Be sure staff knows who the primary and secondary communication personnel are and how to reach them.
- Keep staff’s home and cell phones as well as personal e-mail addresses updated.
- Be sure a media-relations representative is appointed and accessible.
- Have an updates decision-tree circulated with contact numbers.
- Be sure staff knows where any emergency location is and how to get there.
- Be sure staff understands privacy issues.
- Create and distribute an office-communications policy including a section on how to stay in touch during an emergency and how to handle client and media calls.
- Have adequate back-up office space (emergency location) which can house key personnel as well as necessary equipment.