Ready or Not, Here It Comes: How to Prepare for a Crisis
We read about them every day. Cyberattacks, natural disasters, workplace violence. Unfortunately, in today’s world, crises are not a matter of “if,” but a matter of “when.”
While it’s impossible to prepare for every kind of crisis imaginable, taking a proactive approach to developing a communications plan within your preparedness program can be key to your organization’s reputation and survival.
Consider these steps as you develop, or revise, your own plan for communicating to constituents during a crisis:
Develop your approach. First, determine your communications approach and state it. Do you follow a philosophy of having an open, transparent line of communication with your constituents? Is your goal to be forthcoming with known information in a timely manner? Clearly defining how you intend to communicate, both before and during a crisis, sets the tone for how people will expect to receive information from your business or organization.
Identify your team. Determine the people who will most likely form your crisis communications team. Then determine who would take their place in the event they are not present. This relatively small group of people will be instrumental in determining if, how and when your crisis communications plan will be implemented.
Create a protocol. This is the guts of your decision-making and the actions that follow. Consider a flow chart for deciding whether to activate your communications team or if the crisis is small enough to be managed internally. Use a form for gathering pertinent information about the crisis that can be easily shared and create a checklist of people who need to be contacted.
Establish a notification system. This may be for internal or external use. If you are a small organization, it might be as simple as a calling tree or group text. For larger organizations, consider investing in an emergency notification system that can communicate with mass amounts of people at one time.
Draft messages and fact sheets. You won’t know the exact detail of a crisis until it happens, however you can draft turnkey, approved language that can save valuable time in the event of an emergency. These can be simple statements to use on social media, templates for a news release and fact sheets.
Rehearse the plan. Stage a mock crisis to determine any areas of weakness in your plan. Hold a mock news conference to test the speaking ability of various spokespeople, and create private groups on social media to see how you would handle comments and questions from the public.
Review and update as needed. Crisis communications plans are not designed to be made and then put away on a shelf until the time of a crisis. Communication plans are living, breathing documents that should be reviewed and updated on a regular basis.
Crises will inevitably happen, but the biggest mistake you can make is not being prepared. Take the time to examine your vulnerabilities, communication channels and the potential impact. The added bonus of going through the process of creating a crisis communications plan can help identify areas of weakness or opportunity and create more efficient processes within your business or organization.