When a major disaster looms, the prepared executive knows exactly what to do. They’ve planned for different scenarios. They have different responses at the ready. At stake is nothing less than the fate of your organization. Even a relatively small crisis can cost your organization dearly if handled poorly. Your planning should include the following seven elements:
1. Plan for Different Crisis Scenarios
Every organization should list the possible crises that could befall it. There are seven categories of crisis:
Natural disasters: These include storms, fires, earthquakes, epidemics, and interruptions of power. In general, the public will not blame an organization for any fallout from a natural disaster – unless human error or misjudgment compounds it.
Economic crises: These include labor strife, labor shortages, major declines in share price, major fluctuations in earnings, and economic disruptions. This type of crisis is likely to be triggered by grave errors in judgment, so it will be tempting to try to cover up. Remember the trust-empathy matrix!
Information crises: These include computer security breaches, breach of copyrights, breach of patent, and loss of confidential information. These can either be the result of criminal activity, internal error, or a combination of both.
Physical crises: These include breakdowns in key equipment, disruptions of assembly lines, loss of key facilities. Again, these are typically the result of both internal error and external factors.
Human resource crises: These include loss of key executives or employees, and legal problems such as embezzlement or sexual harassment. These are typically self-made crises. Cover-ups are likely to occur in this area, so watch out!
Reputation crises: These include libel and slander, and damage to corporate reputation. These will already be exposed in the media, so a cover-up is not in question. What’s in question is how to assume responsibility when the damage is self-inflicted.
Criminal crises: These include product tampering, bomb threats, terrorist acts, shootings on site, kidnapping, hostage taking, and other forms of workplace violence. Typically these require immediate action by police and other authorities – so you need to be prepared to work closely with them. At the same time, you need to expand your frame of responsibility and be prepared to launch broad protective measures.
2. Have a Crisis Response Team in Place
When a crisis hits, a response team must be ready to take charge. This crisis response team should be prepared ahead of time to assume responsibility. The team should be composed of people who are both senior in the organization and trained in how to respond. It needs to have a clear line of succession so if one person is not available, another can step in. In large organizations, this team may consist of five to ten individuals, including the chief executive.
3. Develop Response Modules
Once you’ve listed the possible scenarios, develop responses modules that can be combined and adapted for use in different scenarios. Preparing different modules will give the crisis management team greater flexibility and make it easier to respond quickly.
Individual response modules might include the following: go to back-up power, notify fire or police, quick evacuation, essential services only, lockdown the facility, and transfer to secondary location. A major storm might trigger “quick evacuation” and “notify fire and police.” A different set of modules might be used to deal with a major interruption of power (“back-up power” and “essential services only”). A storm threat might also trigger “notify police,” “quick evacuation,” “lockdown,” and “transfer to a secondary location.”
4. Define Communication Protocols
Each response module should define who’s in charge and how they will communicate. Specific signals need to be established for various events. How severe is the crisis? (Many organizations use a three-stage system signified by codes yellow, orange, and red). How do you signal a decision to move from normal to “crisis” mode? How do you let people know that things are back to normal? Questions like these must be answered beforehand.
Pay particular attention to redundant systems of communication. What is the primary channel of communication? Radios? Cell phones? Are they compatible with other emergency responders? What’s the back-up system? The crisis response team should work out these details in advance.
5. Establish a Command Center
The crisis response team needs a place where they can meet and coordinate their activities. Copies of the various response modules should be available. The center should have sufficient communications capacity (redundant power systems and redundant television, radio and internet access) to enable people to connect quickly. It should be large enough so people can congregate there without getting in each other’s way. A backup command post, located some distance away, is also important.
6. Have Resources on Hand
Certain response scenarios require adequate reserves of food and water, backup power generation, fuel, and medical supplies. You may think you can negotiate these on the fly, but remember – it’s going to be a seller’s market. When a disaster hits, you’ll be glad you’re not out looking for food and clean water along with thousands of others.
7. Run Simulation Exercises
Every organization should test its crisis response plans at least once a year. These exercises should test the crisis response team’s ability to adapt the response modules to a highly detailed scenario. After the exercise, people should be asked to evaluate what went well and what needs to be improved. Check the communications gear, command post, and tangible resources more frequently to make sure they’re operational.