After Hurricane Katrina, a survey indicated that only 67 percent of communicators interviewed had a formal crisis communication plan. Of the organizations that had actually experienced a crisis, 42 percent said they still didn't have a formal crisis communication plan, and 54 percent said they didn't have a plan because they lacked the support of senior managers.
Do you have a plan? How will you communicate with your employees and customers if an emergency strikes?
Knowing how to define a crisis and then immediately trigger a reliable action plan is crucial these days. The health and safety of your audience depends on the speed and accuracy of your alert system. Communicators must be prepared to leverage the available technology to get the word out as fast as possible.
Planning the Plan
A crisis communications plan outlines what you need to communicate, how, when and to whom. It is usually a subset of an overall crisis plan that includes emergency operations procedures and business recovery tactics.
Developing your emergency strategies has to start at the top, with executive cooperation throughout the creation, testing and refining of your crisis plans. Without the support of every senior manager and department, even a beautifully crafted plan will be ineffective — and that can cost time, money and even lives.
Be sure that your plan is clear and easy to execute. Each member of your organization should be able to take action and fulfill the plan in an emergency without convoluted directions or burdensome hierarchies to slog through. Emotions often run high in these situations, so providing simple visual tools to guide users through the plan, such as checklists, can be extremely helpful.
A series of scenarios should be explored and prepared for, with detailed instructions for each. Consider every possible emergency on an organizational, local, state, national and global level:
- Severe weather
- Power outage
- Workplace violence
- Terrorist alert
- Biological event/toxic spill
- Computer virus
- National or international breaking news
- Physical plant issue
Each crisis has its own challenges. In some instances, you will need to prepare to execute your plan without the help of technology or from an identified off-site crisis center. All scenarios should have contingencies built in for the failure or unavailability of any and/or all communication technologies, such as computer networks, phones and power.
Time is Essential
The speed with which you communicate during a crisis can save lives. Your plan should target four main audiences:
- On-site employees, customers and visitors
- Emergency workers, such as police, fire and EMS
- Families and community at large
People on the premises should be immediately informed of the emergency and told precisely what is expected of them. When creating and testing the plan, every available means of communication should be explored to find the most reliable and efficient delivery method. Starting with the most effective, each communication channel should be employed to ensure maximum coverage. Make sure email distribution lists and phone trees are regularly updated.
A complete list of emergency contacts should be included in the plan, and the plan should be readily available at all times to everyone in the organization. In addition to local fire, police and EMS services, don’t forget to include less common resources such as Hazmat, FBI and IT recovery contacts.
Pre-written statements should be shaped so that only the bare minimum of factual details needs to be added to press releases. Emotions and time constraints dictate that communicators should not be hampered with cumbersome writing assignments during a crisis.
Be sure to include business recovery tactics in your plan. Getting your organization up and running as soon as possible after a crisis is critical, as is educating the community at large, such as remote employees, investors and customers.