Crisis Management Planning

Approach crisis management challenges with the right knowledge tools

In general, any contingency that can be defined in terms of an initi ating event with subsequent consequences can be the object of long-range crisis management planning activity. Events that lend themselves particularly well to this type of approach include weather (tornados, hurricanes, ice storms, floods), fire, power outage, water outage, communications failure, bomb threat, HAZMAT incident, and computer system failure. Other types of incidents can also be the object of long-range planning; however, these incidents are, in some respects, less frequent and are inherently more variable than the incidents above, with which we are much more familiar. This latter category includes explosions, workplace violence, hostage incidents, and social unrest or civil disorder.

Universal Crisis Management Problems

There are several common problems in organizations' crisis management programs today.

First, many organizations do not have a formal crisis management plan or structure with which to begin to prepare for or respond to a crisis event. In many organizations, ongoing business activities easily consume the available staff resources. Unfortunately, this organization will not have even a basic structure for response when an unexpected event occurs.

While the argument can be made that every business cannot afford to put off crisis management planning, those businesses with limited resources should at least assemble a basic planning and response document. This document at a minimum should contain contact information for those individuals designated to be in charge in the event of a crisis. This basic structure will provide a starting point.

Second, many organizations view their crisis management as a completed document; as such it sits on the shelf in various locations within the organization. If it is needed, the right people know where to find it.

In reality, the crisis management plan is an ever-evolving document that changes as personnel and response strategies change. At a minimum, awareness briefings should be provided to those individuals with crisis management responsibilities to provide the foundational information necessary to begin to deal with a crisis event.

Third, there is little training of the staff with regard to translating the crisis management plan guidelines into action. This can only be accomplished through various table-top exercises or full-scale simulations.

Challenges for Enterprises

The development and maintenance of a corporate crisis management plan is often complicated by the geographical and functional diversity of an organization.

• First, most organizations find it difficult to dedicate the necessary resources to develop a core crisis management plan. Under the enterprise model, a crisis management plan may need to be developed, or at least tailored to each major facility in the portfolio. Under these circumstances, organizations should provide as much commonality as possible in the core crisis management plan; the distributed facilities would then only have to modify the external support agencies' emergency contact lists to fit their particular location. While this places the burden of crisis management planning on corporate shoulders, this is normally where these resources reside.

• Second, because of potential functional and geographical diversity, the range of potential crisis types faced by the organization at large can be extensive.

Again, corporate-level planning should take into account this diversity and provide the necessary core response structures to address all hazards. Local tailoring with corporate support will provide the local information and strategy needed for local applicability.

Third, identification and coordination of support from local agencies, such as law enforcement, will need to be done locally. The corporate crisis planning team will need to ensure that these relationships are in place.

• Fourth, depending on the event, the local crisis management team could need anything and everything from office supplies and building materials to rental cars, computers, and two-way radios. While some of these needs could be foreseen and accommodated through a corporate account with a national supplier, actual supply of the items would most likely need to be local. Experience has shown that establishing a priori local sources of necessary supplies is a necessity.

• Finally, enterprises need to be particularly careful to coordinate the flow of information. Many crisis management guides stress the importance of managing the information provided to interested and affected parties, including employees, families, stockholders, and the media. Individual facilities may not have an individual designated or trained to interface with the press. The corporate public affairs person may be thousands of miles away at the corporate headquarters with second-hand information. This difficulty must be planned for in advance in order to ensure a clear and correct version of the event is conveyed to all parties.