Crisis Management - When disaster strikes

April 28, 2011

Last week I was contacted by the Charlotte Observer ( regarding a story they were doing about a recent tornado that leveled a Lowes store in Sanford, North Carolina. Little did we know, at the time, that tornadoes would cause so much damage and claim so many lives as they have this week in the Southeastern United States?

The story titled, “Stores prepped, ready to weather emergencies” was about the need for retailers, or any business, to be prepared when a crisis hits. One of the quotes they took away from my discussion was, “There’s nothing worse than getting hit with a crisis situation when you don’t have plan.” For me, that one quote really hit home and reminded me of a crisis that hit just before the holidays when I worked for a then major grocery store chain in the desert southwest. We were hit with a product tampering/retail extortion threat by a person who would tell us (for $100,000) what stores he placed cyanide inside turkeys. This caught us completely off guard as the company had not formed a crisis plan or formed a crisis Management team to deal with such a potential disaster.

Retailers very frequently face crises like the devastating weather damage this week in the southeast. Fortunately, the Lowes Corporation has a very strong crisis management plan to deal with disasters. Their plan is well thought out and is drilled down to the local store level, as it should be.

Business should have a strong continuity plan in place for when disaster strikes. There should be an established Crisis Management Team who springs into action to direct the operations, not only at the corporate level, but also all the way through the distribution and store level operations. This includes established policy and procedure on what employee’s job is during the crisis. Employees should be well schooled on just what their job is during the crisis. Policies and Procedures must be in writing and part of the stores risk management, safety program.

At the corporate level, the crisis management team should consist of a crisis team leader who is overall responsible for the course the team takes. The team makeup should include a top financial manager who can take immediate actions (without the red tape of corporate approval) to commit the financial aid to help alleviate the damages and, if needed, to aid employees and customers affected by the disaster.

Another must responsibility of the team is to have one spokesperson respond to the countless media inquires. Our mistake we experienced during the “Great Turkey Crisis”, as I called the disaster that struck the grocery company, is we had numerous members of management that were talking to the media and as a result were putting out conflicting messages to the media. Another important position on the team is the person responsible to deal and communicate with the various federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies that may be involved.

I could write in more detail about crisis management operations but the point to my story is to be prepared. The Charlotte Observed referred to the Boy Scout motto, “Be Prepared” – very fitting.

Curtis Baillie - Security Consulting Strategies

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