Crisis Planning Can Reduce Crisis Risk and Speed Up Crisis Response

crisis responseKudos to Jill Odom, editor for the trade publication, Total Landscape Care, for this week's story, "Expecting the unexpected: Managing a public relations crisis." Odom makes the case that every business -- even small businesses -- are at risk of a crisis and need a crisis response plan just in case.

The article is worth reviewing and it prompted us at DPK Public Relations to catalogue a few of the biggest benefits we have observed businesses enjoying as a result of going through the crisis planning process. Here are the top five benefits of developing a crisis response plan:

1. The mere act of creating a crisis plan often establishes heightened awareness of crisis risks throughout the organization. By identifying and prioritizing the events that could threaten normal business operations, an organization can take a big step toward establishing a risk aware culture that embraces the idea that things can go wrong so it is worth devoting time and resources to anticipating potential problems. During a recent crisis response training workshop, we facilitated a brainstorm to identify as many possible crisis events that we could come up with in 10 minutes. We then prioritized them based on which ones had the greatest likelihood of happening in the next five years. The final five could apply to a lot of companies: a serious accident, a significant natural disaster such as a flood or earthquake, a serious fire, an act of violence and regrettable employee misbehavior.

2. Crisis planning can reduce the seriousness of a crisis. Once an organization has identified high-preiority vulnerabilities, the list can provide the basis for initiatives aimed at reducing risks. For instance, establishing protocols and staging regular drills for evacuations can minimize loss of life in the case of a fire or earthquake. Having staff trained in first aid can reduce response times for people getting medical assistance following an onsite accident, which can save the lives of employees and customers. Providing training can prepare employees for an active shooter situation in the workplace, which can reduce loss of life. The video below was developed by the Houston Mayor's Office of Public Safety and Homeland Security.

3. Crisis planning reduces the time it takes for an organization to respond to a crisis. In this era when everyone carries a smartphone capable of going live with video for a worldwide audience, organizations must respond effectively and immediately when crisis hits. A crisis response plan establishes responsibilities and provides a framework for decision-making designed to involve leadership and accelerate response.

4. Crisis planning helps an organization identify a crisis. Most crises don't begin with an explosion or an FBI raid. They bubble away for days, weeks or months, the culmination of multiple regettable decisions and actions. As a result, it is common for organizations in crisis to fail to identify the seriousness of their situation until more harm is done than is necessary. This happens because corporate cultures often defer to the CEO -- and many CEOs prefer to shut the door in hopes of operating their way out of a problem. A crisis plan includes a clearly articulated definition of what constitutes a crisis so the crisis plan can be activated and leadership mobilized. Every organization has its own parameters for a crisis. Some don't consider it a crisis unless somebody is killed. Others activate the crisis plan if a negative story is published in a major daily newspaper. We usually recommend considering an event's impact on normal business operations and reputation. If normal business operations are going to be interrupted for more than an hour or two, you may be in the midst of a crisis.

5. Crisis planning can remind an organization what matters most. In a crisis, it is easy for a company to take on a victim mentality. Everyone is a critic and nothing you do goes right. In many cases, even your closest allies are quick to jump ship. However, assuming the role of victim is just about the worst thing a company can do in a crisis. A crisis plan includes the company's mission statement to ensure the company's actions and words are consistent with its core ideals. A crisis plan also lays out a few universally applicable crisis messages: We Care, We're Responding and We're Investigating (or helping with the investigation). Ensuring that a caring and compassionate message is at the forefront of an organization's public response to crisis can go a long way in positioning the company positively even if the circumstances are terrible.

Click here for more information on DPK Public Relations' crisis planning and response services.

Photo by Naval Surface Warriors.