Writing Your Company Crisis Plan
When you think about it, most business crises can be divided into two broad categories.
First, there’s what might be called the operating crisis. This is where something happens to, or at, your company, which prevents you from operating or running normally for a period of time. Most operating crises result from some sort of emergency.
Typically, this type of company crisis happens because of factors entirely out of your control. An operating crisis might be the result of a flood, earthquake or some other act of nature. A fire can certainly bring about an operating crisis. So could an act of terrorism, or a random violent crime committed on your company’s property.
The second kind of company crisis is a public relations, or PR crisis. A PR crisis can be defined as any event which has the potential to impact your company or its brands in a negative way. Product problems, high-profile layoffs and job cuts, accidents on company property, and even certain lawsuits can be classified as PR crises.
Neither type of crisis is good for your company, but a little advance planning – just in case – can help minimize the damage.
Planning is key! One day after a tornado or two hours after a worker is critically injured in forklift accident is too late.
Here’s a guide to writing an operating crisis management plan. We will tackle the PR crisis management plan in a future post.
The Operating Crisis Plan
Just to clarify, an operating crisis is one where business is completely interrupted, and perhaps you can’t even access your own office. In the very worst of cases, perhaps you’ll never actually recover everything there.
This leads to what we’ll call Rule #1: Make sure at least two copies of your operating crisis plan are stored off-site, and where they can be easily accessed by you, or whomever you designate. Have hard copies, which can be read and acted on immediately, and electronic copies stored on disc, jump drive, or other portable storage device.
Your house, in a fire-proof box, is an acceptable location. So is your attorney’s office (assuming he’s local) in a secure file cabinet or safe. The point is, just make sure you’re able to get your plan at any time of day or night without having to jump through dozens of hoops. Time is almost always critical during a company crisis.
So what information should be included in your operating crisis plan? The needs of your company might require less or more, but here’s a basic listing.
- A clear description of who is “in charge” during the crisis (that’s likely you) and who is the deputy leader, in the event you can’t be reached or are unable to make decisions.
- The designation of a company spokesperson to talk with the media and government officials. (This also is probably you, unless you have a full-time PR or media relations person.)
- Contact information for all company officers and directors.
- Contact information for investors and strategic partners.
- An address for a designated meeting place (e.g., your house, a local church (with their permission), your accountant’s office, etc.) for company officers after it’s determined that it’s safe to travel.
- Contact information for local police and fire personnel.
- Contact information for your lawyer, accountant, insurance representatives and financial institutions.
- A plan for contacting employees – email, phone tree, intranet, etc. – to inform them of developments in the situation and plans for resuming operations.
- Copies of minutes from company board meetings.
- A copy of your company’s charter or articles of incorporation.
All this can be stored in a heavy-duty folder and also scanned and saved to electronic formats. Remember to review and update the information once a year.
Making the Plan Work
Ugh. Hopefully, you’ll never have to. Hopefully, writing it will have been a needless exercise. Hopefully, you’ve been reading this for nothing. But you never know.
When a crisis hits, channel your inner Churchill and keep calm. Contact the key people on your list, and work with local safety personnel to determine the extent of the damage.
Stay busy and stay visible. Communication is critical. Remain in constant contact with your department heads and have them relay information to their staffs as soon as you know something. Do not let your people learn anything through the media, if you can prevent it.
And don’t be afraid to ask for help. Your professional contacts – customers, suppliers, contractors, etc. – will usually be accommodating in the aftermath of a genuine emergency or crisis.
Image: Titanic’s Sinking Stern by Charles Dixon, 1914 (Public Domain)
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