Crisis Management Planning

by Mike Bruckner

Is your business or organization prepared for a crisis? Regardless of the size or mission of your organization, it is essential that your leaders know their roles and responsibilities in the event of an emergency or a major business disruption.

How do you develop a crisis management plan?

  • Identify the potential emergency scenarios and the risks involved.
  • Gather organizational leaders and review responsibilities of key personnel.
  • Build relationships before a crisis happens.
  • Develop a plan, test and continually update the plan.

First, brainstorm various scenarios that could disrupt your operation. It might be a fire, a cyber security issue, a gas leak or an armed intruder. You cannot plan for every possible scenario, but review situations that are most likely to happen in your organization and how your business may be impacted. You can increase preparedness through planning. Remember, it might be an entirely external incident that could affect your operation – a sinkhole, a cell phone tower collapses or a gas leak that shuts down city blocks. Can you conduct business off-site for a few hours or days?

Second, gather key leaders responsible for managing crises. For larger businesses, consider the chief of security, a human resource person, an information technology director, a chief communications officer, a chief financial officer and the CEO. In smaller organizations, one person might fill several roles. But each person can identify concerns and potential areas of risk management.

As you review your emergency plan, where are the gaps? Connect with local and regional resources who can fill those gaps. The Lehigh or Northampton County Emergency Management departments and your local police and fire departments are excellent sources to help with planning. Contact professional organizations to learn best practices. It is important to build relationships with local organizations in place BEFORE a crisis happens.

Once a plan has been developed, test it with the key leaders in your organization. Run a drill. Do a tabletop exercise that includes one or two disruptive events. Spend an hour to see how your team would respond. Then assess the response. Remember that things can be different when an event occurs and one or two key people may not be available when the crisis occurs. Put a plan together and re-assess the plan. Do another drill. Did your team respond well? Does the plan need updating?

During a major event, be sure that your organization has only one spokesperson. It can be the CEO or the chief of security or a communications professional. But the spokesperson must:

  • project a sense of calmness
  • stick to the facts
  • note that people have been trained and there is a plan in place,
  • portray confidence

Remember, misinformation and rumors are rampant around a tragedy or an incident. With social media, you can’t control the message as much as you like, but when you get the opportunity, it’s important to state the facts and COMMUNICATE. Have a communications plan in place for your employees and clients. Sometimes you just need to let people know that you are working on the problem, understand their concerns and note that you will continue to provide updates when there is more information. If there are injuries or fatalities, the spokesperson must emphasize compassion and empathy. Showing that you care can go a long way.

Does your plan cover the organization being impacted for an hour, 24 hours, a week? What are the backup plans and cross-training needed to keep things moving ahead? Might people need counseling or other post-trauma help?

The keys to a successful crisis management plan are to identify the potential problems and have a plan in place. Once a crisis happens, respond immediately and get the right people in the right roles and help those who have been impacted. In summary, be prepared, respond and fix the problem and have a plan to recover and resume operations and help people. Then assess what you did well and what you could have done better. Having a plan will help your leaders sleep better at night and be an invaluable resource in the event of an emergency.


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