Years ago, people had this idea that although emergency preparedness was a smart move, actual emergencies were rare. Not anymore. Look no further than the past several months, or the crises we’re still working through today.
Astute leaders know it’s not a matter of IF but WHEN emergencies will hit their organization.
While proactive preparedness cannot prevent all crises, a comprehensive crisis management program should minimize loss and provide invaluable peace-of-mind across the organization and the audiences you serve.
How do you create a successful crisis management program?
Regina Phelps, founder of Emergency Management and Safety Solutions, once discussed this question on Business Resilience Decoded, a podcast by the Disaster Recovery Journal.
Crisis management can mean different things to different people inside an organization, Phelps shared. The CEO and marketing team might say crisis management entails managing the brand and its reputation. The IT team might see it as implementing disaster recovery technology and increasing cybersecurity. For the finance department, crisis management means protecting the bottom line.
Which interpretation is correct? They ALL are, Phelps argues. Creating a holistic crisis response program that meets each of these needs requires you to give each of these perspectives a seat at the table.
Ingredients of a comprehensive crisis management program
According to Phelps, a successful crisis management program must include the following:
- Clearly defined team structure
Decide who within your organization will make up the crisis management team. Like every other team in your organization, members must have clear roles and responsibilities, from strategic planning to tactical execution.
- Crisis assessment criteria
Within your crisis management team, some members should bear the responsibility of defining criteria for evaluating crises. Once that criteria is defined, the team should establish processes in an incident action plan, which dictates the appropriate response for various scenarios.
- Incident action plan
Your incident action plan should answer three questions about a crisis:
- What is the situational awareness?
- What are the strategic objectives and what needs to get done right now?
- When do we reconvene to check in?
- Timely and effective communications
Time-starved and attention-poor audiences demand communications that are fast, relevant and actionable — particularly in a crisis, when risks increase with every passing minute. As you map out how you’ll communicate and with whom, be sure no internal or external audiences are neglected, including non-English speakers, hearing and sight-impaired individuals.
Having worked in crisis management for more than 36 years, Phelps shared the following wisdom for both rookie and seasoned crisis managers:
- Flex your crisis muscle.
Mastering crisis management response takes practice. When your organization isn’t actively mitigating crises, Phelps recommends periodical drills and exercises to build your crisis muscle memory. This way, when a crisis does arise, your team is prepared to act quickly.
- Prove your value.
Since crises are highly situational, the ROI of crisis management is difficult to measure, said Phelps. Instead, she recommends communicating its “Value of Investment” (VOI) to upper-level management. On that note, Phelps added it’s also important to perfect a 15-second “elevator speech” on the VOI of crisis management and proactively tracking events or trends that could snowball into a crisis down the road.
- Embrace technology.
Phelps encourages organizations to invest in technologies that will improve and speed up crisis response. “I still see teams trying to manage crises with phone bridges,” she said. That’s far from adequate, she said: “There’s no way [that approach] is successful.”
Wondering how to improve your crisis management communications?
Get in touch and request a complimentary consultation. We’ll help you solve your biggest emergency or routine communications challenges with technologies you already own.
- Mass Notification Problems/Solutions (PDF/checklist)
- 4 Critical Layers of Mass Notification (blog post)
- Integrated Security Essentials: a Checklist (blog post)