Crisis plan components

A workable plan should have these components:

  • A flexible set of response modules. As you identify the various crises that can affect your company’s operations, you’ll start to see patterns of how you should respond. Modularizing these responses can help you respond quickly and appropriately in the first minutes, hours and days of a crisis. Modules may include: a lockdown of the facility, evacuation, medical containment, grief management protocols, police or fire response, etc.
  • Linkage between crisis and modules. These modules can be linked to each possible crisis. For instance, a “shooter on site” scenario could trigger 1) a lockdown, 2) a police response, 3) possible evacuation at their direction, 4) grief counseling and 5) an off-site communications center. A robbery may require modules 2 through 4, but not the first and not necessarily the fifth. You should be able to assign modules to each crisis in the order they should occur. A simple Excel spreadsheet can be used for this purpose.
  • A set chain of command. The plan should outline who is in charge. This includes who can call the Crisis Command Center into action, who is in charge of making response decisions, what the hierarchy is for reviewing and approving media releases and talking points, alternates to cover assigned roles should someone be on vacation or ill and who would handle a remote or off-site CCC.
  • Activation protocols. What will trigger activation of the Crisis Command Center? This will be the signal to move from business as usual to “war room mode” as well as what signals a return to “normal” after the crisis has passed and there’s no longer a need for a CCC.
  • Clear team roles. There should be clear roles for who handles media relations, employee communications, social media, stakeholder/stockholder relations, the Media Briefing Room and other responsibilities. These should be clearly delineated so the lines of responsibility as well as the lines of reporting are clear to all team members. As a CEO or owner, you cannot handle everything yourself. Strong leadership is essential here, including the ability to delegate tasks. Even if you have a half dozen employees, they need to be led through a crisis. As their employer, you have a responsibility for their safety and their livelihood. They depend on you to lead in times of crisis, even if you’re the one handling all the decisions yourself. You are all in this together. Ask them for help and give them assignments based on their skills, experience and abilities.
  • Clear communication channels. Your team needs to know which channels to use to respond to each crisis. You also want to outline alternative communication channels should a primary or traditional channel be disabled or temporarily unavailable. For instance, it’s easy to think you’ll use your cell phones in a crisis, but in a widespread disaster the networks can be jammed and virtually useless. Think outside the box on this. You may have to get old school in communicating during a crisis. That old-fashioned land line could become a lifeline in a disaster.
  • Don’t assume. The plan should outline things like who to contact to provide security, how to start the generator for emergency power and what can be run from it, where the extra fuel is stored, the location of emergency food, water and medical suppliers, etc. You should also have a central meeting area for workers and a way to conduct business away from your primary office, even if temporarily. The plan needs to be simple enough that anyone can follow it.
  • Practice makes perfect. Following are some of the ways you can run drills, starting with the easiest.
    • Walk-throughs. Just as it says, a walk-through of the plan with a couple what-if scenarios to illustrate how the plan works.
    • Tabletop exercises. A scenario is developed in advance and the team goes through it using the chain of command and the processes outlined in the plan. Afterwards, the team discusses what worked and what didn’t to make changes to the plan if needed.
    • Event simulations. This is a real-world situation in which the team responds to a mock incident. This simulation lasts several hours and multiple complications are introduced into it to allow the team to manage both the primary crisis as well as secondary incidents.
    • Full drills. These are typically reserved for companies that deal with high stakes crises such as potential oil spills, chemical leaks or airplane accidents. These are as real as possible, including victims and ever-shifting scenarios. They are also very expensive to conduct and take months of planning.


Some helpful tips

The Japanese word for crisis is 危機, or kiki. Fittingly, it has the kanji 危, which means danger, and 機, which means opportunity. Depending upon how you plan for or respond to a crisis, it can be both a danger and an opportunity for you.

Here are some helpful things to think about as you develop your crisis plan.

  • Plan for the worst and best possible scenarios. This will help you consider all the options, knowing what the worst outcome could be (danger) as well as the best possible outcome (opportunity).
  • Be proactive, not reactive. Often a crisis that could easily be controlled at the outset will spin out of control and get worse than it would have ordinarily been if you ignore it or pretend that it will just go away on its own. Boeing’s response to the 737 MAX accidents is a good example. Don’t put your head in the sand – always be on the lookout for a pending crisis while it’s still in the prodromal stage and tackle it intelligently and proactively.
  • Stay organized. Don’t wait for a crisis to occur to take the plan for a spin. Rehearsing, updating and maintaining your plan will help you remain crystal clear while everything around you appears to be spinning out of control.
  • Learn from the past. If a crisis does strike, use the lessons learned to improve upon your crisis management skills. Meet with your team after everything settles down and objectively review what worked and what didn’t.
  • Don’t place blame. In the midst of a crisis, mistakes will be made. This is natural. After all, we’re only human and have to deal with complex human emotions such as fear, grief and anger that arise in a crisis. Don’t be quick to blame. Show the world a united front internally and externally and after the crisis has passed, after you’ve been able to gain some perspective, and review how things could have gone better.
  • Don’t do everything yourself. As a situation unfolds, you’ll need to be juggling a lot of balls. This is not the time to be a control freak. Assemble your team and use their collective strengths and talents to address the different aspects of a crisis, from media relations and operations to logistics and finance.
  • Think outside the box. When a crisis occurs, step out of what is known about the situation and approach the problem from all sides. Be willing to take measured risks to solve the problem.
  • Stay calm. A crisis plan is designed so that you don’t have to panic. You can have clarity, even in the toughest, most uncertain moments because you have a well-conceived plan in place that you can follow.
  • Don’t get caught up in the moment. Remember. The crisis will eventually pass. It may be hours, days, weeks or even months, but it will pass and a new normal will form. Be patient and don’t waste a lot of time fighting a battle that has nothing to do with winning the war.