Only in Kentucky could we feel the effects of hurricane-force winds and an ice storm in the same 12 months. Those natural disasters caused millions of dollars in damage and disrupted lives for days, weeks or months.
Did those weather events disrupt your business? If not, you’re lucky. However, what would you do if a major disaster – natural or manmade – happened to you? It is in the quiet times that you should prepare your business to withstand a potential crisis.
All businesses should have a written crisis plan. In that plan, you should prepare for the potential effects of different types of disasters. Your preparations should include contingencies for continuing your operations, protecting your facility and your data, and dealing with your employees.
However, do not forget to include communications in your crisis plan. Since your reputation is your most valuable asset, you must protect it.
Communicating with all of your audiences during a crisis is critical. How you deal with crises can enhance – or destroy – your reputation. When we help our clients prepare a crisis plan, here are a few of the suggestions we offer:
• Have a list of contact information for all employees. Develop a system to communicate with them immediately in case of emergency.
• Have a list of media contacts. You will need to disseminate accurate information about your business. Do not let rumors or inaccurate “word of mouth” stories damage your business.
• Designate one person to be in charge and determine who should talk with the media. Let all messages flow through one source so there are no conflicting stories coming from different company representatives.
• Disseminate regular news releases and advisories on your status and – if necessary – ways your clients can reach you. Use e-mail to stay in touch with your audiences.
• Have a list of governmental contacts for possible use. It may be worthwhile for you to keep civic leaders updated on the status of your situation. They may be able to help you. At the very least, they will appreciate the information.
• Keep in mind your current advertising or marketing efforts. Determine whether you should temporarily pull your ads or change your marketing strategy.
• Keep your Web site updated with fresh information. For that reason, you must have a way to access your site from a remote location if you have been forced from your facility.
• Have extra business materials in a secure location. Stationery, contact information, client lists, etc., should be accessible even if you must operate from a secondary location.
• If your business could be responsible for causing a disaster situation such as a gas leak, explosion or chemical spill, notify authorities immediately and keep them informed constantly. Determine and communicate how you intend to remedy the situation promptly and ensure safety.
This list barely scratches the surface of preparations you need to make, but it should start you thinking. Your next step should be to gather your management team together to consider all possible crisis scenarios and your best response to them. This will take time, but it is essential.
Once you gather those details, you’ll need to create a written manual that includes general directions for all to follow, including specific areas of responsibility and contact information. Disseminate copies of this manual to designated members of your management team. Make sure you have copies available off-site.
Once you have this manual prepared, revisit it regularly. Update sections as needed, especially when personnel changes. Refresh and improve your procedures. Do not let it gather dust on a shelf, or worse, forget where you put it!
You never know when a disaster will affect your company. However, if you ask the “what if” questions now, you will be prepared to handle emergencies in a calm and confident manner. This will help you manage the problems more effectively and protect your company’s reputation at a time when it might otherwise be severely tested.