A thumbs up in a sea of shark fins

Crisis Communications Plan Tenents

Crisis response planning is a hallmark of every organization’s best practices


It’s a subject that no one wants to consider but that most will have to deal with at some point: communication during a crisis.

With social media adding more accountability and access to information about a crisis, it’s more important than ever to know what to do during a situation that deems it necessary to speak to media, communicate with the public, and possibly inform stakeholders or your Board of Directors. It’s best to be prepared for any internal, external, and environmental crises that may happen to your organization unexpectedly.

When planning for a crisis, the first thing to do is determine what crisis scenarios are most likely to affect your organization.

Based on your exposures, ask yourself the following questions: what crises are you most likely to experience? What can you do to prevent the crisis from happening in the first place?

Once you determine your exposures and the crises that can negatively affect your organization if they happen, the next step is to create or refine your emergency or crisis response plans.

Tabletop exercises offer great practice for small and large groups, and they can incorporate a facilitated discussion of a scripted scenario that is based on the policies and procedures you come up with. Practice makes perfect, and when you’re under the pressure and stress of a true crisis, it’s harder to come up with a plan on the fly.

It is necessary to stage drills to practice run-throughs of your organization’s plans in order to build muscle memory on how to react during these certain situations. This ensures that no one is caught off guard during the real event, and it will also help staff manage the situation post-crisis.

Often times, after a disaster or crisis, cleanup occurs that can interfere with an investigation necessary to determine covered damages. It is important to have a plan in place and discuss response protocol with staff, such as taking photographs of an affected or compromised area.

Beyond your district walls, crisis response also includes your organization’s response to media and constituents. The first question to ask is, who is your district’s spokesperson?

Studies have shown women are commonly perceived as more trustworthy people and are easier to trust in a crisis situation. However, it is important to have more than one person trained in public relations as different circumstances can come up where primary personnel are unavailable, on vacation, or even affected by the crisis.

Not only do you need a spokesperson for the public, but it is also necessary to have someone tasked with communicating to employees of the district as well. If no one keeps communication lines open with staff, it is easy for rumors and talk to run amok, ruin internal relations, and even get out to the public.

When it comes time to send your spokesperson into action, they may be asked some difficult questions. Remembering the acronym “C.A.N.” is a great thing to keep in mind. Leonard Greenberger, senior counselor at AKCG, a national public relations firm specializing in issue and crisis preparedness and response, came up with the mnemonic.

The CAN response

Order of Operations in a Crisis

There are three major things to keep in mind during crisis situations. First, always put people first. Their safety and well-being matter the most.

Next, protect the workplace. Protect the plant, the building, the forest, the park, etc., from being damaged any further.

As an extension of your workplace, make sure you preserve the reputation of your business or district. It is important to maintain a positive view on the company and be known as a trustworthy place, so customers, citizens, and the community feel safe with choices they make regarding the district or business.

Lastly—and this might go without saying, depending on the crisis—don’t be afraid to get legal counsel involved as soon as possible.

In the aftermath of a crisis, when you are planning follow-up communications, it is okay to dial back in communication, but only as long as the media and/or public has had their questions adequately answered.

Good relations with reporters is important to maintain whenever possible. If there’s something new to report, reach out and let media know, but more often than not, it’s unnecessary to call the media every day about the aftermath of a crisis.

You’ll also want to gather as a team and go over lessons learned from the crisis: what worked, what didn’t, and what procedures should be put in place to avoid it in the future—and from that point, reevaluate your crisis response plan and update it accordingly.

In summary, it should be part of your mission-critical goals to have a plan in place for when something goes wrong. As “Murphy’s Law” says, whatever can go wrong, will go wrong. Don’t let that scare you though.

When you follow these steps, it can prevent a small crisis from turning into a large one.

Risk Control Over Risk Response

Preparation is key and can help you be confident when a crisis does arrive.

CSD Pool members receive complimentary safety consulting which can help you prepare for the unexpected. On site, through email, or over the phone, our consultants can review and assist in developing policies, practices like emergency evacuation plans, communication procedures, and implementation procedures.

For more information, visit csdpool.org/safety/consulting to schedule a complimentary consultation today.

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