Crisis Planning seems to be big–but how do you know if they are any good?

I found it very interesting that just today I got two invitations to participate in webinars on crisis planning. One put on by PRSA, and the other by PR University from Bulldog Reporter. Both of these look like worthwhile presentations by expert presenters.

My question is this: how can anyone determine whether a crisis plan will be effective?

I think this question is coming out of the work I have been doing lately in creating a JIC Evaluation Tool and also reviewing the draft of the National Response Team JIC Model. If those putting plans in place and training participants don’t have an adequate understanding of rapidly changing demands of today’s audiences, how can those plans and models be effective. I suspect–more than suspect since I have seen a lot of evidence of it lately–that a lot of crisis plans are being put in place that would work in yesterday’s world but not in todays. Yes, things have changed that much.

Crisis plans developed today need to meet the expectations of today’s audiences–and, as much as possible, anticipate future demands. If not, they will be outdated before the big red notebooks get distributed.

Here are a few suggestions aimed at helping you evaluate whether your current plans (or brand new ones you are creating) are outdated:

— are they media centric? -in other words do they anticipate that the primary if not exclusive means of getting information out to key audiences is through the media?

— do they anticipate getting initial messages out in the first half hour? Impossible, you huff. Maybe, but essential. The determining factor for speed used to be “how soon will the news helicopters arrive?” Now it is “how soon will someone with a cellphone and cell camera convey it to the news media?” Instant news is now instant news.

–do they plan for using mass-individual distribution methods–such as text, text-to-voice conversion as well as email?  Today’s audiences have an increasingly well defined expectation for direct communication–just ask any student on any campus following Virginia Tech.

–do they plan for ongoing communication well beyond the initial news media coverage?  The news media comes and goes with increasing speed. But not so interested audiences. Plans that assume communication stops when the news media’s interest wanes are simply outdated.

–do they include the buildout of comprehensive information and audience contact information in advance? You need to know whom you absolutely need to communicate with in advance and have the preparation to do that virtually immediately. And questions need to be anticipated in advance with answers ready to go or pre-posted on dark site–because you simply won’t have the time or resources to do these things when it really hits the fan. Preparation today is much much more than identifying spokespersons and giving them media training.

–does your plan anticipate team operating on a vritual communications platform–I can guarantee you the crisis you fear most won’t happen when you are sitting at your computer waiting for all hell to break loose. You will be gone, or your key leadership team, or your whole office may have floated away. Being able to operate virtually is now not a luxury, but a necessity.

–is social media engagement more than a casual after-thought? Social media serves multiple roles in a crisis, some positive, some potentially negative. But it is an essential part of today’s information environment and any current crisis plan must have blog monitoring, blog participation, social media sites as communication media, blog policies and all these sorts of things worked out in advance. No longer can you hide your head in the sand and say: well, no one pays any attention to them anyway.

These are a few of the items that I can think of to help determine if crisis plans will actually work when you need them. Would love for crisisblogger readers to add to this list (or tell me why these don’t apply).

5 thoughts on “Crisis Planning seems to be big–but how do you know if they are any good?”

  1. You are right, of course, in particular when you say “The determining factor for speed used to be ‘how soon will the news helicopters arrive?’ Now it is ‘how soon will someone with a cellphone and cell camera convey it to the news media?’ Instant news is now instant news.”

    Instead of crisis plans we should be thinking of building crisis “systems” with infrastructures that can match the speed with which news is made.

  2. Boyd, great to hear from you. It was a pleasure meeting you in Houston. Pleased to have discovered your blog and I have added it to my links. Hope we run into each other again soon.

  3. We’re now seeing companies prepare for the news report being the instigator of the crisis response. More and more organizations only learn of a crisis when they are questioned about it by the media.

    How do companies get ahead of the impending crisis in these circumstance? Only by being able to communicate more quickly and effectively than the media and those that feed them.

    The days of waiting 30 minutes to convene the Crisis Management Team in a physical room are going and being able to corral the response team quickly wherever they are is crucial – hence your point about the need for virtual command and control for the response.

    To finish, I remember a crisis manager who had to deal with a CEO who would not treat crisis management seriously and refused to take part in an exercise. The crisis manager then started the exercise by hiring a camera team and journalist and rushing into the CEO’s office demanding to a piece to camera on the unfolding crisis. All her executives were elsewhere and she was thoroughly exposed. The point was well made, and the crisis manager kept his job!

  4. Hi Gerald, I agree with Boyd, great post… very much summarizes the key considerations for effective 21st century crisis response.

    I would emphasize, however, your note on policies (your last bullet) and the importance of having the appropriate social media policies in place to help guide employee behaviour during a crisis. Meaning, you don’t want your employees either blogging about the incident or, worse, actively engaging stakeholders without understanding the big picture or without being fully transparent around who they are and who they represent.

    To reinforce the point that my colleague Boyd makes, the notion of a crisis system goes well beyond the technology to include all aspects of effective crisis communications – the role of employees as brand guardians, the importance of appropriate approval and information dissemination processes to align with the need for more rapid communications, and making sure you understand when to engage beyond your online footprint, but also when not to engage – I think that will be one of the major obstacles in the eyes of many executives.

  5. Gerald:
    I agree with the systems thinking approach. For more than a decade my hospital has used the 30 minute cycle release format…now blogs, podcasts and other new media make that even easier:
    1. Upon notification of “whatever” IMMEDIATELY release the pre-prepared statement (live, on your website, recorded on a phone message or whatever.) Ours is short – “At X o’clock St. Francis was notificed that…(one sentence description of what we KNOW)…and we have initiated the crisis/disaster/incident response team to respond to the situatlion. We will have our first update at X o’clock (nearest half-hour that is 20 minutes or more away.)
    2. Use 20 minutes to gather information…
    3. Use 5 minutes to write a short paragraph summary of what you KNOW to be true and advise when the next information will be available.
    4. Use 5 minutes to gain approval from whoever (in our case, the on site senior executive)
    5. Post it, release it, record it…and start over every half hour on the half hour.
    6. Keep doing it until outside help or your staff arrive and/or things simmer down enough for less frequent messaging.
    Even in today’s “instant – Now is too late” (Thanks) world…that still works.

    Fred Bagg, ABC, APR, Fellow PRSA
    St. Francis Hospital – Indianapolis, Indiana

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