Be Ready for Emergencies
Leadership and communication ensure your crisis plan can be put into action at a moment’s notice. Plan, recruit, communicate, and use positive reinforcement.
The best crisis plan in the world is useless
if it sits on a shelf. Your people
must be ready to put it into action on a
moment’s notice. That takes communication
Leadership in crisis management starts
with the CEO and continues down to the
rank and file. If there’s any break in the
chain, the whole system will fail.
Senior management speaks the language
of money, so it behooves the risk or
crisis manager to sell the program in their
language. Talk about how the organization
needs to avoid big losses to protect the
bottom line. Maybe you’ll need to spend
$50,000 or $100,000 on developing and
communicating the crisis plan. However, if
planning can avert even one lawsuit, it will
produce a huge return on investment.
Furthermore, botching the handling of
a crisis can produce a torrent of negative
publicity that can depress a public company’s
share price and potentially cause
customers to cancel orders in droves—and
insurance won’t cover that.
Getting the top leadership on your side
is half the battle. Once they commit to
crisis planning and make it a point to tell
everyone that it’s a key organizational priority,
you’re on your way.
Analyzing Your Risk
Understanding your risk is a key element of
leadership. Start by compiling a comprehensive
list of all the types of events that
could occur—even those that seem
extremely unlikely. Then, break the list
into events that are initiated by people and
by natural events. Now, rank each item on
the list from 1 to 10, with 10 designating
incidents that have the
highest degree of probability of
occurring and 1, the lowest.
What are the biggest threats to
the health and safety of your
employees and visitors? What
threatens your property? What
types of interruptions in operations
could occur? What could
result in loss of public confidence
with your product or services? Is
your organization in an area that
can be hit by blizzards, floods,
earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes,
or other natural disasters? Once
you’ve answered these questions, you can
start planning and communicating.
Create the crisis management team (CMT),
drawn from upper-level management, who
will take charge during the crisis.
Start by drafting a preliminary outline
listing possible threats to the organization.
Circulate the outline to your management.
Use their comments when you flesh out
the details, progressing in a logical manner
from the lowest threat or emergency condition
level to worst-case scenarios.
Once your plan has been finalized,
make sure everyone who needs to know
about it does, especially key managers. Use
newsletters, brochures, meetings, and your
company’s intranet to inform your
employees. If your plan is detailed, conduct
a formal training session to explain its
requirements and answer questions.
Test the plan under controlled conditions
to ensure it is workable. Initially,
involve only your key personnel. After
they’ve learned it cold, expand participation
until you involve everyone.
The plan should designate a group of
managers who can detect the signs of a
potential crisis. These managers should be
able to drop their usual duties immediately
and begin monitoring the situation.
They should assemble in the emergency
center and be authorized to initiate contact
with the CMT and take control until
the CMT arrives.
Ultimately, the point of leadership and
communication is changing behavior. You
can use both positive and negative reinforcement.
Research shows that positive
reinforcement (rewarding desired
behavior) is much more powerful than negative
reinforcement (punishing undesired
behavior) in both changing behavior and
So plan for disasters, get top leadership
on board, communicate extensively, and
use positive reinforcement. That’s the
recipe for success.
Be Ready for
Leadership and communication ensure your crisis plan
can be put into action at a moment’s notice. Plan, recruit,
communicate, and use positive reinforcement.
This article originally appeared in the April 2008 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.