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Crisis planning needs dynamic approach

Crisis planning needs dynamic approach

CHICAGO — Crisis communications plans can help organizations effectively manage and recover from a crisis, but they have to be well thought-out and updated, a panel of experts said.

Many companies have crisis plans but often they are found in a “dusty folder” and have not be reviewed since they were developed, said Andrew Moyer, Chicago-based vice president of crisis and risk management at Edelman, a communications and marketing company.

“The challenge tends to be that the plan hasn't been tested or practiced,” he said, “and people don't have a fine understanding of their role and responsibilities in a crisis. This is the whole point of front end preparedness, which is part of crisis management; insuring that when bad things happen you are prepared to communicate effectively,” he said.

He was speaking Thursday at the Hines Symposium, an annual educational event sponsored by the Chicago Chapter of the Risk & Insurance Management Society Inc.

A communications plan that is not updated can create “false hope” for companies that rely on them, said Rhonda Barnat, managing director of Abernathy MacGregor Group in New York and co-chair of the communications firm's crisis management practice.

To effectively prepare for a potential crisis, organizations should establish a set of principles, determine what the organization stands for and decide in advance who is going to speak publicly if there is a problem, she said.

Creating a team to react to a crisis is a key step in the preparation process, and building a crisis team where each member trusts the other members is critical, Ms. Barnat said.

A crisis communications team should at a minimum include a person from legal, a person from human resources and a person from communications, as nearly all crises would affect at least one of those departments, said Mr. Moyer.

There also needs to be a “quarterback,” a person who understands their job is to pull in the resources that are necessary, he added. “They pull in other subject matter experts as needed.”

While it's impossible to plan for every crisis, organizations should consult with peer organizations, when possible, said Brian Graves, director of communication and public relations for Community Unit School District 308 in Aurora, Illinois.

As the communications leader, he “compares notes” with colleagues at other school districts who have had crisis experience with gun violence or other incidents that his district has not, Mr. Graves said. This allows him to plan where vulnerabilities could be.

“Based on their experiences, we can prepare for providing the layer of protection we may need,” he said.

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