Preparing for that Day

Surely you have seen some pretty crazy interviews during this time of crisis in America. From hysterical pronouncements to over-reactions and under-reactions, it seems like every interview is one step worse than the next. If you are a small business, or big corporation dealing with the realities of Coronavirus, you may find yourself being interviewed by a member of the press.

So here is a revisit of a blog I wrote a while back about preparing for a crisis. It is as valid today as it was then. And hopefully you can learn something from it.

Crisis doesn’t always take the form of mass violence or major tragedy. From data breach and system failure to corporate or officer wrongdoings, legal issues and employee accidents, crisis has many faces, comes without warning and discriminates against no company, school, non-profit organization or office building. A crisis can happen at any minute, in any place, including at one of your organization’s locations as evidenced from this week’s tragedy at Ohio State. And on one fateful day a year ago in San Bernardino, a crisis of unspeakable horror reached a small office park.

“Just another day in the United States of America. Another day of gunfire, panic, and fear. This time, in the city of San Bernardino….” is how the BBC began its coverage of the San Bernardino terrorist attack.

Sure the correspondent didn’t know at the time that this was a terrorist attack and he could be forgiven since some talk in the U.S. media was around “workplace violence” which of course turned out to be painfully untrue. But the fact is that an everyday part of American life – the workplace, a Christmas party – was the site of an attack by brutal terrorists with no regard for human life.

And for employers, this was a wakeup call on many fronts. From basic safety and security to being on point with its crisis plan right down to the right communications protocol when the unthinkable happens.

Office workers not in the line of fire talked of terrifying sounds and sights and not knowing what to do despite reports of active shooter drills just weeks prior. There is no doubt that in the moments of a surreal, unbelievable event like this that the last thing most people are thinking about is communications.

But that is why it is so urgent to have a crisis communications plan in place – with very specific protocols on what to do when faced with the worst.

1. Establish policy and protocol. Who is the key communicator? Who is the backup if that communicator is not available for any reason?
2. Create a chain of communication, especially when working in a large work environment. Make sure that every employee knows that protocol.
3. What is the forum for communication? Is it a text blast, an email blast, PA announcements or all of the above?
4. What is the message? Some combination of prior training and on-the-ground advice from law enforcement officials could be communicated based on information available, allowing people to better know how to react.
5. How do you keep the general public informed? Families in the San Bernardino event faced hours of uncertainty as the situation was fluid for a long time. Many people raced to the scene putting themselves in peril. Some communication tools could have been used – websites, phone system messages, social media – or direct delivery through media sources – to keep those individuals better informed.

Every company should have these five things in place – and every employee should know where to look for information when it seems that there is nowhere to turn. No crisis communications plan is going to prevent a tragedy from happening but it can assist in reducing panic and keeping all informed of what the authorities know.

Any crisis situation demands some level of communications and companies today must be prepared for any scenario – whether it’s a terrorist attack, a weather emergency or a healthcare crisis.

The strength of an organization’s leadership can be tested during times of crisis or extreme challenge. Your reputation takes years to build, and in today’s information age, only seconds to lose. Crisis situations require an immediate response, a firm position or plan of action delivered with honesty and genuine empathy.

Knowing your response will be what’s remembered, organizations of every type should protect their reputations with thoughtful, swift response to media inquiries, followed by messages developed with calm consideration of the fears and concerns its people. No-one can predict the future, but smart leaders prepare for the worst by building the trust and confidence necessary to overcome a crisis situation.

Bad things happen to great companies. Don’t let your organization be caught like a deer in the headlights when the unthinkable becomes reality.