Formulating a crisis response and communications plan is an important first step in preparing for your next crisis. Some of the best crisis plans are simple. Rather than envisioning every “if this, then that” circumstance, a robust crisis plan which is somewhat vague might be the perfect framework for your organization.
Every crisis plan contains similar components. However, each component should be relevant to your organization and its structure as well as peculiarities of your geographic location (coastal travel organizations will face annual hurricane preparedness whereas others face tornado season). A good plan should also have power – the power for the team to follow its steps in a crisis without stopping to seek permission or get approvals. It should empower a team to work a crisis in the first few hours without sanctions or interruptions.
Does your organization have a crisis plan? If not, you can get started today with these essential elements.
Goal or Objective
This brief introductory section should outline what this plan is designed to go, with words of encouragement for the team who may turn to it suddenly for help. It will help set the tone for the team in crisis.
Clearly and plainly stated in a few bullet points.
Definition of Crisis
A general definition may give clarity as a crisis emerges and should include a bulleted list of examples specific to your business or organization.
Statement of Organization’s Crisis Policy
If you already have one in an employee handbook or business operations guide, it should be repeated here.
What has your organization done in advance to prepare the team to manage a crisis? Where do you keep the plan? Do you have a conference calling number reserved? How is the team alerted? Do you have outside counsel on standby? Their information should go here. Are there reporting forms which will be used later? They should also go here. Some organizations have designated muster areas if their physical plant needs to be evacuated. What about designated areas for news media to gather? Where are the emergency supplies located?
While some of these questions seem obvious, it’s important to have it all in one place. Why? What if the one person who stocked the emergency supply cabinet or the one person who has the evacuation plan memorized is on vacation, or worse, is involved in the emergency itself?
Crisis Management Team
This section should state the titles and areas of responsibility for each member of your team. It might be useful to include a chart of the team members.
Information about how and where you will establish a command center go here. Also, an alternate location should be named.
Crisis Management Timeline
This is the blueprint for how your team will identify the problem, begin to solve it and communicate what they are doing to the stakeholder base. There will be 4-6 steps to managing your crisis, although depending on its complexity and severity, you may follow the steps more than once.
Every organization has a handful of crises that are likely to happen. For the travel industry this might include weather emergencies like tornadoes and hurricanes, medical emergencies of guests and visitors, crimes committed at the organization like robbery, car accidents and domestic disputes.
Every organization should routinely monitor what is being said about their brand. This might include online services or keywords but may also be part of a media database subscription. These tools change frequently, so it’s important to know who has access and what they are capable of delivering in a crisis.
What action is necessary at the conclusion of a crisis? Are you bound by law to file a certain type of report? Is someone on the team required to write an after-action report? Will the team gather at a certain time after the crisis is over to evaluate what happened and any changes which need to be made in the organization before the next crisis? A good crisis plan will identify a timeline for these things to take place. It’s important for the crisis management team to download emotionally, too. Putting a statement about what’s required related to evaluation sets the stage for that to happen later.
Your plan should include all necessary attachments like the management team chart and contact information spreadsheet, media lists, company backgrounder, pre-approved statements and company “boilerplate” language.
You can start the journey to making your organization crisis-ready when you start to build a plan from these essential elements.
This post reflects some of the material I will be using next week for Texas Travel Industry Association’s Travel and Tourism College, an annual event to elevate the expertise of travel professionals in Texas.