What happens if a potent storm shuts down power to a huge metropolis, rendering public transportation useless so no one can get in or out? Do employees come to work, and how do you communicate with customers?
Unfortunately, for much of the East Coast this week, this was not simply a scenario buried on page 47 of a dusty crisis plan tucked away on a bookshelf.
It was, and still is, resounding proof that every company, from the mom-and-pop store on the corner to the large Fortune 500 company, needs some sort of crisis preparedness and response plan.
In the nonstop media reports, public officials keep saying that nothing could have prepared them for Hurricane Sandy’s destruction. But the hallmarks of any crisis plan are the steps on how best to prepare and respond.
There were some high-profile failures in crisis preparedness this week. Most notable was the failure of generators at several New York and New Jersey hospitals. New York University Langone Medical Center had to evacuate all 215 of its patients
when its power went out and both backup systems didn't work.
This should have been covered in a crisis preparedness plan for these hospitals, especially given that the same problem came up during Hurricanes Katrina and Irene, as well as during other recent blackouts. It makes you wonder whether someone failed to review the plan and double-check the generators—or whether they even had plans.
We can hope that every hospital in the country, regardless of its potential exposure to an extreme weather event, is testing its generators, setting up a plan to do so on a regular basis, and creating redundancies in case of a crisis.
Crisis plans should be considered “living documents” that are updated quarterly. They should include new scenarios based on actual experiences, as well as lessons drawn from others’ mistakes.
To help your company get started with a crisis preparedness and response plan, here are some tips:
• Devise a plan that includes scenarios for natural or human-caused disasters, covering preparation and response plans.
• Train staff on how to respond to a crisis or issue at hand, from front-line staff all the way up to the board of directors.
• Make sure the plan is updated and easy to understand. Consider making a one-page checklist.
• Update plans based on real-life experiences.
• Create a framework for a communication plan for all audiences, including employees, customers, vendors, and government agencies and regulators.
My lesson from this week is to figure out what to do when phone service is unavailable or unreliable and the tried-and-true phone tree communication plan doesn’t work. It could involve setting up a hotline or designated website with information, though the absence of a power source could still pose problems.
Any ideas on that? Please offer your thoughts in the comments section.
Gil Rudawsky heads up the crisis communication and issues management practice at GroundFloor Media in Denver. He is a former reporter and editor. Read his blog or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.