Crisis Plans and Critical Details

Failure to check out the details can waylay the best laid crisis preparedness plans.

A great crisis preparedness plan can be thwarted with a wrong phone number, outdated emergency responder list or a trained spokesperson who has been transferred to Poughkeepsie.

A great crisis preparedness plan can be thwarted with a wrong phone number, outdated emergency responder list or a trained spokesperson who has been transferred to Poughkeepsie.

One of the most common practical shortcomings of crisis plans is outdated phone and email lists. Other common problems:

  • Chemical inventories are incomplete or not up to date.
  • The last incident training exercise with local emergency responders was years ago.
  • The war room you identified lacks an Internet connection.
  • The "ghost website" mentioned in your plan was never populated with background materials, B-roll video or other useful information.
  • The spokespersons you gave media training took new jobs and you didn't designate or train replacements. 

These oversights can be catastrophic if a crisis occurs. An employee can face serious injury unless you can tell firefighters on the spot how to handle his exposure. You can't stay on top of real-time information flows without reliable communication channels. The person standing in front of a battery of microphones with zero experience can botch an answer and tarnish an organization's hard-earned reputation.

Many organizations satisfy themselves with crisis plans that are generic. They grab a template online, fill in the blanks, print it on quality paper at Kinko's, show it off at a staff meeting and place it on the shelf. Ironically, it can do less harm there.

Crisis plans worth their weight are based on scenarios that are likely or at least imaginable for a particular business, nonprofit or public agency. The risks faced by a fast food restaurant are far different than those faced by a bank, plastics manufacturer or commercial property developer.

When crisis plans are molded around scenarios, the big picture and small detail are more obvious. Scenarios create a tangible context in which a crisis might occur, so you can think through how you will gather needed facts, stabilize or maintain operations during a crisis and communicate with affected communities and the news media.

If you crafted a crisis plan five years ago and haven't touched it since, the plan probably omits any mention of Twitter or Instagram as effective channels to provide timely updates to a wide range of publics. The plan is likely weak on dealing with crises sparked or fanned by posts on social media. And, as Sony Pictures and Target can attest, most crisis plans fail to contemplate computer hacking and its consequences.

Details in a crisis plan are critical. They need to be checked at regular, frequent intervals. Scenarios should be evaluated to see if they are still risks or whether new, scarier risks have emerged that demand attention.

But remember, your plan can be terrific, but you still can stumble if the phone number of the person you need to consult is wrong.