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January 4, 2016 Know How

Be prepared by building a crisis plan

What is most valuable in your business? Is it your talent, your equipment or your physical plant? Chances are, it is your reputation, which can quickly be undone in the event of a crisis. Whatever crisis may occur – fire, flood, employee misconduct, product recall, data breach, alleged criminal activity, financial irregularities – the key is to be ready for it.

The crisis will likely have less impact on your business than the way in which you respond to it. If you are prepared, you will be ready with a message and a response. Lines of communication will be open, transparency will prevail and the resources needed to weather the storm, such as a satellite site or mobile operations, will be ready and available.

In my career, I have been at the table during many such crises. I have seen companies watch their building burn down to the ground; enter large settlements with the government to resolve alleged wrongdoing; manage cases of employee abuse; and recall hundreds of thousands of units of inventory.

Those organizations that have a crisis plan have a tremendous head start. They are organized, ready and can quickly mobilize their people to respond.

Here are the key steps in developing a crisis plan:

• Determine who will serve on your crisis team and what their roles and responsibilities will be. Everybody on the team should know exactly what is expected of them in a crisis.

• Document the method for immediately notifying and activating staff. A plan should have emergency contact information for every single employee; but even more important, it should have the protocol for contacting those people, which could be as simple as an old-fashioned phone tree or as advanced as an electronic group messaging capability.

• Identify which external resources you will need and include the emergency contact information for reaching them. These resources should include a lawyer, public relations firm, banker, public insurance adjuster and an IT vendor. A credit line should always be in place as well, because you won't necessarily be able to establish one during a crisis.

• Create media statements for different contingencies and include them in the plan.

• Establish a social media protocol and policy and assign responsibility for updating social media as well as monitoring the online chatter about your company.

You may need help developing the plan and seek to engage a firm that specializes in this work. The finished plan should be reviewed with the management team and regular drills should be conducted. A good crisis plan is only as good as the team that will implement it and the team members' readiness to do so.

Crisis can befall any business, even the most successful and the best known, such as Johnson & Johnson, General Motors and BP. Often, those that survive are those that had a plan.

You have spent years building your business. Protect that investment. Have a crisis plan in place to guide you in difficult times. Asking the hard questions now and thinking about how you will respond is far better than hoping a crisis never comes.

David A. Ball is the president of Ball Consulting Group, LLC, a Newton public relations and crisis management firm that works with several greater Worcester organizations.

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