Many employers know that they need to get their act together when it comes to things like emergency exits, fire extinguishers, and labeling hazardous materials.
Those emergency safety measures are crucial, of course. But they won’t be totally effective if they aren’t coupled with a solid crisis communications plan.
If your employees don’t know exactly who they should contact in the case of an emergency, that emergency can quickly become a full-blown disaster.
So if you don’t have an office crisis communications plan, it’s time to make one.
A good plan clarifies how critical information flows through the organization and out to the public — especially under extreme and unusual circumstances.
First, assess what types of crises you need plans for. Then, get specific about how employees should convey important news with the rest of the staff, emergency response teams, and other critical stakeholders and experts.
Anticipating Potential Crises With a Risk Assessment
As we wrote in our full post on emergency planning, all good crisis plans should start with a vulnerability assessment. That requires methodically thinking through all the ways that disasters could impact your workplace.
For more on how to conduct a vulnerability assessment, check out Ready.gov. It suggests three stages:
1. Hazard identification – Consider which types of hazards could affect your company. Ready.gov breaks the risks down into three types:
- Natural hazards such as tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, blizzards, and even pandemic diseases
- Human-Caused Hazards including workplace accidents, entrapment, structural failures, and intentional acts such as workplace violence or threats of violence, and cyber attacks
- Technological Hazards such as power outages and loss of connectivity, utility failures, hazardous materials spills, or supply chain interruptions
You may also want to have communication plans in place for the kinds of crises that affect your bottom line even if they don’t present immediate physical danger. Examples: insensitive comments made by the CEO that can go viral, safety flaws discovered in your products, or criminal behavior by employees.
2. Vulnerability assessment – In this stage, consider which assets are at risk from each potential hazard. The most important “asset” is always your employees, but you’ll also have to worry about things like how the disaster will affect your company’s ability to make its products and keep its reputation intact with customers.
3. Impact analysis – This is where you get clear about the actual, measurable damage that could be done by a disaster.
Establishing a “Communications Hierarchy”
Once you have a little more clarity about how each type of disaster would affect your business, it’s time to decide which people will need to know about it, and when.
List the stakeholders, and specify the order in which they will be contacted.
Here are a few of the stakeholders to consider including on your list:
- Internal crisis management team (this might change depending on the nature of the crisis, or you might have the same team for all emergency issues)
- Organizational leaders (be specific, list names and positions)
- Crisis-related internal experts
- Emergency responders or local government officials
- The designated crisis spokesperson (more on that later in the article), the PR team or third-party crisis management consultant
- All employees
- Investors or shareholders
- Neighbors or other businesses located in the immediate area
Designating Communication Methods and Tools
Now that you know who will need to be notified, it’s time to specify exactly how those notifications will be sent.
We’ve come a long way since the days when we relied totally on landlines for professional communication.
Today, we can communicate with our coworkers via email, text messages, chat apps, internal software programs, and even social media platforms — all in addition to those old-fashioned phone calls.
Communication preferences can vary widely from one individual to the next. One of your employees may get up-to-the-minute email alerts on their phones. Another may only check email sporadically. Some employees may have staff available to answer every phone call, and others will screen any call from an unrecognized number.
That’s why it’s so important to decide in advance how messages will be sent to stakeholders to improve the odds that they’ll be seen as soon as possible.
However, there are more than just personal communication preferences to consider. Some communication methods might not be available in the midst of certain crises.
For example, if your network has been taken down by a hacker, you may not have access to email or chat applications. Local power outages can make computers unavailable and eventually render personal devices useless. Local cell phone towers can become overloaded in the face of larger scale emergencies that affect entire regions.
A good crisis communications plan will take all of these potential obstacles seriously and identify effective backup communication methods.
Establishing and Training Spokespeople
Delivering crisis updates to the public can require a different approach than delivering internal messages, and it can require different tools and skills, as well.
Don’t wait until disaster strikes to designate a spokesperson. Whoever will be in charge of public-facing crisis-related messages on behalf of the organization should be prepared well in advance.
In today’s digital landscape, spokespeople need to know more than how to deal with traditional media. They’ll also have to designate someone to craft public updates and content for online followers and email subscribers.
These jobs can be handled by the same person if they have a diverse skill set, or multiple people can handle the distinct aspects of the job.
It’s a good idea to designate backup spokespeople for each of these roles, too, in case the original choices aren’t available when the crisis hits.
As this post from Bernstein Crisis Management points out, in the most serious crises, the CEO is the only reasonable choice for the role of spokesperson. However, in other cases they’re not the best choice.
As Jonathan Bernstein writes, “The fact is that some chief executives are brilliant organizational leaders but not very effective in-person communicators. The decision about who should speak is made after a crisis breaks – but the pool of potential spokespersons should be identified and trained in advance.”
Consider investing in formal media and crisis response training for potential spokespeople. Good training will help spokespeople minimize damage from a crisis and get the right message out quickly.Good training will help spokespeople minimize damage from a crisis and get the right message out quickly. #receptionistapp Click To Tweet
Remembering Office Visitors
Finally, don’t forget to factor office visitors into your crisis communications plans.
Unlike employees, office visitors have little experience with your site or your infrastructure, and they certainly won’t have gone through any emergency drills. That makes it even more important that they get the information they need in a crisis.
Visitor management software can help. The Receptionist for iPad makes it easy to see which visitors are on-site in real time, so that crisis managers can verify their safety in the case of an emergency evacuation or access their contact information if necessary. To learn more about The Receptionist, including how you can try it out for free, click here.
What to read next: 4 Tips for Conducting Workplace Emergency Drills
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