A Lesson in Crisis Planning: Don’t Wait for the Hurricane to Hit

November 12th, 2012

Unfortunately, with today’s fast-moving news cycle, Hurricane Sandy has already become a distant memory for some. But for those that were directly in its path, the aftereffects will be felt for a long time.   It’ll take months and years before everything is rebuilt and back to normal in parts of New Jersey and New York. By all accounts, Sandy was an unprecedented storm that led to complete devastation in some areas.  This was a human crisis at the highest levels.

But as we start to move further away from the event, it’s important to remember some lessons learned from this disaster. Particularly, there are some key reminders for public relations professionals and businesses in how to plan for a crisis.

As Sandy has demonstrated, crises aren’t just about your response; they’re about your preparation. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) defines preparedness as “a continuous cycle of planning, organizing, training, equipping, exercising, evaluating and taking corrective action in an effort to ensure effective coordination during incident response.”  In other words, crisis planning should be an ongoing activity.

From a practical standpoint, one thing that we emphasize to clients is that plans are great, but if they just live on a piece of paper they’re unlikely to be effective.  You have to actually put them into some sort of practice BEFORE you’re faced with a crisis.  We recommend running regular dress rehearsals or drills where all of the leaders on the crisis team are given a mock negative scenario and forced to walk-through how they would respond. As any of the leaders that dealt with Sandy could tell you, nothing can prepare you 100 percent for an unexpected negative event. But by at least running a simulation you have some frame of reference for how to react.

Does your company have regular crisis drills and scenario planning sessions? If so, how have they helped?

Posted Under: Crisis Communications
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