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Dealing with Disaster: How a Prevention Plan Can Save Your Business

9 Nov, 2004 By: Ronelle Ingram imageSource

Dealing with Disaster: How a Prevention Plan Can Save Your Business

Powerful hurricanes bringing heavy winds, floods and mass hysteria have
plagued much of the southeastern United States over the past few months. When
events such as hurricanes occur, interruptions in business are inevitable. There
are lessons that can be learned from these types of disturbances, however.

As a business manager, I spend much of my time dealing with the
responsibilities of conducting a profitable business. One of my objectives in my
position is to plan for the worst case scenario, which can create a great deal
of extra work. But it takes a mature, hard-working professional to understand
the importance of taking the time and energy to create a contingency plan that
may never be used or even seen by anyone. You have to understand that
preparation and diversification are vital to the stability and longevity of any

Most companies are so busy taking care of the daily hustle and bustle of
running a business they fail to make a plan for a true crisis such as a natural
disaster, embezzlement, the death of a CEO, a major lawsuit, or bankruptcy of a
key vendor.

According to the Institute for Crisis Management in Louisville, Kentucky,
more than 85 percent of business crises reveal a visible sign of the impending
doom before the disaster occurs. More than three-quarters of these situations
could have been averted or lessened had management taken appropriate actions in
advance of the crisis, according to the institute.

Create a Crisis Team

The key to avoiding this negative trend is to create an in-house crisis team,
which gives your employees specific duties in case of an emergency. Often the
difference between a critical situation and a crisis is how the situation is

Speed of an appropriate reaction is vital. This need for an immediate
response necessitates having a crisis management team in place before a
catastrophe happens.

The team should be a multi-disciplinary group, which is physiologically ready
to handle the worst case scenario. It is best if the crisis management team has
members from the IT group, human resources, public relations and fiscal
management departments. You also need team members with leadership, speaking,
writing and motivational skills. In some smaller companies, one or two people
may have to carry the entire load.

Outlining in advance a logical division of tasks will save valuable time
during a crisis. Ideally, an IT person is needed to protect your information
systems, update your Web page and monitor and process email communication. Human

is needed to immediately react to any personal needs of those affected.
Information can be dispersed to internal and external areas by your public
relations department. When a crisis happens, money usually plays some sort of
key role. The fiscal representative needs to monitor needs versus available

The leader, speaker, writer, motivator can be one of the previous group or a
separate person that brings together all the factors of the crisis management
group. As you are reading this, you may have automatically attached a person
within your company that fits into each one of these criteria.

Also, have a predetermined designated spokesperson in place. Typically, this
falls to the Chief Executive Officer of the company. The real crisis occurs when
something happens to the CEO. True crisis planning will allow for a backup
spokesperson if the CEO is unable to take over the needed leadership role.

The crisis team should also have one outside, but company savvy member. Their
role is to objectively appraise your firm’s situation and help orchestrate or
review the company’s response.

Stay Calm & Keep the Business Running

While the crisis team is hard at work, make sure other employees are still
managing the day-to-day operations of your company. Do not allow the functioning
parts of your business to slide into disrepair while traditional management
members are handling the crisis.

Your employees, vendors and customers will measure and long remember your
company’s initial response to any crisis. When a crisis hits, stay calm. Collect
the facts. Do not go into hiding. Even if not all pertinent information is
available, a leader can say, “I am not sure of all the facts. We are diligently
investigating all the relevant information.” A nonspecific answer is better than
saying nothing or blurting out an incomplete or incorrect response.

“Tell the truth. Tell it all. Tell it fast,” is an old PR adage. Make no
estimate of dollar damage, injuries or estimated loss. That is the job of
lawyers and insurance companies. And don’t make any promises you may not be able
to keep in the future.

Throughout the duration of the crisis, keep employees informed of
developments and anticipated timetables. Provide a written communication that
employees can give to concerned customers or vendors. A written fact sheet helps
to reduce incorrect information being spread. They also provide a concrete piece
of paper employees can distribute with anyone who questions them. A quickly
dispersed written fact sheet implies that everything is under control.

Assign an employee to handle any questions or inquires. Let all employees
know there is someone on staff to deal with specific issues arising from the
crisis. This helps divert distractions, allowing for concentration on their
normal work duties.

Emergency Procedures for Field Personnel

Besides having your in-house employees prepared, you should have a written
emergency policy for field personnel. Make sure sales and service staff have a
clear understanding of what should be done in an emergency situation. Below is a
plan devised by FKM for employees in the field.

Preparing for crisis management is not a one-time exercise, it is an ongoing
process. It requires strategic planning and simulation. Periodic mock crisis
drills can be practiced and re-enacted on a yearly basis.

Now is the time to take a look at the sensitive underbelly of your company
and learn how to deal with a crisis situation. A prepared plan will increase
your company’s ability to successfully deal with a future catastrophe. Better
yet, planning for a crisis may prevent you from ever having to deal with one.

In case of a community emergency, field service personnel should follow these

1. Personal safety should be first. No company or personal belongings are of
more importance than your personal safety. Be practical and prudent.

A. If you are in the customer’s office try to follow the safety procedures
arranged by that customer.

B. If evacuation of an office is required, try to take your personal property
(keys to vehicle, tools, vacuum, etc.) with you as you leave. Again, your
personal safety and the safety of others should be your primary concern.

2. In the event of an emergency, contact the office by phone if possible to
advise your manager of your situation. Always keeping safety in mind. If the
company’s main phone number is not working, the fax number will be converted to
a basic telephone line available to receive incoming telephone calls. The FKM
fax number is…. if all telephone contact is lost, and safety conditions do not
allow you to return to the office. If it is after 3:30 p.m. in the workday go
home. Try to reestablish telephone contact at 7:00 a.m. the following morning.
If the telephone contact cannot be reached by 8:00 a.m., and travel is safe,
come into the office for further instructions.

Some quick reminders when working in the field: Upon entering a building, be
aware of multiple exit routes in the building. Keep your work area organized and
free of safety hazards. Never block doors or walkways with tools or supplies.

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