Crisis management, for Kenyon, is managing the consequences when the crisis cannot be contained. The crisis has become the worst-case scenario, like an uncontrollable fire that kills several hundred-hotel guests, a terrorist attack or natural disaster that affects your employees, or the loss of an aircraft or ship, and now the consequences of the crisis need to be managed effectively.
People typically plan for or focus on specific events, such as, what will we do if there is a hurricane, an explosion, etc., and are then blindsided when the event does not follow a predictable path. For example, many people have used the term “unprecedented” to describe the loss of flight MH370. While the specific event is rare, the consequences of the event are not. The consequences are predictable and therefore manageable. Fully understanding the consequences in advance of a crisis allows for more effective preparation, planning and exercises.
What are the consequences?
Through Kenyon’s work at hundreds of disasters, we’ve identified 12 general consequences that manifest during a crisis and the solutions to managing them. These follow the 12 Principles of Crisis Management. Throughout 2018, we will summarize each principle so you can begin planning for these known consequences as part of your emergency management planning. We’ll feature three principles in each quarterly newsletter this year, as well as monthly checklists available via subscription.
Principle One: Effective Crisis Management Organization
Inevitable chaos and confusion develop in an organization as they become aware of a crisis – questions such as, “What has happened?” and “Who is doing what?” arise immediately.
You can’t avoid this chaos, but you can mitigate it. However, the solution must already be in place before the crisis: an efficient crisis management structure. Your organization needs the ability to respond and to guide itself through a response. This requires top-level staff involvement, specialist personnel and service-level provision, as well as specific facilities and resources.
As you’re identifying the above, you’ll also need an effective plan. This plan doesn’t have to be scenario-specific, it needs to be role-specific, preferably with a checklist for each role, what facilities are required, and where resources will come from.
With your plan, team, and partners in place, and additional resources identified, you can begin to train and exercise. Each exercise is an opportunity to build confidence, which will be required when chaos ensues.
Take a look at January’s Year of 12 Principles checklist for the full requirements to build an effective crisis management organization.
Principle Two: Humanitarian Assistance Operations
During a crisis, a large number of people, those directly affected by the event and their families, will need immediate information and direction regarding what to do. Despite whatever government or NGO groups that may be involved, those affected will look to you for information first; they will expect you to have a plan. There will be concerned, emotionally charged and geographically diverse families and friends from a variety of cultures and religions who are in shock and have questions.
These families of the affected will need assistance in a few key forms. First, a telephone enquiry center provides a way for families to provide and request information. Provision and management of a family assistance center allows for a place for families to gather to receive information regarding the incident, and allows you to collect any information you may need from the families to assist in the identification of their loved ones. For those unable to travel to a central family assistance center, you’ll need a plan to communicate with them effectively such as teams who can travel to their location. You’ll need a process to collect and return the affected’s personal effects. The same care and consideration should also be provided to affected employees and their families.
Finally, all information gathered through the enquiry call center, the family assistance centers, and the non-travelling family teams must be consolidated with effective data management to form a clear picture of each affected person and their family group, which allows for necessary communication such as sympathy letters and support payments as well as in assisting with the identification and repatriation of the deceased’s remains.
Additionally, the company should take this opportunity to establish expectations about what is going to happen, what the next steps are and what the potential time frames and outcomes will be. If managed well, this is how the company builds creditability with the families.
Principle Three: Crisis Communications Operations
There is nonstop 24-hour media coverage ranging from wild speculation to authoritative reports, all of which impact and drive families, political actions and investor reactions. There are multiple sources of information, many inaccurate; there are images of distraught families and endless contributions from “technical experts” looking for someone to blame.
A strong and well-exercised crisis communications plan, distinct from any public relations plan, is the key to handling this consequence. Your CEO and technical experts should be trained in how to address the media, as well as the survivors and families. Remember, in large loss-of-life incidents, the story may be “local” in many areas. Ensure you have several local spokespeople, as well as spokespeople at the incident location and company headquarters, on standby prepared to give comments.
If applicable, activate your media call center as it provides a central point to collect and prioritize the media enquiries, gauge the lines of enquiry, and identify and solve problems before they escalate. Begin media monitoring so that you can quickly respond to comments and even requests you may get from families through these channels.
The media and employees should be regularly updated but only after you have briefed the families and friends. Acknowledge the problem, provide the solution and talk about what you are doing. Crisis communications is how you communicate the action being taken to solve the problem and doing so in a transparent, coordinated manner builds trust with the survivors, the families and the public.
Most importantly, crisis communications is part of a crisis management program. It is of no value if the other consequences are not being managed or addressed. In a crisis, words must be supported by actions.
Be sure to subscribe to Kenyon's Year of 12 Principles to receive a new checklist each month.