Crisis Communications – Do You Have a Plan?

By Susan Hart, Hart PR

When Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords woke up on a Saturday morning in January, I’m confident it didn’t occur to her, her staff, area law
enforcement and local media that she and others would be fighting for their lives in a matter of hours, with some losing that battle. The tragic event prompted us to question many things, and for public relations professionals, one question should be whether or not our crisis management plans are current.

What kind of crisis communications plan does your organization and/or clients have? This isn’t a “yes” or “no” question – it’s a question of
depth of preparedness to act expediently, responsibly and accurately – a component that vacillated throughout that day’s media reports. And this
question is no longer about the fundamentals – it’s about the ability to be able to communicate and disseminate information with today’s technology that has likely advanced since you last worked on your plan.

Take a look at the checklist below. If you can answer “yes” to most, if not all, of the statements, then you’re ahead of the curve. If you can’t check
“yes” to most of the statements, then do something about that. As January’s tragedy shows, nobody is immune to a crisis.

_____ We have identified potential crisis situations within our organization, and we have developed a communications strategy for responding
to each.

____ In the event of a crisis, we are prepared to quickly communicate with all our target audiences, including but not limited to, staff, volunteers,
consumers, constituents, donors, shareholders, elected officials, media and the general public.

____ We have established a crisis team and a formal notification plan to key audiences.

____ We have secured domains reflecting or related to our organization’s name (such as UPDATE @ NAME OF ORGANIZATION) to activate in the event of a crisis, as well as other potential communications tools like a designated web page for media use.

____ We have accounts with appropriate social media tools to use for crisis communications purposes as necessary.

___ Our management team and key board members/stakeholders/decision makers are familiar with the crisis communications plan.

____ At any hour of the day, our crisis team knows how to contact each other.

____ Each member of our crisis team has a copy of the crisis communications plan at home and at the office.

____ If an incident occurs, we are confident the employee or volunteer on duty will know what to do to alert the crisis team.

____ Our plan defines our communications boundaries. We understand when we speak as an organization; we understand when other entities such as law enforcement, medical personnel, expert leaders, etc., are to speak on behalf of the situation, and we continually communicate among all parties during a crisis to ensure consistency and accuracy of information.

____ Our organization has established a formal communications policy on providing the media with full and accurate information in a timely manner.

____ We have a current media policy that specifics designated spokespersons and how employees should respond if questioned by media.

____ The spokesperson for our organization has received professional media training and is an integral part of our management team.

____ We have an ongoing communications effort in place to maintain a foundation of goodwill in our community BEFORE any crisis occurs.

How many can you confidently and positively answer? What else would you add?

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