This step of Ready Business provides direction for developing a crisis communications plan.
The crisis communication or business continuity plan should include documented procedures for notification of suppliers.
If there are hazards at a facility that could impact the surrounding community, then the community becomes an important audience. Another important goal of the crisis communications plan is to move from reacting to the incident, to managing a strategy, to overcome the incident. The crisis communications team, consisting of members of the management team, should operate in an office environment to support the contact and information centers.
Communicate the policy to all employees explaining that it is best to speak with one informed voice. The risk assessment process should identify scenarios that would require communications with stakeholders.
Regulators may need to be notified and local government officials will want to know what is going on in their community.
It should be clear to staff what situations require immediate notification of management regardless of the time of day.
Employees from multiple departments may be assigned to communicate with a specific audience. Lists should be updated regularly, secured to protect confidential information and available to authorized users at the emergency operations center or an alternate location for use by members of the crisis communications team. HR should also coordinate communications with those involved with the care of employees and the provision of benefits to employees and their families. Close coordination between management, company spokesperson, public agencies and HR is needed when managing the sensitive nature of communications related to an incident involving death or serious injury.
Notification requirements specified in regulations should be documented in the crisis communications plan. In turn, management should provide input into the messages generated by the crisis communications team. Understanding the audiences that a business needs to reach during an emergency is one of the first steps in the development of a crisis communications plan.
Customer service or sales staff normally assigned to work with customers should be assigned to communicate with customers if there is an incident.
Communications with government officials depends upon the nature and severity of the incident and regulatory requirements. Human Resources (HR) is responsible for the day-to-day communications with employees regarding employment issues and benefits administration. After identifying the audiences and the spokesperson assigned to communicate with each audience, the next step is to script messages. Another important element of the crisis communications plan is the need to coordinate the release of information. Since the Tylenol crisis of the 1980s (unknown parties tampered with bottles of the product), the concept of crisis management has become a specialized activity in the domains of communications and public relations. National Public Relations has been on the front lines of some of the highest-profile crises in Canada and beyond, for more than 30 years. From a communications standpoint, a crisis is a business or organizational problem that is exposed to public attention, and that threatens a company’s reputation and its ability to conduct business.


A crisis can take on many forms, including natural or man-made disasters, environmental spills, product tampering or recalls, labour disruptions or criminal acts, to name a few. A coordinated approach to issues management can help an organization effectively identify and anticipate potential issues, prevent crises from developing, and influence their evolution and outcome. The issues audit becomes the front end of a company’s crisis communications plan, and arguably, the most important document in the plan. In order to ensure that the messages contained in the crisis plan are delivered effectively and with credibility, and that the plan can be carried out, it needs to be tested. Crisis training is best delivered by outside trainers who take participants through crisis theory and its practical applications to their industry or company. Despite the best planning and foresight, organizations inevitably find themselves in a crisis from time to time. As the hours and days pass, media reports breed a wider concern as other stakeholders become aware of the impact of the situation on them. In the hours, days and months after the 1998 crash of Swissair 111 in Nova Scotia, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada held a series of media updates on the status of the crash investigation, and provided regular safety alerts to the international aviation community. As demanding as the public may be, they are usually inclined to give an organization the benefit of the doubt in the early hours of a crisis. As the crisis comes under control, a company should examine the impact the incident has had on its brand(s) and reputation. Companies should consider a broad range of potential communication initiatives to restore trust and loyalty. An entire arsenal of public relations techniques can be called upon, from media relations, internal communications, and thought-leadership initiatives to comprehensive corporate social responsibility programs.
Most lectures on crisis management point out that the Chinese expression for crisis, wei ji, is a combination of two words: danger and opportunity.
Note: The Richard Ivey School of Business will host a day-long conference on Crisis Leadership on Friday, April 21. A senior manager should be assigned to communicate with elected officials and public safety officials.
Management needs to develop the strategy and the crisis communications team needs to implement that strategy by allaying the concerns of each audience and positioning the organization to emerge from the incident with its reputation intact.
The challenge is to identify potential audiences, determine their need for information and then identify who within the business is best able to communicate with that audience. Prioritization of requests for information and development of press releases and talking points can assist with the need to communicate quickly and effectively. Using this input, the crisis communications team can inform management about the issues that are being raised by stakeholders.
In a time of crisis, conventional management practices are inadequate and ways of responding usually insufficient.
Whether the impact is immediate or sustained over months and years, a crisis affects stakeholders within and outside of a company. In fact, some of the techniques for managing a crisis may fly in the face of conventional notions of planning, testing and execution.
Companies have come to recognize crisis communications capabilities as a vital part of their risk management and business continuity strategies. We have devoted many more hours to helping companies avoid, manage and recover from a crisis.


Research shows that the vast majority of crises arise when companies fail to identify a potentially contentious issue at an earlier, more benign, stage, and to develop a plan of action to manage the issue before the issue manages them. In some cases, an issue may have been badly handled, and as a result, has escalated to the brink of becoming a crisis. As a complement to a company’s emergency procedures, the crisis plan should contain detailed communications response procedures in the event that any of the potential crises identified in the communications audit, or unforeseen external events, come to pass. People need to know who holds responsibility for leading the organization through the crisis.
Assess the physical space that will be the nerve centre for managing the crisis, including the required hardware and software, staffing, location and layout.
The crisis plan is reviewed and implemented in a simulated crisis to assess the organization’s preparedness, and to identify areas that need improvement. A balanced communications strategy must be developed that protects corporate liability while satisfying the demands of today’s information and media dynamic. The company begins a real effort at stakeholder communications and engagement, learning to work with its staunchest critics.
While no company would willingly submit itself to the dangers inherent in a crisis, the company that weathers a crisis well understands that opportunity can come out of adversity.
This author, a communications practitioner with global experience, details a well-managed crisis response that will leave stakeholders with a favourable impression and renewed confidence in the affected company. Key contacts in the industry, media and oversight functions are identified, and existing communications plans inspected for relevance. Establishing criteria to decide when a minor incident has the potential to become a national crisis can be a challenge. One of the more controversial tenets of crisis management is that someone involved in a crisis must be prepared to empathize, even publicly apologize, for the events that have transpired. A company needs to move quickly to gain control over information and the resolution of the crisis.
Polling, market research and focus groups provide essential insight into the magnitude of a crisis and public attitudes about where hidden issues may lie. A well-managed crisis response, coupled with an effective recovery program, will leave stakeholders with a favourable impression and renewed confidence in the affected company.
During a crisis, when everyone goes into action, be sure the team has access to the highest levels of management. Third parties act as character witnesses and often carry more credibility than the organization at the centre of a crisis. Prepare a statement that includes the confirmed facts; communicate what the company is doing and provide background information. Taking responsibility means communicating what an organization is doing to remedy a situation that the media and the public have determined involve that organization in some way.
All of these “audiences” will want information before the business has a chance to begin communicating.



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