Crisis Planning

Preparing Your Response to the Unexpected

Crisis planning

Crisis planning can help you weather a storm.

© iStockphoto/swilmor

Crises happen from time to time in all organizations.

So when one happens "on your watch" how will you react?

Will you resolve it in a way that seems graceful and well-considered?

Or will you stumble, and make mistakes which seriously damage your business?

This depends on the quality of the crisis planning that you do.

Crisis planning requires foresight, insight and hindsight. When you plan for a crisis you are, by definition, planning for something that has not yet occurred but might do, and might have a serious impact on your business.

No one wants a crisis to happen, but we must acknowledge the truth: bad things do happen, and the results can be serious or even disastrous.

The need for crisis planning is clear, but because the exact nature and likelihood is unknown, many of us put it off. Don't make that mistake! It's not defeatist or fatalistic, it's simply realistic. If a crisis happens, you'll manage it much more successfully if you've prepared properly in advance!

When we think of business crises, we often think of major disasters such as terrorist attacks, hurricanes, or a pandemic of avian flu. While terrorism and natural disasters definitely need to be anticipated, it's worth remembering that there are many other types of less dramatic business crisis that can cause damage to your organization. These include:

  • A computer virus or breach of IT security.
  • Theft of money or fraud by a member of staff.
  • Staff resignations.
  • Labor disputes.
  • Lawsuits from staff, former staff or customers.
  • Burglary or vandalism.
  • Fire.
  • Power cuts.
  • Transport disruption.
  • Product recalls.

Many of these arise from within an organization. And it's worth noting that sometimes the risk is predictable, and prevention may be in your control. For example, a contented workforce is unlikely to go on strike; or if you have retail premises, vandalism may be an expected cost of doing business.

Remember, too, that impact of a crisis can go beyond the direct loss of money, sales or long term customers: for example, if the crisis means that your organization no longer meets its regulatory requirements, you could lose your license to do business.

Whether yours is a business in the pursuit of profit, or a public service organization such as a hospital, you have a duty to your stakeholders to get back on track as soon as possible. A crucial part of crisis planning is therefore to plan for business continuity after a crisis. This part of crisis management is often referred to as business continuity planning or business continuity management.

Planning to Manage Crises

There are many approaches to crisis planning and business continuity planning. Most involve the following four stages, in one way or another. These stages are described further below to provide a generic framework for your crisis planning.

  1. Preparation.
  2. Crisis Analysis.
  3. Response Planning.
  4. Recovery Planning.

Stage 1: Preparation

There are two main areas of preparation to think about – information gathering, and definition of roles and responsibilities.

Start by appointing the person who's going to be responsible for the crisis plan. If your organization has several sites, it can be useful to have someone responsible at each site, and also an overall coordinator. If you're the person responsible for crisis planning, make sure that you involve the right people in the process of creating the crisis plan, and that you communicate effectively with those involved. Stakeholder management   is a great way to make sure you involve the right people.

Before you start crisis planning, it's important to understand...

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