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by Traci McMillan Beach
on August 22, 2021

Remain calm: planning ahead for a crisis is critical

One thing we’ve learned over the last year is you can never be too prepared for the unexpected. As we transition out of COVID-19 response and enter another hurricane season, it’s a good time to prepare for potential disruptions to your business.
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During a crisis, businesses must be ready to communicate with employees and other stakeholders quickly, confidently and in alignment with company leaders. Emergency communications should be part of an overarching crisis plan built to instill calm and ensure business continuity.

Emergencies can include natural disasters, public discontent, terrorist threats and even building issues like fire, flood, carbon monoxide, or the loss of air conditioning. In any such event, preparedness is key. Follow these steps to ready your company to effectively communicate with colleagues, customers and other impacted stakeholders:

1. Form a team. 

Identify an emergency communications lead person (and backup delegate) who will spearhead the evaluation of the crisis’s scope and severity, and also oversee the creation and dissemination of messaging content. 

This individual should have close contact with company leaders, human resources and public relations contacts — giving them the ability to formulate communications and secure approval in short order, while gaining sign-off that messages are in line with company protocols and stance. 

2. Gather contact information. 

Emergencies require that a company act and communicate quickly. Get ahead by gathering and organizing all employees’ work and personal email addresses and phone numbers. Consider grouping information according to job type, work location, etc. Lists must be readily available and up to date so that a communications plan can be implemented swiftly.

Similarly, make sure that customer, investor and other stakeholder email and phone lists are up to date and readily usable. A marketing automation platform can be very helpful for this purpose — allowing you to segment, sort and communicate based on various criteria.

3. Identify impacts. 

As part of the company’s business continuity/disaster preparedness plan, the communications lead should start with an impact analysis — considering how different emergencies may impact various stakeholder groups, including employees, employees’ families, customers, suppliers, investors, the surrounding community and news media. This impact analysis informs the communications strategy — who needs to be communicated to and when, as well as what needs to be shared.

4. Know your communication vehicles. 

Decide on a plan of how information will be deployed. During and outside of work hours, voicemail, email, text messages and intranet posts are quick and effective ways of reaching employees. During the work day, loudspeaker systems and in-office briefings may also be available. 

External stakeholders can potentially be reached via email or phone, and also through your company’s social media accounts and website. Know how your stakeholders interact with your company, and be prepared to reach them via the various outlets that make the most sense. 

5. Develop communication templates. 

Put together voicemail, text, social media posts, FAQs and email templates that can be populated with pertinent information when a need arises. Leave blanks in scripts that can be tailored depending on the emergency scenario. 

Ensure that the information is simple and to the point, factual and addresses stakeholder questions and concerns, including the nature of the emergency, how the company will respond, whether any offices are closed/the plan for resuming work, the plan for ensuring safety and who to contact with questions or concerns. 

The emergency communications lead should have the templates approved by management, human resources, legal, etc. so that they’re ready to go in the event of an incident.

Preparing ahead for an emergency before it happens allows a company to address a crisis head on. Knowing what needs to be communicated, how and by whom will instill a sense of calm in your workforce while minimizing business disruption.