The pandemic has proven it: Crises and emergencies pose challenges far beyond what everyday strategy is equipped to handle. Anyone who reacts to a crisis in the moment risks making a poor decision that could jeopardize reputation and trust.

In a crisis situation, the usual behavioral patterns, strategies and resources may not apply. Responsible leaders and business communicators can prepare for these unpredictable situations by establishing a crisis management system, ensuring that they have the right tools in place before emergency circumstances arise.

Evaluate Your Readiness

Preparing for a crisis begins with understanding your current state of readiness for predictable risks. Evaluate potential vulnerabilities in your operations, supply chain, facilities and technology. Review your existing response procedures and personnel, including who holds responsibility for leading the response team, alerting stakeholders and managing media attention.

Perhaps more importantly, ensure that your team is prepared for incident response. Do you have clear lines of reporting? Are your on-call teams well-staffed? Are responsibilities clearly delineated and well-communicated? When was the last time you updated this information and shared it with your staff? These questions can help you refine – or revisit – your existing crisis response plan.

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Establish and Embed Crisis Protocols

To ensure your crisis management system is both intensive and comprehensive, establish clear protocols for assessing, communicating and executing all circumstances you face and actions you take during a crisis situation. Create a checklist or procedure to assess threats, predict potential repercussions and rank by level of urgency. Build a communications plan that includes checkpoints for crafting and disseminating messages among internal and external stakeholders as you acknowledge and combat the crisis. Involve the right levels of leadership who can make the key decisions about when and how to execute actions in response to the crisis.

In addition to your plan to address the crisis, be sure you have all the resources needed to execute it successfully. Assess your human resources capacity to handle increased communications needs and media attention. Review your existing infrastructure, including technology, equipment and secure facilities to prevent leaks during a critical time. Allocate a budget for crisis response that can be mobilized easily in the event of a crisis to ensure there are no fiscal barriers to a thorough and effective response.

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Evangelize and Reinforce the Plan

The key to an effective crisis management system is making it common knowledge throughout the organization. Establish and circulate a crisis response manual that includes all key actions, contact lists and security protocols for everyone to follow in the event of an emergency. Be sure to maintain this plan with regular updates and training sessions to ensure that all new employees are aware of these resources.

Regular crisis simulations and training exercises can stress test your plan to ensure it stands the test of time. No two crises are the same, so your business must be prepared for any number of scenarios. By working with an agency partner to facilitate a crisis simulation, you can assess your readiness to weather a crisis and address the gaps in knowledge and vulnerability throughout the organization. As technology evolves and threats grow more sophisticated, regular testing will help you strengthen your response plan and your ability to contain a crisis.

A trained, well-balanced crisis management team, clearly defined response protocols and ongoing testing and training can prepare your business to face the unpredictable. By establishing and evangelizing a strong response plan throughout your organization, you can arm yourself with the tools and the confidence to make strong business decisions in crisis situations.

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