Is your crisis plan ready for the real world?

“It’s all covered in the crisis plan.” Few statements are likely to do more to instil a false sense of security in leadership ranks. Office bookshelves abound with detailed plans lying unread: many organisations which do have crisis procedures fail to test them on an annual basis.

This ten point checklist will help determine if your plan is ready for the practical challenges of a crisis:

1. Is it easy to read and to use?
If not, it’s at risk of being ignored. Increasingly, crisis plans – or manuals – are adopting a slimmed-down look, addressing core issues such as team member roles and responsibilities while separating out the ‘toolkit’ details of template materials and contact lists. ‘Plan-on-a-page’ versions are valuable as a ready reference tool.

2. Do team members understand their roles?
The plan itself is only one element of crisis preparedness: selecting and training crisis team members is essential to ensure the right people are equipped with a full understanding of their decision-making priorities.

3. Does it address identified scenarios?
What are the risks your organisation is most likely to face? Who would be impacted and what would their needs and concerns be? Consider a playbook for specific high-impact, high-likelihood scenarios.

4. Is it up to date?
Much can change in 12 months. Does the crisis plan account for any events that may have impacted your industry? What was the result of your most recent crisis simulation? Are there lessons learned which need to be incorporated?

5. Does it define a crisis?
By its nature a crisis is an unusual event, to be distinguished from an incident or issue. Assembling a crisis team is disruptive and there should be well-defined criteria for activation.

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6. Does it have senior leadership buy-in?
Prompt and open communication may be at the cornerstone of your planning but, when the heat is on, will the CEO and board commit to this?

7. Does it reflect your organisation’s structure?
One size doesn’t fit all: a crisis plan should mould to your organisation’s structure. Consider how many tiers are required, e.g., local, regional, global, and time zone differences. A global crisis team will focus on the broader strategic business and reputational impact.

8. Is adequate resourcing built in?
Adrenaline may get you through the first 24 hours but eventually each crisis team member will need to be switched out. Are alternates identified and trained in these roles? Are back-up facilities and systems identified and available?

9. Does it identify the right spokespeople?
It’s an oft-debated point but this may not always be the CEO: the best media spokespeople are selected on the basis of their availability, their familiarity with the situation, their ability to handle media questions and their credibility with audiences.

10. Is social media integrated into your communications planning?
Social media is a vital tool for communicating quickly and rebutting misinformation. Do you have social media assets such as Twitter or Facebook in place? Is your social media team integrated fully into the crisis communications function?

All organisations face competing priorities for time and attention, but risk management and crisis planning can never be relegated to ‘set and forget’. Crisis preparedness is a capability which needs to be continually exercised and refreshed. Is your crisis plan ready for the real world?