Business continuity and emergency response professionals are constantly bombarded with articles, “research reports”, webinars and workshops, all claiming to have the 8, 10, 12 or 15 most important steps to take in order to guarantee a successful response to a crisis. I, too, have published articles and made presentations identifying multiple lessons learned and best practices; however, I am still frequently asked to simplify and reduce this information down to the 4 or 5 key steps that will give the greatest chance of an effective response to a critical event.
To answer these requests, I reviewed response research and talked to several colleagues who have been involved in recent high-profile crisis events, and offer the following “best of the best” practices for emergency response (ER) managers.
- Practice your plan. It doesn’t matter how well it is written, the ER plan is worthless if it is not practiced. And the practice has two clear goals:
- Rehearsal – giving emergency response personnel, including community first responders, an opportunity to become familiar and comfortable with plan procedures.
- Testing – the only way to know if a response plan works effectively is by testing through drills and exercises and using results to make improvements.
- Ensure your off-hours notification system works – crisis don’t always occur during normal business hours. If an emergency event hits at 2 a.m. on a Sunday, how are company officials notified? (Do you want the media informing the CEO at 2 a.m. that a disaster has occurred?) Test and evaluate off-hours notification systems on a regular basis.
- Choose experience over enthusiasm. In crisis response leadership, enthusiasm is good, but not a substitute for experience. Your facility ER leader should have a background responding to crisis events. If you can’t find an experienced ER professional, get your leader trained. Training can come from experienced professionals at other organizations (I have found these folks very willing and able to help), and professional workshops and conferences. Just make sure the training is “by doing” and not just lecture. This is not another expense – it is an investment!
- Appoint an “official spokesperson” and get that person trained in crisis media relations. A really great response can be overshadowed by poorly executed media relations. There is only one chance to tell the organization’s story, yet some company officials can’t seem to understand that effective crisis media relations takes special training and preparation.
- Require your vendors of essential services to have emergency response and recovery plans. You don’t want to conduct an effective response only to experience a business interruption because a vendor you rely on cannot recover.
In summary, recent practical experience indicates that if an organization only implements the above five “best of the best”, that organization will have a much greater chance of conducting an effective response to a critical event.