© 2006 Jonathan Bernstein
Estimated Readership: 14,000+
JUST A THOUGHT
Running a business without a crisis management plan is like running with scissors.
CRISIS MANAGER UNIVERSITY
Editor's Note: This article first appeared on the Richmond.com website. The author was kind enough to allow me to reprint it. This type of proactive thinking clearly applies well beyond the scope of the pandemic scenario addressed by Mr. Holland.
Communication At Work: Questions Worth Answering
By Robert J. Holland
Sometimes it takes a jarring statement to get our attention about important matters. At a recent summit on Virginia's preparedness for a flu pandemic, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt put the possibility of a global outbreak into frightening perspective.
"The reality is, in the construct of history, we are overdue and under-prepared," he told the gathering of more than 900 community leaders.
The United States is not prepared for such a crisis. As Leavitt noted, it's not a matter of if a flu pandemic will occur, but when. With increasing reports of bird-flu outbreaks, it could be the avian strain that catches us off guard.
Such an outbreak could last up to 18 months and would push public-health resources to the limit. However, hospitals and other healthcare facilities are not the only organizations that would be strained. Think about schools closing, retail activity slowing and business generally stalling as large numbers of people become ill or succumb to the disease.
This is not an imaginary threat. It is real and public officials are wise to begin thinking now about how they would handle such a scenario. Business leaders would be wise to do the same. A business resumption or crisis management plan should be standard for every organization these days. There simply is no excuse for failing to anticipate and prepare for the worst that could happen.
Do not overlook communication as part of the crisis management plan. Lack of a crisis communication plan could render your business's crisis management plan useless.
Think about it:
- If a flu outbreak strikes your business, how will employees know if and when they should come to work?
- How will employees know what is acceptable in terms of caring for sick family members?
- How will employees know if they should report to their usual places of work or if they will be reassigned to cover employees who are sick or tending to ill family members?
- How will employees know what to do about picking up sick kids from school?
- What if a business facility is turned into a quarantine area or an overflow healthcare center? How will employees know what to do?
- Who should employees turn to for reliable information about public-health matters?
- How will your business ensure consistent messages are being communicated to employees, customers, partners, vendors, stockholders and the community?
- How will your organization work with public-health officials and other groups to manage the crisis?
- If hundreds or even thousands of local people die as a result of a flu outbreak, how will businesses respond to issues of grief? And without seeming cold and heartless, how will deceased employees be replaced?
Answering these and the dozens of other questions raised by the prospect of a public-health crisis is not an overreaction. It is not paranoia. It is responsible planning.
Often, communication falls to the bottom of the list of things to do in preparation for a crisis. However, I've worked with several large local organizations that experienced near-misses with crisis situations. They were awakened to the importance of adding communication as an integral element of their business resumption plans. Now they are prepared in case the unthinkable happens.
And the unthinkable, it seems, is rapidly becoming a real possibility.
Robert J. Holland owns Holland Communication Solutions LLC in Mechanicsville, VA. He works with Fortune 500 companies and small businesses to help them develop communication programs that support business goals. He is also available to speak to business groups about workplace communication. You can reach him at email@example.com, at www.hollandcomm.com, or by calling (804) 368-0312.
I've been a geek since being a geek wasn't cool, so I'm always impressed when I find a free Internet service that satisfies my geekiness AND can play an important role in crisis prevention. Shields UP!!, provides PC users with ways to test your computer's ability to withstand invasions by the forces of evil, those that can do anything from damaging your systems to stealing your lives. No, the site is not designed for Mac users. Yes, I am going to get smart-assed responses from Mac-nerds regarding PCs. All part of being an editor.
Code Of Ethics We All Can Use
PR Week recently reported on NASA's new code of ethics, following reports of Bush Administration attempts to stifle the news. According to the trade publication, the code tells employees to "Be honest and accurate in all communications; honor publication embargoes; respond promptly to media requests and respect media deadlines; act promptly to correct mistakes or erroneous information, either internally or externally." Not a bad standard for ANY organization!
From The 'It Can't Happen To Us' File
I remember my Mom, retired in Naples, telling me how safe the Southwest coast of Florida seemed in terms of hurricane threats, after 20 years of being seemingly immune...and then it got hit three times in rapid succession. I've had many businessmen assure me that they couldn't imagine how natural disasters of any kind could impact them when they weren't in the direct "strike zone," until some of them found their key suppliers unable to help them out following hurricanes, earthquakes or even 9-11. Now TIME magazine reports that 445 tornadoes were reported in the U.S. in 2006 as of the last week of March, about FIVE TIMES the national average by this time of year. How many of you want to continue to play "Disaster Russian Roulette" without crisis planning and training?
Walkabout Vulnerability Audit
Want to conduct one small but powerful component of a vulnerability audit? Go on a "walkabout" of your organization and take these steps:
- Examine the contents of at least ten unsecured trash cans after a busy day at work. See if you find information you would not want to find in the hands of competitors, which would compromise you legally, and/or which would be embarrassing if revealed to a customer or the general public.
- Ask ten employees, at random, how comfortable they would be with you reading "anything" they might have on their company owned computers. If they're not, hand them another copy of your most-excellent computer security policy. You do have one, of course?
- Sit down at any organizational computer left on after-hours. See if the user is still logged in (exposing every file to which he/she has access).
- Listen to conversations coming out of offices, cubicles, or in the halls. What would you think of them if you were a visiting reporter? A customer/client?
There's a lot more to this methodology, but that little slice of the process should, in and of itself, be a wake-up call!
CRISIS MANAGER BUSINESS ANNOUNCEMENTS
What Does That Slogan Mean?
By popular demand, I have re-opened an online store at which I sell clothing and mugs featuring the famous "Crisis Manager University" emblem and its infamous slogan, "Quoniam Stercus Accidit". That translates to "Because Stuff Happens." Except the real word isn't "stuff." There's only a 10% markup at the store to cover my costs -- it's a turnkey operation hosted by Cafe Press. I have found the items there to be a major hit with my clients and associates and great gift for any crisis manager. My purpose is to share my sense of humor with like (sick) minds as well as to prompt some folks to ask, "Who came up with this idea?" You can visit the store at www.cafepress.com/crisismanager.
Keeping The Wolves At Bay
Keeping the Wolves at Bay (available in print and PDF formats) remains, to my knowledge, the only commercially published media training manual in the world. It can be purchased at www.thecrisismanager.com, and its pages can be modified to make it YOUR "name brand" media training manual if you are an agency or organization that frequently conducts training. If the latter subject is of interest to you, write to:
CD-ROM: Crisis Management & The Law
How PR Pros & Lawyers Can Work Together Effectively
Featuring Jonathan Bernstein, Richard Levick and Ed Novak
On February 23, 2005, Jonathan Bernstein played talk show host and expert commentator in a one-hour teleseminar featuring internationally renowned litigation PR expert Richard Levick and one of the country's top white collar crime attorneys, Ed Novak. This CD-ROM is a "must have" to play for the executive staff of any organization, for practice group meetings at law firms, or for the entire staff of any PR agency.
Go to www.thecrisismanager.com to read more details about and/or to order this CD-ROM, and to learn of other educational and training materials produced by Jonathan Bernstein.
PLAIN ENGLISH DISCLOSURE
Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc. has formal or informal co-promotional and mutually beneficial business associations with a number of the services we mention periodically in this newsletter. No, we can't go into details because that's confidential, proprietary, etc. But our relationship is NOT "arm's distance" and you should know that, since we regularly write about these services as we use them for crisis and issues management or other purposes. That said, you should also know that Bernstein Crisis Management sought the relationships because its staff is convinced that these services are the best of their kind for Bernstein Crisis Management's needs and those of its clients. If you have any questions about these relationships, please contact Jonathan Bernstein, (626) 825-3838.
ABOUT THE EDITOR & PUBLISHER
Jonathan Bernstein is president of Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc., www.bernsteincrisismanagement.com, a national crisis management public relations agency providing 24/7 access to crisis response professionals. The agency engages in the full spectrum of crisis management services: crisis prevention, response, planning & training. He has been in the public relations field since 1982, following five-year stints in both military intelligence and investigative reporting. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc. is located at 1013 Orange Avenue, Monrovia, CA 91016. Telephone: (626) 825-3838.
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