Be prepared: 10 steps to take now for crisis readiness

January 3, 2012

A crisis can happen at any time. Companies aren’t immune to misconduct by employees, the sudden resignation of your CEO, recalls or natural disasters. Every organization should be ready to manage every possible crisis.

At  Virgil Scudder & Associates, we’ve learned that successful handling of a crisis is 60 percent preparation and 40 percent execution.

To best handle the first part of the equation, here are 10 steps that you need to take right now:

  1. Identify potential crises. Study what has happened to other companies, both inside and outside your industry.  Then, ask key people in your organization to identify the most vulnerable areas or processes.
  2. Analyze your company’s state of readiness. Here are the types of questions that you should ask. Is there is a crisis plan? Does it have the latest contact information for key personnel? Is it up to date and relevant, or is it just boilerplate? Who are the people who would be in the spotlight — management, operations, legal, HR and public relations? Are they prepared and knowledgeable about the company’s policies and procedures?
  3. Check the crisis readiness of your “bull’s-eye” team.  Are they comfortable and effective in front of the news media? Do they have experience in crisis situations or crisis simulations? Do they know their potential roles? Are they familiar with the company’s crisis response resources, policies and procedures?
  4. Research your company’s record. What previous crises has it faced and what were the outcomes? Does the company have a history of violating rules and regulations, especially in matters like safety and environmental responsibility? Such information always comes out in a crisis, so you need to be ready to deal with those issues when this happens.
  5. Build the image of key leaders. Any company in a crisis starts with an advantage if people know and respect its leaders. The CEO and other top management should appear occasionally in business media and at  “good-news events,” such as announcements of the company’s philanthropic donations.
  6. Review your social media status. Consider the following: Do you have the tools and people in place to monitor Facebook, YouTube, blogs and Twitter? Can you respond quickly to misinformation, accusations and distortions? Is your management aware of the impact of these new media?
  7. Examine and strengthen key relationships. This includes local and national media, government officials, employees and people in potentially affected communities.  As an example, BP’s lack of positive relationships following the oil spill in the Gulf of the Mexico hurt the company’s crisis response. BP is now spending millions of dollars on advertising campaigns promoting the region in an attempt to improve its standing there.
  8. Schedule media training sessions. Anyone who could end up in the spotlight should know the essentials of successful media interviews.  Those who have not participated in media training should consider a session at the earliest opportunity.  Those who have not recently participated in media training should take a refresher course.
  9. Stage crisis readiness simulations. These programs are beneficial in many ways beyond just producing a higher state of readiness.  They help discover flaws in current crisis plans, identify leadership qualities and raise everyone’s awareness.
  10. Update or create a crisis response plan, and name an ongoing crisis team. This team should meet in person or via conference call at least once every three months to evaluate the program and consider any changes to procedure, assignments or materials.

Unfortunately, the only true test of your readiness comes when the actual crisis hits. But the 10 steps above will leave you much better prepared when that day comes.

Ken Scudder

Ken Scudder has provided media training, presentation training, crisis communications training and consulting, as well as writing and editing, to business leaders, celebrities and politicians for more than 20 years. Contact him at,, or follow @kenscudder on Twitter.


Gregg Shields says:

Great job! You summed up just about everything a good crisis communications practitioner should know and do in just a few words. Highest compliment I can pay - "Wish I had written that!" Say hi to Dad for me. Gregg Shields

Jan. 17, 2012

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