Crisis management – ‘Get ready, get through’ applies to businesses too

Partner Steve Attwood advises companies to prepare for a crisis now.

There is no worse time for a company to learn how to handle a crisis than when it is having one.

Preparation is the key. The Civil Defence and Emergency Management (MCDEM) catch cry, “Get Ready, Get Through” applies as much to businesses as it does to individual households.

The recent Kaikoura earthquakes are a strong reminder that we live in a naturally dynamic country. Earthquakes, volcanic eruption, floods and other natural disasters are a reality, the impact of which can be greatly reduced when companies take the time to plan ahead and rehearse responses to likely scenarios.

Of course, this applies to other forms of crisis too. Most businesses will have risks that need advance planning to manage so that, should the worst happen, the business does “get through.” These risks might include: fires or an accident on site where people have died or been seriously hurt; a major motor vehicle crash involving company vehicles/drivers; unsafe product, especially contaminated food or any fault that puts human life in danger; accidental pollution of the air or waterways; criminal activity and so on.

Unfortunately, as the Kaikoura quakes have reminded us, complacency can quickly set in. News media reported that a lot of Christchurch people who had experienced the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes had let their emergency preparedness slip as time had gone by, and realised they were unprepared when the Kaikoura quakes shook the city in November 2016.

In the same way, businesses can let their emergency preparedness slide. That well-intended crisis management plan that never quite gets finished; the disaster training that never gets done because ‘we’re always too busy actually doing business’; the business continuity committee that hasn’t met in ages or the plan that sits on a shelf unread and unrehearsed since it was written.

A business that wants to survive a crisis, whether it be a natural disaster, accident or a crisis of reputation is one that prepares for emergencies, trains and rehearses staff, and schedules refreshers and reviews on a regular basis. ‘Winging it on the day’ is simply not a viable option, unless you want to exponentially increase the chances that your business will not survive!

In the same way, it is my experience that too many businesses set out to do business continuity and crisis management planning themselves. This might appear to be a cheaper option. But almost invariably it works out to be the most expensive one.

A while back, an engineer client spent several days worth of time trying to write his own media release – time he could have been charging to clients instead. When I was called in, I produced a release for him that was well targeted and fit for purpose in two hours. He was amazed but, as I said, “If you asked me to design a bridge it would probably collapse under the weight of the first car. I’m no engineer, and you aren’t a communications professional. You focus on what you’re good at and let me do what I’m good at.”

And so it is with emergency planning. Unless you really do have in-house experts then an emergency management consultant and/or a public relations company that offers specialist crisis communications planning, will be the better option. There’s no need for you to reinvent the wheel when they have built it many times over and own the templates!

Good emergency management consultants and emergency communications specialists work hand in hand to give the client a complete package. The management consultancy helps identify the likely risks, devises the crisis management solutions, systems and training. The communications team plays a crucial role in rehearsal, communications preparedness, communications and presentation training and, especially, media training for likely key spokespeople. It is also the communications team you will most likely have sitting beside you in the immediate aftermath of an actual crisis.

At Convergence Communications our collective experience of emergency communications adds up to some 150 years! We’ve been involved in some of New Zealand’s biggest crisis communications projects including Cave Creek, Canterbury’s earthquake response, the 1080 infant formula blackmail crisis, and the Pike River Coal Mine disaster. At the other end of the scale, we have put together simple plans for small businesses that help ensure risks are identified, planned for, rehearsed and – most important – updated regularly.

In the end, though, a crisis communications plan is a bit like a condom when you plan to practice safe sex. You might have one sitting on the shelf, but it ain’t safe unless you actually use it!