The Critical Response Time of Crisis Management Planning

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In crisis management, response time is critical. It takes years to build a solid corporate reputation, but only hours to dismantle it. Despite crisis mitigation efforts, companies can encounter environmental, man-made, or technology-related threats at any given time. The faster an effective response can be initiated, the less chance of an incident escalating, adversely impacting the facility, employees, the environment, and overall company reputation.

Corporate crises come in a variety of forms, ranging from a minor social media glitch to mass casualty situations. Crisis resolution requires informative communication and actionable procedures. In order to act quickly, companies need to prepare a crisis management plan with flexible, yet pre-identified responses and actions. Proactive crisis communications and responses will vary depending on the nature of the situation, the location, and the time of occurrence.

Regardless of the circumstances, every crisis has the potential to negatively impact the company’s short and long-term reputation, daily operations, and financial performance. A properly implemented crisis management plan can result in:

  • Crisis resolution
  • Continuation of business as usual
  • A preserved, or possibly, an enhanced corporate reputation
  • Financial sustainability

Therefore, it is critical that a basic crisis management framework, response measures, and communication strategies be in place and exercised before a crisis actually occurs. Most successful responses result from a prepared strategy, with a cooperative understanding of response roles and responsibilities. Since each crisis is unique and comes with varying degrees of impact, each crisis must be evaluated and resolved individually based on:

  • The potential impact to employees and the company
  • Stakeholders interested in the outcome of the incident
  • The level of control the company has over the situation
  • Complexity of the crisis and specialists required

The following crisis management levels can serve as a guide to determine the degree of impact and subsequent required response(s).

Level 1:

  1. Minimal threat to life, property, or the environment
  2. No medical treatment beyond basic first aid
  3. No risk to the public
  4. Site-level incident limited to the immediate work area
  5. Minimal estimated property damage to company facilities or equipment
  6. No actual or potential media/ public attention or interest
  7. Regulatory notification is not required
  8. Minimal impact to daily company operations

Level 2:

  1. Limited damage to company property, but has a slight potential for offsite migration
  2. Employee, contractor, or third party injury or illness requiring professional medical treatment
  3. Limited gas release or minor chemical/hazardous spill requiring regulatory reporting
  4. Moderate estimated property loss or financial damage due to fines, penalties or remediation
  5. Notification or employee interaction with appropriate state and/or federal agencies
  6. A security threat that presents a potential risk to the company or the public
  7. An environmental, health or safety issue that could result in a significant adverse impact to the company’s reputation
  8. An event that may impact company operations

Level 3:

  1. A major event that presents extreme danger to life, property, and/or the environment
  2. Any fatality, injury, or illness to a member of the public
  3. Any fatality, injury, or illness to a company employee or contractor
  4. The event cannot be mitigated without the support of local government resources
  5. A fire, pipeline rupture, or explosion involving company facilities
  6. A chemical/hazardous spill that has the potential to migrate off-site
  7. An event that causes significant disruption or a shutdown of operations
  8. Significantly disrupts scheduled customer deliveries
  9. Significant property or financial loss

While the specific circumstances will define a crisis response strategy, basic communications processes typically remain consistent. If the crisis warrants, the pre-identified crisis management team would be responsible for developing media strategy, public statements, and key messages, as well as identifying and briefing one or more spokespersons to deliver the pre-approved messages to media outlets. A specific individual or individuals should be assigned to media/public relations to ensure messaging consistency and information availability.

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