News Get ahead of the inevitable crisis by planning for it

Associate Member Contribution

By David A. Ball

Bad things can happen at even the best of organizations, but being prepared can help mitigate the damage.

Crises have a way of spiraling quickly, and they can get harder to manage as new facts are introduced.  Moreover, they seldom happen conveniently on a Monday at 9 a.m.  They are more likely to fall on an overnight or, worse, a long weekend.

One thing that I tell every human services agency leader is that you need a crisis communications plan so you know what to do when a bad situation arises, especially when the news media is involved.

“What do we say to them?”  “Who talks?”  “How do we maintain privacy for the other individuals?” “Can we ask them to leave?”

A crisis communications plan will answer those questions. A plan can minimize the substantial costs of managing a crisis, because nearly everything has been anticipated in advance.  It is much cheaper to develop a plan than pay the hourly fees of attorneys, IT consultants and, yes, PR people in the throes of a crisis.

Whether you engage a PR firm to develop your plan or you build it internally, here are the key things to address:

  • Establish your crisis team – Determine who will handle which tasks in a crisis and delineate those responsibilities. This should include both staff and outside consultants that may be needed.  If there is a problem at a residential program, who deals with the public safety officials and the other municipal officials?  Who maintains contact with family members?  Who has responsibility for the credit card if residents need to be moved to a hotel in the middle of the night?
  • Know how to activate your staff – Take the time to think through your communications protocol. How are staff communications sequenced in a crisis?  Where is the employee contact data stored and, if the answer is “online,” what happens if the system is down and there is no redundancy?
  • Evaluate all of your resources – Review such things as insurance coverage, IT redundancy, lines of credit and the climate resiliency of the agency’s buildings when developing a plan, to ensure your organization is adequately prepared for whatever may occur.
  • Draft your media statements now – Don’t wait for the crisis to develop a holding statement. Think through 10 of the most likely situations and develop a statement for each.

Your organization cares for some of the Commonwealth’s most vulnerable individuals every day.  Make sure you are prepared to continue your mission long into the future by establishing a crisis communications plan.

David A. Ball is President of Ball Consulting Group, LLC, a strategic communications firm based in Newton that proudly works with many human services agencies. Ball Consulting Group is an Associate Member of the Providers’ Council.

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